Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - March 31, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba
C M Y K PAGE C1
These loners are losers / C3
ARTS & LIFE
ARTS@ FREEPRESS. MB. CA I WINNIPEGFREEPRESS. COM I HOROSCOPE C4 I MISS LONELYHEARTS C4 I DIVERSIONS C7
TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2015 C 1
T HIS time last year, Winnipeg chef Jon Hochman
was struggling to build a clientele at
Fitzroy, a Sherbrook Street restaurant with a
short menu of small plates.
Casual walk- ins weren’t digging the room. The oldschool
fine- dining crowd didn’t want to share meals.
Regulars, meanwhile, were far less enthusiastic
about Hochman’s higher- concept creations — an appetizer
of pike- and- clam fritters, a main of barbecue
pork with scallops and corn — than they were about
the Jewish- inspired comfort food that started creeping
on to the menu.
At the end of its 16- month existence, Fitzroy was
slinging salt beef with hot mustard, a cheeseburger
topped with chicken- fat crackling and a thick slice
of rye bread shmeared with goldeye and scrambled
eggs. It had become a purveyor of high- concept
nouveau- Jewish cuisine.
Realizing which way the wind was blowing,
Hochman shuttered the doors, took down the ambiguous
Fitzroy sign and remade his rented West
Broadway space into Sherbrook Street Delicatessen,
the latest in a slew of Winnipeg restaurants to mine
the shmaltz- infused flavours of Eastern European
Jewish cuisine, either traditionally or with an ironic
Winnipeg 10 or 12 years ago, we had a few
French bistros opening. French bistros serve comfort
food, and comfort food is essentially what people
want,” said Hochman, 29.
The notion Jewish deli food is comfort food may
seem strange to non- Jews, given Ashkenazi cuisine’s
liberal use of chicken fat, as well as its heavy reliance
upon both offal and offcuts.
But Ashkenazi cuisine does resemble French
bistro fare in that both originated as peasant food —
the stuff home cooks made out of necessity in the old
country. Since its opening in early March, Sherbrook
Street Delicatessen has been selling chopped liver,
smoked brisket, beef tongue, pickled herring and
fried salami, all made and cured in house.
And yes, business is in fact much better.
“ Traditional eastern European cooking, it’s not
what’s in, in the moment. It’s a difficult cuisine and
it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of labour involved,
unless you want to do a scoop and serve,” said Hochman,
who uses an off- site commissary to cure his
meats but makes almost every menu items — including
the bagels — in house.
The artisanal, ultra- traditional approach at Sherbrook
Street Delicatessen is unusual, considering
Hochman has the financial support of a de facto restaurant
chain. He’s backed by Noel Bernier, whose
stable of Winnipeg restaurant investments includes
Carnaval, Barley Brothers and Prairie 360.
Hence the kitschiness of Sherbrook Street’s menu,
where some sandwiches are named after people,
such as the late Izzy Asper. Bernier’s involvement
also explains the presence behind the till of former
Kelekis fixture Jim Pappas, who was working in
another Bernier establishment after his own North
End institution closed.
Nonetheless, other purveyors of Jewish deli food
are thrilled to see Hochman open. Only six years
ago, Toronto food writer David Sax penned Save the
Deli to document the continent- wide disappearance
of traditional, house- made Ashkenazi food.
“ A place like Hochman’s opening up is fantastic for
the city. It gives people working downtown access to
a deli lunch,” said Aaron Bernstein, 33, whose family
has run Bernstein’s Deli in River Heights for decades.
“ I think there’s enough business. I don’t think
After a series of Winnipeg deli closures over the
past two decades, Bernstein’s was the last sit- down
restaurant in Winnipeg where deli purists could
chow down on house- made Ashkenazi dishes such as
pickled tongue, gefilte fish or kugel.
After Aaron joined his mother Marla at the
business in 2012, the menu was modernized to add
Jewish- fusion nods such as potato- pancake stackers
and a bison Reuben sandwich. There are now also
some Middle Eastern touches, such as a pita- based
fattoush salad and shakshouka, a breakfast dish of
eggs poached in tomato sauce, onions and chili peppers.
Bernstein’s was also the first Winnipeg restaurant
to re- establish the tradition of making corned beef
in house and serving it warm, stacked thick and glistening
with tender, silky fat. Sherbrook Street Deli
is now competing with its own smoked meat — as is
Exchange District sandwich shop King + Bannatyne,
whose “ River City brisket” approximates the smoked
meat served at Montreal’s famous Schwartz’s Hebrew
Despite Hochman’s claim there’s nothing trendy
about Jewish cuisine, brisket is definitely having its
moment. So are other Jewish staples such as challah,
the light and eggy white bread that’s turned into
French toast at both Bernstein’s and West Broadway’s
Tallest Poppy, Winnipeg’s cheekiest purveyor
of nouveau Jewish cuisine.
When Poppy proprietor Talia Syrie started serving
pulled pork on challah, she knew most of her customers
wouldn’t be in on the joke.
“ People who aren’t Jewish don’t really get the
atrocity of it, the pure sacrilegious nature of the
combination,” said Syrie, 38, whose southern- Jewish
mashup of a menu also includes a brisket- based
chicken- fried steak and a traditional chicken soup
with matzo balls.
Syrie, like Hochman, didn’t originally intend to
proselytize for the cuisine of her childhood. Over
time, she too has come to see Jewish cuisine as comfort
“ I think there is a real simplicity to it. I think
people can easily wrap their heads around the idea
of taking something that isn’t that valuable, like an
offcut of meat, and making it into something quite
delicious,” she said.
“ It seems very honest and there is this nostalgia
for a simpler time... people like the comfort of knowing
all the things that are in your food.”
bartley. kives@ freepress. mb. ca
By Bartley Kives
Newish Jewish noshes
The old- world
is not just your
Know your shmaltz
A brief Jewish food primer:
Ashkenazi cuisine : Jewish food
from Eastern Europe. Heavily
influenced by Slavic and German
Blintzes : Stuffed crepes, folded up
and baked or fried.
Brisket : A cut of beef cured and
smoked into corned beef, smoked
meat or pastrami. Traditionally
steamed before serving and sliced
Chopped liver : Precisely what you
think it is. Usually made from beef.
Gefilte fish : A meatball or loaf
made from ground freshwater fish
such as pickerel, sauger, pike,
sucker or carp. Usually served cold
with beet horseradish.
Knishes : Pockets of dough stuffed
with cheese, potatoes or other
Kugel : A noodle casserole.
Matzo balls : Dumplings made of
ground- up matzo, a dry flatbread.
Mizrahi cuisine : Jewish food from
the Middle East. Heavily influenced
by Arabic cuisine.
Schmaltz : Chicken fat, rendered
into a cooking oil and condiment.
Sephardic cuisine : Jewish food
from North Africa. Heavily influenced
by Spanish and Moroccan
— Bartley Kives
cooking, it’s not
what’s in, in the
moment. It’s a
and it’s a lot of
a lot of labour
you want to do
a scoop and
DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Customers chow down on eastern European- inspired fare prepared by chef Jon Hochman, left, at Sherbrook Street Delicatessen; below, smoked meat ( top) and a bagel with lox.
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