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Highland Park Delights in Turkish Cuisine at ‘The Bridge’

It was (re)opening night and the place was packed.

The Bridge, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant that had been a fixture in Highland Park for years, had become kosher, and the Jewish community came out in large numbers on Saturday night, February 9, to sample the restaurant’s different offerings.

The restaurant, now under the supervision of the Va’ad HaRabbanim of Raritan Valley, advertises that it can seat 95 people. Families and couples of various ages occupied all the tables on opening night.

Reflecting the restaurant’s identity, all section headings and most dishes on the menu are listed with both their Turkish and their English names. Customers can see foods they recognize, such as hummus, babaganoush, stuffed grape leaves, salmon, rice and shakshuka, and dishes that might be new to them, such as doner kebab (a shawarma gyro marinated with authentic fresh Turkish herbs), mucver (deep-fried zucchini pancakes), karniyarik (eggplants stuffed with ground meat, onions, peppers, herbs and tomatoes) and much more. Many offerings are gluten-free or vegan. All orders are served with complimentary baked-on-the-premises pide bread.

The owner/operator of The Bridge, Sam Eriske, was born and raised in Kuzguncuk, a town of roughly 8,000 people in Istanbul, Turkey. He arrived in the U.S. in 1989 and initially pursued a career in fashion. Yet he found himself drawn to food service, working first in a deli in 1998 and then purchasing a building in Long Branch and renovating it to house a restaurant. That restaurant, The Bridge, opened in 2010 and moved to Highland Park in 2015 after Hurricane Sandy.

Asked why he decided to undergo a major change and transform his well-regarded restaurant to become kosher, Eriske said that he’d heard from many Jewish friends in both Deal and the Highland Park/Edison community that an authentic Turkish restaurant that was kosher would have a lot of appeal in the region. He conducted weeks of research, visiting two dozen kosher restaurants throughout the state, and found that none offered the range of menu options, the fidelity to traditional recipes and the blends of seasoning that The Bridge had mastered.

Eriske related that transforming an existing restaurant into a kosher facility is no easy process. Kashering the kitchen took close to a week. He had to replace all the kitchen equipment and all the plates. He also had to hire a full-time mashgiach; on that score, he wisely selected someone with a long history of communal involvement in the frum community, Michael Garber.

Community members who came to the restaurant for its first night as a kosher establishment were delighted with their meals. Rachel and Joseph David sampled izgara kofte (grilled lamb patties), zucchini and eggplant in tomato sauce, hummus and salad. Rachel said, “This is a great place for a Saturday night! The food was wonderful. And the bread was really fresh and delicious.”

Michael and Shari Gordon and their eldest daughter Miryam had the chicken shish kabob, the chicken chops, and the zucchini pancakes. Michael raved about the food, saying, “It was all really good, fresh, moist and with just a little kick from the flavoring. The presentation was very attractive. And that bread was phenomenal!” Miryam added, “The food was simply delicious and I was impressed with the unusual seasoning: it’s nuanced and tasteful.” The family added that they were delighted to help welcome a new restaurant to the community.

Marla Rottenstreich came with her oldest daughter Mayana and her son Nati. Mayana shared, “Everything was really good and a little spicy”; she was pleased that her mom took her and her brother to try something new. Marla tried a vegetable dish and reported that it was “very flavorful.”

Members of the va’ad praised the newly kosher restaurant and what it means to the community.

“To transform The Bridge into a kosher restaurant required a strong cooperative effort between the rabbis of the Vaad, Sam Ethem Eriske and his staff, “ said Rabbi Yaakov Luban, spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison and executive rabbinic coordinator at the Orthodox Union. “In fact, the restaurant was closed for almost an entire week to allow for cleaning, koshering and changing the inventory. This was in addition to hours of preliminary planning and discussion over a long period of time.”

“Judging from the initial turn-out, the community is very excited about this new kosher eatery. To my knowledge, The Bridge is the only kosher Turkish restaurant in the area, and together with the other local establishments, our area now offers a very good selection of kosher dining options.”

“This is a very healthy development that signifies the growth of our community,” said Rabbi Steven Miodownik, spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavas Achim of Highland Park and a teacher at the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison. “A robust choice of kosher dining options makes Highland Park/Edison an even more desirable place to live, and I encourage everyone to patronize all our local establishments as much as possible to ensure their successes.”

The Bridge is located at 315 Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, and can be reached by phone at (732) 418-9000. Parking is available on Raritan Ave. and in the free lot behind the restaurant, on Denison Street.

By Harry Glazer

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