New York state of mind? Not at Oakland’s Old Brooklyn deli

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When I heard the name of a new place in Oakland’s Rockridge District, I was ready to plotz: Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli! It had a soft opening two weeks ago and a grand opening Aug. 8.

But now it looks as if my excitement was premature.

For starters, the name “Old Brooklyn” refers not — as most customers assume — to Brooklyn, N.Y., or even to Brooklyn-style bagels, but to a district east of Lake Merritt that became part of Oakland in 1909.

To hammer home the distinction, the owners decorated one area with a blowup of an old Oakland map that includes the Brooklyn district, and along the back wall is a cool collection of old photos of Oakland. Unfortunately, at quick glance, many customers think the photos are black-and-white scenes of the New York borough.

Owners Richard and Jennifer Le, a brother-and-sister team with many years in the restaurant business, insist they aren’t trying to mislead anybody.

“I would never say this is a Jewish deli,” Jennifer told me. “I didn’t want to use anything from New York or make any claim of New York … We’re more like a Midwestern sandwich place. But I have had a lot of Jewish customers so far.”

Curious passers-by on College Avenue have entered to find about 10 to 15 kinds of bagels, boiled and baked either on site or at the Emery Bay Café in Emeryville, another Jennifer Le-owned restaurant (she also owns the Sea Breeze Market and Café, a Berkeley institution just off Interstate 80).

The bagels look appealing in the display case, and they’re fresh, but they lack a crispy crust and are very doughy inside — pretty much standard issue for the Bay Area, not too far from Posh Bagel or  Noah’s. Making matters worse, purists might groan, are bagels in the following flavors: pesto, spinach, tropical (pineapple-mango with coconut shreds) and orange-cranberry.

There is no chopped liver, matzah ball soup, bialys or other Jewish deli favorites. The bulk of the menu is sandwiches named after Oakland districts and Northern California cities. One includes whitefish salad, which Le said is made in-house, and others include supermarket quality slices of pastrami and roast beef.

Ordering is done at the counter, and there are about a dozen tables. The location is the former Café Zoe, which Le purchased in April. Early on, the plan was to go into partnership with Mark and Jason Scott, the bagel-baking brothers from New England who instead decided to launch the Authentic Bagel Company, which now has a retail outlet near Jack London Square.

Unfortunately for visitors to “Old Brooklyn,” the Scotts did not share their bagel expertise before the parting of the ways.

Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli

6000 College Ave., Oakland

7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily

@oldbrooklynBD on Twitter; Old Brooklyn Bagels & Deli on Facebook; (510) 735-7182

A STOP FOR FALAFEL: An Israeli who lives in the South Bay has opened the Falafel Stop in Sunnyvale with help from his wife. Jonathan Laor has a deep background in the food industry, and his wife, Michal, works in high tech. The grand opening was Aug. 2.

Bagels at a new café in the Rockridge District of Oakland

The small, order-at-the-counter restaurant near Fremont High School is vegetarian but not kosher certified, and open during Shabbat. The owners say their calling card is ingredients they import directly from Israel, most notably the dough for the pita bread (which is then baked on site).

“Most pita bread in America is awful, hard as a rock or very dry,” Michal said, explaining why they went right to the source. “It wasn’t easy to find a way to import it. The process took three months.”

They’re starting with a small menu that includes hummus, falafael, sabich and salads, plus another sabra favorite, malt beer (non-alcoholic) from Israel. People can eat at the counter, or at a few tables outside, and since the restaurant is in the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s expected to be packed with Israelis.

Falafel Stop

1325 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Sunnyvale

10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; @falafelstop on Twitter; FalafelStop on Facebook; (408) 735-7182

JCC RUMBLINGS: The JCC of San Francisco is projecting an opening date of Aug. 25 for its reconfigured, reconceived café, to be called Community Table. The existing café shut down Aug. 3 for renovations. When it reopens, there will be new furniture, a kid-friendly area and a soup-’n-salad bar to go with an eclectic menu that is Jewish, Israeli and beyond.

Meanwhile, the café at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos is up for sale. Corporate Chef has run the café jointly with the JCC since May 2011, when the contractor running the café, then called the Shmoozer, hit the road. Corporate Chef is looking for an independent contractor to buy the operation. Call (408) 441-7682 for information.

LEFTOVERS: Beauty’s Bagel Shop, the still unopened appetizing shop on Telegraph Avenue near 40th Street in Oakland, has added new front windows, a sign and a wood-burning oven (with a huge stockpile of wood). But co-owner Blake Joffe said there are still inspections to pass, and an opening is still a couple of weeks away … Authentic Bagel Company is selling straight to the public from its shop at 463 Second St., Oakland, on Sundays starting at 11 a.m. Being one block away from the farmers market at Jack London Square has helped draw big crowds. Sunday, Aug. 12 will mark the debut of a weekly specialty bagel, probably the pepperoni pizza bagel to start things off … A couple of months ago, I noted that Levy’s Bagels & Co., in San Ramon, was going to open a second location next to the Starbucks on Webster Street in Alameda. I drove by this week, and that opening seems months, if not longer, away … Deli Board owner Adam Mesnick tells me that he hopes the opening of his sandwich-shop offshoot, called 1058 Hoagie, is going to be later this month or in September, but adds, “I am not sure we will be able to pull it off.” If it does come into being, it will be at 180 7th St., between Mission and Howard streets, serving mostly cold, Philly-style Italian hoagies (turkey, roast beef, kosher salami, etc.) rather than the creative and Jewish-deli inspired sandwiches at the Deli Board. Some pastrami hoagies will be introduced as we move into fall and winter, and he is also working with a baker “on some really nice rye rolls.” There will also be a house shum spread (shum is Hebrew for garlic) … Saul’s Deli in Berkeley is celebrating the summer with a housemade sodas: lime, ginger, cream and mixed berry … As of last week, Amba owner Jonathan Wornick had nothing to report on his search for additional Peninsula locations for his Israeli-kosher-vegetarian restaurant. But he did say the Oakland location at 6464 Moraga St. has a new Israeli chef who’s worth checking out … If you still haven’t tried food from the Old World Food Truck, sign up for the weekly newsletter at www.oldworldfoodtruck to get updates on locations and the Yiddish word of the day contest (say the word when ordering for a free treat). From the website: “Correctness is judged by [owner] Kenny [Hockert] himself; disputes will be settled by a phone call to his mom” … Stag’s Lunchette, a 1-month-old breakfast/lunch place, is serving Baron Bagels (with smoked trout) and other delicacies, such as house-made brisket sandwich (it’s basted in butter and demi-glace and served on Levain bread with Emmental cheese, ginger kraut and piquant dressing). Stag’s is in the former Uncle Dougie’s hoagie shop at 362 17th St. (near Webster) … This just in from the East Bay’s Kehilla Synagogue, which is technically in Piedmont but feels like Oakland to me because it’s on Grand Avenue, right across from the Ace hardware store: “We’re having another fabulous Pop-Up Shabbat at Bites Off Broadway this Friday evening (Aug. 10) at 6 pm, with live Shabbat music and gourmet food truck offerings to enjoy. Come have fun and celebrate with us!” For more information, including a YouTube video of the experience, visit

Save room for …

Three Jewish food festivals on the calendar:

Jewish Food Festival, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 19 at Congregation Shomrei Torah, Santa Rosa. First-time event. Free entry. (707) 578-5519.

Jewish Food Festival, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 26 at Congregation Beth Israel, Carmel Valley. 25th annual. Free entry. (831) 624-2015.

FoodFest 2013: The San Francisco Jewish Food Festival. Being planned by the JCC of San Francisco in partnership with Hazon for March 10, 2013. (415) 397-7020.


Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.