May 28, 2024
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KosherPalooza’s Five Best Bites

By Nati Burnside

The debut KosherPalooza came and went in a flash. The whirlwind of cooking demos, panels, games and samples was an eight-hour extravaganza held at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey on Wednesday, June 28. With almost 4,000 people in attendance, the day was certainly a hectic one as guests tried to navigate their way through the packed room to find the specific thing they came to see.

I trekked through the more than 100 booths trying to sample everything on the menu over the course of the day. There was pretty much something for everybody. Fish and meat. Desserts and appetizers. Bread and gluten-free options. With restaurants, caterers and kosher food brands of all types, there were a lot of options on the floor that day.

One big improvement from other kosher food shows was the separation of dairy and meat. With the right side of the hall containing dairy vendors and the left side featuring meat products (with pareve options sprinkled throughout), perusing the offerings was certainly a smoother experience.

That said, here are my top five best bites from KosherPalooza 2023:

 

  1. Jalapeño Chicken Sausage, Pelleh Poultry (Swan Lake, New York)

Pelleh Poultry isn’t exactly a small name in the kosher food business. Having been around for 32 years, they’ve established a brand for delivering quality products to people from their base in upstate New York.

But they are trying out some new products this year and showed up to KosherPalooza ready to get the word out. One of the new lines they came to showcase was their chicken sausages.

You might be familiar with chicken hot dogs, which are often relegated to being used as a beef alternative for health reasons because they just don’t taste nearly as good. But sausages carry more flavor than franks. So even though the base is chicken, if you can get some great flavors, you can certainly make a product that’s worthy.

That’s what Pelleh has done here. Launched with five flavors just two months ago, these sausages could make some noise on the market for their robust taste. I favored the jalapeño, but I’m a fan of heat. “We aren’t looking to use a crazy amount of heat,” said Eliezer Franklin, CEO of Pelleh. “We are going for big flavors.”

He’s right. The jalapeño sausages were certainly spicy, but they aren’t going to be too much for most people. “Our mission has always been to make products without unnecessary ingredients and it’s been working so far,” Franklin said. “Who knows what’s coming up next.”

 

  1. Apple Babka, Haus of Babka (Toms River, New Jersey)

Avital Stern always liked entertaining. But a lot of that had to do with baking. She’d experiment with different recipes and knock on neighbors’ doors with samples for them to taste (sounds like a great place to live).

As a bunch of her creations were dairy, she started with trying to sell a few things one year for Shavuot. Ten years later, things are a little different. She now focuses on babka and is quite well known in the area. I tried her apple flavor (a mini version on a stick) and loved everything about it. The dough was soft and the filling was a happy medium between being sweet and still having a strong apple flavor.

Apparently, the story of the apple flavor also originates from a holiday. For Rosh Hashanah a few years ago, Stern says she spent days chopping thousands of apples to make the babkas that she intended to only offer seasonally. But people loved the flavor so much that she kept it on the menu.

Stern now has a commercial kitchen at home and pumps out 11 different flavors of babka. She sells them on her website and ships them all over the place, but her products are also available in a few kosher supermarkets. When I asked what her goals were, she said, “Sky’s the limit. I don’t have goals. Wherever Hashem and the wind takes us, that’s where we will go. And I mean every single word of that.”

 

  1. Basturma, Meat & Board (Lakewood, New Jersey)

There were multiple booths at KosherPalooza that featured either jerky or charcuterie in some capacity, but the best of those in my opinion was Meat & Board.

Yehuda Birnbaum owns Meat & Board and his story is a familiar one. He started making some things himself just to see if he could do better than what was currently available. The first social media post with a picture of his creation led to a dozen people messaging him to order. When the recent dried meat trend started taking off, he rode the wave and started pumping out high quality charcuterie boards. Eventually, he built out his own commercial kitchen in Lakewood and now he’s selling packages of his different meats individually.

But it all started six years ago with the Basturma. The Armenian dried meat was the first thing that Birnbaum tried to make other than sausages. Little did he know, sometimes less is more. “I dried it for too long,” Birnbaum recalled. “It was terrible. Actually, it was so bad that I still have the piece years later. I keep it as a reminder to learn from my mistakes.”

If you want to be the beneficiary of his trial and error, head to the website (meatandboard.com) and order. They ship everywhere and are hoping to be in some kosher supermarkets soon.

 

  1. Chocolate Brownie Macaron,
    Bread and Batter (Brooklyn, New York)

Gabrielle Srugo was lucky enough to go on a trip to Paris at the age of 18. While she was there, she discovered macarons and fell in love. With vacation behind her, Srugo began to search Brooklyn for the delicate French creation only to come up empty. Not only wasn’t there a good kosher macaron to be found, there wasn’t any kosher product on the market at all.

So, Srugo did what anybody else would do. She tried to make them herself.

A year later, her macarons were really good … tasting. But they weren’t uniform, beautiful and professional. It turns out that the technique involved in making them was something that Srugo couldn’t just pick up with practice. She needed professional help.

“I went to a culinary school and I paid them for me to go for one day,” Srugo told me about her unorthodox story. “They were able to show me how to make them correctly and I’m still making every piece by hand to this day.”

That’s right, she’s crafting every single one of these beauties and has been for 10 years. With an apartment in Brooklyn that has been converted into a commercial kitchen, Bread and Batter is pumping out their menu of about 15 flavors to kosher supermarkets all across the tri-state area.

When it comes to all the cool flavors, Srugo said that they try to be open to suggestions from customers and follow trends in the industry that make their product so popular.

That said, the chocolate brownie flavor is my favorite. When I told this to Srugo, she smiled and told me that there are two things that make the chocolate one different from all the others. The first is that all the other cookies are the same flavor and they use food coloring to align them to their theme. The chocolate one is actually colored and flavored with cocoa. The other difference is that while every other cookie has that signature soft, creamy middle, the chocolate has a crisp middle that is due to the filling being made of ganache.

I guess sometimes it’s the simple things in life.

 

  1. Steak Tacos, Lamppost Bistro Bar & Lounge (Pine Beach, New Jersey)

There weren’t a ton of restaurants present at KosherPalooza, but those that were there certainly made their presence known. The bigger problem for Hillel Fisher, partner at Lamppost, was the crowd making their presence felt.

“We went through a thousand tacos in just a few hours,” he said with an awestruck tone. “We just didn’t expect to see that many people so quickly. But I guess it means that they loved the food!”

That they did. The steak tacos are right off of Lamppost’s menu (there you get three of them) and use a crunchy, house-made, square tortilla shell filled with guacamole, diced ribeye, pico de gallo,and salsa.

Lamppost has become a destination since its opening in 2020. Known for their super comfortable lounge that allows people to swing by and just hang out in a relaxing atmosphere without having to commit to a full dinner dining experience, Lamppost truly tries to live up to one of their mantras: good foods, good moods.

“We are the restaurant you never want to leave,” said Fisher about his place. “We’ve created a place with fresh ingredients and seasonal menu changes to accommodate that idea. The goal is to let the food shine through.” The steak tacos probably aren’t seasonal, so get yourself to Pine Beach and find out what is.


Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected]

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