Hardly Strictly Bagels | Jewish Food Festival mantra: Healthy or not, here I come

I’m all in favor of sustainable and locally grown foods, but when I heard about the inaugural Hazon Jewish Food Festival coming to the JCC of San Francisco on March 17, I started treating the press releases and the website like a menu — searching for the best stuff to eat.

Unlike previous Hazon food conferences, this is the first event described as a “festival” and, as such, it will have a big focus on food attendees can buy and consume on site (in addition to the requisite focus on principles of the Jewish food movement).

More than 20 vendors will set up in “the shuk.” Located in the JCC’s Atrium, the market will be open to the public all day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. And while the workshops and sessions cost $36, entrance to the shuk is free!

So let’s see what’s on the “menu,” shall we?

Desperation Bakehouse: Steven Feuer will sell his San Francisco food stand’s signature product, “Shirt-Pocket Pies” — small, round pies made with local meat and produce. Flavors include Moroccan lamb with sweet potato, roasted carrot with fresh dill, and apricot with almond cream.

Debbie’s Rugelach: Launched in 2009 by Debbie Kaufman of Foster City, her business makes the sugar-and-cinnamon treats with fillings that include dark chocolate chips, dried apricots, and currants and walnuts.

King Knish: Owner-chef Ramni Levy of San Francisco is so excited about his first event in the Jewish community that he is creating a new knish for the festival: probably an edamame-potato or a spinach-potato. His modern take on the old Eastern European treat is savory, sweet and unique.

Avital Ungar in front of the Women’s Building mural in the Mission District.

Frozen Kuhsterd: This is a well-regarded food truck started by Jason Angeles, who will sell the classic Midwest frozen dessert made with all-natural, organic and locally sourced ingredients.

Oren’s Kitchen: After working the humongous Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center in January, Arnon Oren will present his array of savory nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews and macadamias) and legume blends. Oren is an Israeli who runs his small organic business in El Cerrito.

Also: Fair-trade kosher chocolate bars from Fair Trade Judaica; honey from City Bees; and petite sirah from Shoe Shine Wine.

In addition, Eric Thoreson of semi-underground coffee roaster One Ninety Seven will do a coffee workshop; Josh Spiegelman of Roam Artisan Burgers will talk about how to turn a food idea into a business; a panel on green food businesses will include Ari Feingold of Straw restaurant, Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates and Mark Ainsworth of Pastry Smart bakery; and small-batch baker Sadie Scheffer of Bread SRSLY will lead a lesson on gluten-free baking.




JEWISH FOOD TOUR: Avital Food Tours is an outfit operating in the Mission District in San Francisco. There’s nothing Jewish about the excursions, but the company’s operator, Avital Ungar, has been called into duty to lead a workshop at the Hazon food festival titled “A Jewish Food Tour of San Francisco.”

Ungar, 27, will give a virtual tour of the Jewish food layout in San Francisco and beyond.

“I’ll cover a number of topics, mostly relating to the restaurant industry,” Ungar said, “taking you behind the scenes and talking about Jewish restaurateurs in the food scene. It won’t be so much about history or the older places, but what is happening now — how old recipes are being brought back with a new Jewish culinary spin.”

She’ll also talk about the design and décor of new Jewish restaurants, such as the wall of old photos at Wise Sons Deli. Things like that are part of her fascination with the way new Jewish food purveyors are at once contemporary and traditional.

Ungar started her business 18 months ago. The tour includes five stops (with samples) around 18th Street and Dolores Park. “It’s mostly for locals,” she said. “It’s about a local culinary experience.”




WISE SONS NEWS: Wise Sons Deli reached its one-year anniversary in February as a brick-and-mortar  with some big news on several fronts.

First, co-owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman have added a second location, mainly to use as a bakery. Located inside the scruffy Mission Market at Mission and 22nd streets, the 2,500-square-foot space will allow Wise Sons to take pressure off their small kitchen on 24th Street.

After renovations, which could take several months, the spot will host Wise Sons’ meat smoker. Also, baker Jesper Jensen will get to cut loose with large-scale production of marble rye, pumpernickel, challah, rolls, bialys, black-and-white cookies and more flavors of babka and rugelah.

In conjunction with all of this movement, Wise Sons has applied for a beer and wine license as it moves toward dinner service. It also made its first “big-name” hire, nabbing Matt Shapiro from Schmidt’s, a German restaurant he started in the Mission District; he was executive chef there and simultaneously at Walzwerk on South Van Ness, which offers East German cuisine. “He grew up in Queens, he knows Eastern European food and he’s a young guy,” Bloom said. “It’s a great fit.”

Yes, but will he be anointed the third Wise Son?


Save room for …

These days, more and more mainstream restaurants seem to be having Passover dinners, minus the seder. Here are a few options for this year:

Perbacco. Celebrating traditional Jewish cooking in Italy with recipes by guest chef Joyce Goldstein. Menu peek: “Chopped Duck Liver.” March 27. $49. San Francisco. www.perbaccosf.com.

Comal. One of the top new restaurants of 2012 marks Passover with two Mexican-inspired dinners. Menu peek: “Jalapeño Matzah Ball Soup.” March 25-26. $60. Berkeley. www.comalberkeley.com.

Firefly. A flour-free, a la carte Passover menu, with each table receiving matzah, haroset and bagelech (popovers made with matzah meal) instead of bread ’n’ butter. Menu peek: “House-made Gefilte Fish with Fiery Bi-color Horseradish.” March 25-April 2. San Francisco. www.fireflyrestaurant.com.

Grand Lake Kitchen. A Passover-inspired but “unkosher” a la carte menu. Menu peek: Brisket. March 25-April 1 (closed March 26). Oakland. www.grandlakekitchen.com.




In May 2012, the Marinscope newspaper did an article when Max’s Café in Corte Madera launched a revamped menu that focused more on classic Jewish dishes. Now Patch.com reports that the Max’s location shut its doors in January (after 16 years) and reopened last month as a Mexican restaurant, La Plancha Bar and Grill. Patch quoted owner Greg Boro as saying, “The full-style New York delicatessen is fading away” … The article also noted that there are no immediate plans to change any of the other eight Max’s locations in the Bay Area, although Max’s on the Square (at Geary and Mason streets in San Francisco) shut down last year … The Contemporary Jewish Museum reports that a contract with a new operator for its café is still not signed, but that an opening at the end of April or early May is a possibility … The new Jewish deli Shorty Goldstein’s at 126 Sutter St., across from the Crocker Galleria in downtown San Francisco, had its grand opening on March 5 after permit and construction delays were resolved. “Everything went great, we’re rocking and rolling,” chef-owner Michael Siegel said after the lunch rush. “There are always bumps in the road, but tomorrow we’ll do it better.” … In addition to the restaurants mentioned in the “Save room for …” feature on this page, most local Jewish delis will be showcasing Passover specialties, such as jars of fresh, homemade horseradish at Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland.  … San Francisco’s King Knish is working on a Pesach knish with a matzah meal crust (or at least matzah meal and/or farfel added to the recipe). Alas, it won’t be kosher for Passover … Levy’s Bagels & Co. has opened in Alameda in a former Togo’s location near the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Webster Street. Yelp reviewers have been none too favorable, but I know a Temple Israel member who visited and liked it. — andy altman-ohr


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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.