For more than a year, the owner of Holy Land Restaurant in Oakland struggled over what to do. With the cost of running her business going up, and her profits going down, Miri Levy said she even considered shutting down the 23-year-old establishment.
What she ended up doing was dropping the restaurant’s kosher certification a month ago. Now the former glatt kosher spot serves meat that isn’t kosher, and it’s open seven days a week — it used to close on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
“It was a hard, hard decision, and it took me a couple of years to get to the point to be able to do it,” Levy said. “I had a lot of sleepless nights. Seriously. But financially, it didn’t make sense to go on like I was. I had a very low percentage of customers who are kosher, and the cost of staying kosher is very, very high.”
Foregoing direct rabbinical supervision (Holy Land had been under the supervision of Beth Jacob Congregation’s Rabbi Judah Dardik and his predecessor, Rabbi Howard Zack, before that) means Levy can buy less expensive chicken, beef, turkey and lamb for her Israeli cuisine. She also hopes to draw in people from the busy Grand-Lakeshore commercial area on Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as during the big Saturday morning farmers market right across the street.
It also means that people in the nearby Jewish community who keep kosher won’t eat at Holy Land anymore. That includes many members of two synagogues within walking distance, Orthodox Congregation Beth Jacob and Conservative Temple Beth Abraham.
“For those of us who like to eat kosher meat and really want the ability to eat kosher meat out, it’s a huge loss,” Rabbi Mark Bloom of Beth Abraham wrote on Holy Land’s Facebook page. Bloom and his wife, Karen, ate there often.
While I don’t have the space in this column to seek out and fully gauge the reaction of former patrons, I will let it be known that Levy is pained by her decision.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry for the people who did support me for all those years,” she said, on the verge of tears. “That part is really sad for me. We’ve been serving the kosher community since 1989.”
Levy took over the restaurant from her parents and has run it for the past 17 years. But she’s a single mother with a 5-year-old and needs to make mortgage payments, as well as pay employees and keep the restaurant afloat.
In the kitchen, the approach will remain the same. In terms of kashrut, Levy said milchig (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) will still be off limits, although she couldn’t promise that will be the case forever. She also said vegetables will continue to be prepared separately from meat dishes so vegetarians can rest easy. At present, the restaurant doesn’t do fish.
Levy said one of her plans is to start weekend breakfast service, with Israeli and Jewish favorites such as shakshouka and matzah brei.
Sometimes I hear or read unfavorable reviews about Holy Land, but every meal I have ever had there has been tasty, and on a recent visit, I was happy to see prices have remained the same. They strike me as even lower than food truck prices — and the quality is just as good or better (even though the trucks get all the buzz).
Holy Land has been open on four Shabbats so far, without much of a rush yet. “Hopefully it will get better,” Levy said.
And in a related — but at the same time not related — development, the Holy Land restaurant at 2965 College Ave. in Berkeley had its last day of service on Oct. 9 after 15 years in business. Owner Niso Mizrachi, Levy’s father, told the East Bay Express that keeping the business afloat had become too difficult among a glut of new restaurants in suddenly permit-friendly Berkeley.
Levy’s father and mother, Haya, who used to run the original Holy Land, opened the College Avenue location across from the Elmwood Theatre in 1997, and operated it without kosher certification from its inception to the end. Mizrachi said he had a lot of loyal customers, just not enough to keep going. An Indonesian restaurant called Padi has gone into the space.
“People keep asking me if my decision [to drop kosher certification] has anything to do with my parents closing,” Levy told me. “The two things have nothing to do with one another.”
Holy Land Restaurant
677 Rand Ave., Oakland
11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
USE YOUR NOODLE: Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco has announced a new event, the “Kugel Nosh Down,” for Dec. 9, the second night of Chanukah. The flyer includes the slogan “Compete. Eat. Meet. Greet.”
Yes, it’s a competition, open to anyone — with categories and prizes for sweet, savory, most creative and more — as well as a fundraiser for the synagogue’s educational programs. Attendees will be able to get bite-size samples of all the kugels, plus there will be drinks, voting and other merriment. The event runs 3-5 p.m., concluding with a menorah lighting, at Sha’ar Zahav, 2900 Dolores St., S.F.
To enter or get more information, email email@example.com. Tickets are $30, with a discount if you order in advance at http://kugelnoshdown.brownpapertickets.com.
THE CHOSEN PIGEON: San Francisco’s Fifth Floor restaurant is holding its second annual Holiday Guest Chef Series, and once again, there will be a Jewish meal.
The five-day event rounds up five celebrated local chefs, who each cook a meal influenced by the cuisine of their cultural heritage. On Dec. 5, Jason Fox of Commonwealth and the host, Fifth Floor chef David Bazirgan, will team up to cook a seven-course, tasting-menu meal tabbed “Modern Jewish.”
The menu is still in the planning stages, but here are some expected dishes: smoked salmon and roe with rye and horseradish; a terrine of quail and black truffle with Manischewitz and purple mustard; potato latkes in a modern style with chicken liver and apple; and Woodpigeon pastrami with caraway dumplings in a double consommé. Yes, the last item includes pastrami made from pigeon meat!
Last year, Bazirgan and Jeff Baker of the restaurant Baker and Banker cooked the Jewish meal.
Other themes this year include Moroccan and Hawaiian. Each dinner costs $125; for wine pairings, add $75. A portion of the proceeds will go to Meals on Wheels. For more information, visit www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com or call (415) 348-1555.
DOWNTOWN BAGEL DEBUT: Schmendricks just dropped me a line with some big news. On Friday, Nov. 16, the Brooklyn-style bagel makers are going to venture away from their usual Mission District digs and make their downtown San Francisco debut. That’s right! Schmendricks will be in front of the ING Direct Cafe (101 Post St. at Kearney Street) from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
And there’s even better news: The normally $3 bagel (it’s worth it, believe me, although I wouldn’t necessarily want to spring for a dozen, even for my friends) will be given away for free. Well, what they’ve told me is that 100 will be given away for free. The website uses the term “limited.” In any regard, you’d better either be there early, or ready to wait in a massive line, or something to that effect. I don’t anticipate it will be a piece of cake to land one of those free bagels.
Schmendricks has two other appearances coming up: Saturday, Nov. 17, the gang of four will be participating in Firehouse 8 Eats. Along with a bunch of food vendors, they’ll be selling bagels and shmears at Firehouse 8, 1648 Pacific Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Firehouse 8, by the way, is a cool new venture: a historic firehouse on Russian Hil, vacant for 30 years, and now a mixed retail space. By the way, number 2: La Pastrami (purveyors of the Pastrami Burrito) will also be at this Nov. 17 event.
Finally, Schmendricks on Sunday, Nov. 18 will be in the alley behind Four Barrel coffee in the Mission District. If the coffee line is too long, maybe the bagel line will be shorter. Or maybe not. But who doesn’t love waiting in long-ass lines for kick-ass product? Look for the bagels being sold between 10 a.m. and noon near Caledonia and 15th streets. Four Barrel and its new, at least to my Oakland eyes, parklet are located at 375 Valencia St. near 15th Street.
For information on all of these events, as well as all Schmendricks news going forward — maybe this downtown journey is a sign of things to come — check out www.schmendricks.com.
Save room for …
Three dining spots that Wise Sons Delicatessen co-owner Evan Bloom recommends after his recent culinary trip to New York:
Mile End Deli (original location in Brooklyn or new sandwich shop in Manhattan). Evan says: Try the smoked veal tongue sandwich if available, but you can’t go wrong with the signature smoked meat sandwich or any of the classics (latkes, matzah ball soup, smoked salmon, cheesecake).
Russ & Daughters (Lower East Side). Evan says: All the smoked fish is amazing, but co-owner Josh Tupper made us his favorite sandwich — smoked salmon, scallion cream cheese, whitefish salad and wasabi flying fish roe — and it really works.
Veselka (East Village). Evan says: It’s Ukrainian, but much of the food is also Jewish. At 3 in the morning one night, we had blintzes and latkes and goulash. It was one of the best meals we had in New York.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s list of 2012 “Bargain Bites” restaurants includes Oakland’s Amba (kosher vegetarian Israeli) and San Francisco’s Deli Board (Jewish deli–inspired sandwiches). Also on the list is a place I always think is a Jewish deli, Morty’s Delicatessen in San Francisco, but it isn’t. For the full list, visit www.sfgate.com/food/bargainbites/2012/list … Patch.com reports that Levy’s Bagels & Co. of San Ramon is finally past the red tape and getting ready to open a new Alameda location in mid-November. It’s at the corner of Webster Street and Atlantic Avenue … Inspired in part by a great meal at a Ukrainian restaurant in New York City last month, Wise Sons Deli co-owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman are in the process of adding blintzes to their menu once or twice a week — and soon hope to make them a permanent part of an expanded breakfast menu. They are also selling a new house recipe all-beef salami … Paulie’s Pickling in San Francisco is pumping up its menu, as well. Co-owner Liz Ashby is now making latkes and serving them with housemade applesauce and herbed sour cream starting on Thursdays. When they run out, she’ll break out her strata, a frittata-like dish with lox, eggs, onions and rye croutons … Chances are Manischewitz Concord Grape will not be among the discussion topics when Eric Asimov, the chief wine critic of the New York Times, is in conversation with master sommelier Evan Goldstein at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the JCC of San Francisco. Visit www.jccsf.org for info on this and other culinary events at the JCCSF — including an event in March 2013 called “Brunch with Russ & Daughters” … At “The Future of Jewish Food” event in New York last month, a panel of new Jewish deli trailblazers dissected a number of topics, including that old bugaboo: Have old-guard Jewish delis fallen off their game? The four panelists, including Bloom and Peter Levitt of Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, agreed with a resounding “Yes!” … In addition to the panel, Wise Sons and Saul’s were among the contributors to the nine-course, $200-per-seat, sold-out “Mile End Shabbat Dinner,” which was part of the New York City Wine and Food Festival. Holy shmaltzed chanterelles, just look at this menu: www.bit.ly/UKkkVb.
Hardly Strictly Bagels runs the second Friday of each month. For more frequent Jewish food news, follow @andytheohr on Twitter. Send hot tips and out-of-the-way finds to firstname.lastname@example.org.