Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
Two new Jewish food concepts have emerged as part of the pivot that food businesses have had to make during the coronavirus pandemic: Schmaltz in San Francisco and the Marvelous Matzah Experiment in Sunnyvale. Both are welcome additions to the Bay Area’s Jewish takeout and delivery scene.
Schmaltz, which launched on May 12, is a creation of Beth Needelman’s, who until recently was a sous chef at the San Francisco restaurant Corridor. Schmaltz is one of three food concepts (plus a fourth for cocktails) developed within an incubator hosted by the Hi Neighbor restaurant group, intended to help the chefs continue working.
Though she was French-trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Needelman said she was told to “cook with your heart and cook what you love.”
“I love introducing people to my culture and giving Jewish food more exposure to people who might not be as familiar with it,” said Needelman, who grew up part of a tight-knit family in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
She calls Schmaltz “elevated Jewish comfort food with a modern American twist.”
The menu features soups, salads, bowls, sandwiches and entrées that are reflective of Needelman’s Ashkenazi heritage, with some Israeli influences. Food delivery can be ordered online at GrubHub and Caviar or called in for pickup.
The opening menu includes kreplach; a knish; schmears such as beet hummus, dill and harissa labneh with za’atar pita chips; Reuben-flavored meatballs; a shwarma cauliflower bowl; a chicken schnitzel sandwich with sauerkraut and schmaltz aioli; and a chicken sandwich on potato latkes.
“This food is something we recognize and enjoy from our upbringing, and it brings us joy to share it with others,” she said. “Jews are saying ‘We’re here, we’re proud, and this is what we have to offer.’”
The Marvelous Matzah Experiment (a play on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) is a project dreamed up by Jeffrey Weinberg, whose JW Catering in Sunnyvale has long catered seders, b’nai mitzvahs and tech company events. With celebrations canceled during the pandemic, Weinberg has continued doing boxed meals. Now he’s pivoted to something he’d already been thinking about: Jewish deli.
“Back in January, I was complaining to my chef and [general manager] that I was tired of calling Katz’s Deli for my fix of pastrami. I have my bubbe’s and my mother’s recipes, and it’s not like we don’t know how to cook. Then things started canceling, and we began playing with my recipes.”
The offerings started with pastrami, corned beef and half-sour garlic pickles, and then the team branched out to matzah ball soup, challah French toast (with challah from Wise Sons — he wants to give credit where it’s due) and grilled cheese sandwiches, then mac ’n’ cheese with “crispy bits” — the edges of the pastrami and corned beef — and his mother’s brisket recipe, or “Mitzi’s Brisket.” They are brining, curing and smoking all of the meat, including smoked turkey breast.
Pickup and delivery orders are available in the South Bay through DoorDash and GrubHub, and occasionally in the East Bay, where Weinberg’s mother lives.
The family moved to Moraga when Weinberg was 12, and he had his bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. His mother is in Walnut Creek and has been promoting his new venture by telling all of her friends. Customers can call or order through his website.
“It’s funny how my original idea pre-pandemic was do corned beef, pastrami and pickles, just a few items to provide to tech companies,” he said. “Now that companies aren’t working in their offices, we’ve expanded our reach.”
Though this endeavor was born out of the moment — he started it on March 12 — the happy clientele has ensured that the deli items won’t disappear when the virus does, Weinberg said. The room where people used to do tastings for his catering company is now where people come to pick up their orders. He is thinking about doing deli pop-ups farther north, in Palo Alto and places where there’s more Jewish community. And then, who knows.
“The food is being enjoyed and the concept is being embraced,” he said.
Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein stopped by his storefront to get takeout recently, and posted on Facebook that the matzah ball soup — the chicken bones are slow-cooked for eight hours — is “fantastic.”
“This has definitely been a happy accident,” Weinberg said of the shift to deli. “Hopefully out of the pandemic comes growth, happiness and maybe matzah ball soup to save the world.”
Schmaltz is at 100 Van Ness Ave. (pickup on the Fell Street side), S.F. (415) 834-5684 or incubatorseries.square.site/schmaltz. Available to order through Grubhub and Caviar.
JW Catering is at 649 S. Bernardo Ave., Sunnyvale. (408) 568-0658 or jwcatering.com/marvelous-matzah-experiment