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Spotted in Jewish DC: Alex Levin’s Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop!

We’ve smelled, er spotted, something delicious baking in Jewish DC. It’s a pop-up bakeshop for Rosh Hashanah complete with things like hazelnut chocolate rugelach, caramelized apple pie, whipped ricotta cheesecake, honey challah with raisins.

Your stomach grumbling yet?

The man behind the pastries, Chef Alex Levin, took a quick break from the kitchen to chat with us about the best things to order from this bakeshop, his New Year resolutions, and where he eats when he’s not working.

P.S. GatherDC-ers can get their hands on these baked goods for 10% off with code GatherDC at checkout.

chef levin

Allie: What number pop-up bakeshop is this for you?

Chef Alex: This is the 3rd Annual Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop. Each year, the interest and popularity of this grows exponentially. We have increased our production potential to make sure we have challah and desserts for everyone who is interested. I’ve also done pop-ups in the past for Thanksgiving and other holidays. This year, we’re considering extending the pop-up to offer some items for Yom Kippur too. Stay tuned!

Allie: What item(s) are you most excited about whipping up for the public to nosh on?

Chef Alex: When the Rosh Hashanah meal starts off with an fabulous challah, the year begins on a high note. My challah recipe started with my beloved grandmother. Then, it got a “pastry chef” upgrade after I learned how to make bread professionally. The bread is rich in flavor with a dark, golden crust. We use honey, wheat flour, raisins for those who wish, and shape the bread in the traditional circle.

I love rugelach.  So does everyone else! We have the very popular Hazelnut Chocolate Crunch Rugelach available.

We also organized “The Ultimate Rosh Hashanah Spread” which gives you one of everything. 

challah

Allie: How can GatherDC readers can their hands on these goodies?

Chef Alex: Click here or click on the link in my Instagram profile @chefalexlevin and enter promo code GatherDC for 10% off your order. You can have everything delivered to your home or pickup your order in person from a couple of central locations in the city. If you have any special requests,or if price is an issue for anyone, reach out to me on Instagram. I will make it work for you.

Allie: What is your favorite way to celebrate the Jewish New Year?

Chef Alex: I love spending the holiday with my family. Right after the last delivery is made from the pop-up, I hop on a quick flight to New York to spend two days with them. My parents host a large gathering on the second day of Rosh Hashanah for lunch and I usually have the privilege of baking challah and desserts for that.

Allie: Do you have any personal resolutions for the Jewish New Year?

Chef Alex: To host Shabbat dinners on a regular basis. 

Allie: What’s your favorite restaurant in DC…that you don’t work at/for?

Chef Alex: Little Serow. When you walk in the front door, the team gives the warmest greeting. And of course the food is delicious – full of heat, bright flavors, and always changing.

Allie: Do you have any other plans to curate Jewish holiday related menus throughout the year?

Chef Alex: For Hanukkah, I have a big party planned at Casolare Ristorante + Bar for all of the synagogues in the city to come together and celebrate the holiday with all the staples (e.g. crispy latkes, sufganiyot). Alta Strada will host a Hanukkah dinner that Michael Schlow, Matt Adler, and I will cook for. For Passover, we will have a Passover Seder Feast at Riggsby and Alta Strada. Also, anyone that ever wants a special holiday meal in their home or a shabbat dinner in their home, just reach out to me.

Allie: I heard you traveled to Israel this year, how did that trip inspire you and your role as a chef in the city?

Chef Alex: The trip was called REALITY Taste and organized by the Schusterman Foundation. While it’s impossible to properly answer this question in any short way, what I can say is that the trip imparted a warrior-level need to impart the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) into all of my activities as a human being, and my duty as a leader in the community. So, this pop-up bakeshop – in this context – is an opportunity to bring a delicious and sweet Jewish New Year to anyone that is interested. 

dessert

Allie: What are you most excited for in the year ahead?

Chef Alex: This past year has been a hugely foundational moment of time. I just moved into a new condo in Bloomingdale, have been lucky to become super close with family and friends and have had the exciting pleasure of becoming an uncle. This year I am looking forward to settling down even more, getting involved in the board of a nonprofit here in the city and of course baking my head off for everyone that I can find!

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challahYou can place an order from Chef Alex Levin’s Rosh Hashanah Pop-Up Bakeshop here. Delivery and pickup options available on Saturday, 9/8 and Sunday, 9/9. For questions, email alevin@schlowrg.com.

*Use promo code GatherDC for 10% off.*

 

 

 

 

 

 


The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC: A Vegan Egg McMuffin!

In today’s crazy universe, the idea that we are moving towards a better tomorrow can at times seem, well, kind of hopeless.

The values that I care about most deeply are often left unprotected by my government.

The natural world is being destroyed daily by greed.

I could go on ad infinitum (but I won’t, because it’s way too depressing).

This week, I felt a genuine glimmer of hope that I have not experienced in far too long – all thanks to a tiny bean.

Specifically, the mung bean.

The mung bean, a plant species in the legume family from South Asia and Africa (great trivia fact), is the basis of Just Egg, a brand new vegan product that looks, tastes, and scrambles just like real egg (and no, this company is not paying me to say any of this. But, I mean, if they’re looking for an awesome brand ambassador – they can totally slide into my DMs).

egg

Someone who does get paid to eat and make delicious foods, AKA José Andrés, said of the Just Egg, “It’s not every day you see something that blows your mind.”

I spotted this miraculous product at Equinox, the DC-based restaurant owned by Jewish couple Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray that is now – no big deal or anything – the only East Coast location to feature Just Egg on their menu!

Due to my being married to The Avocadbro, I was lucky enough to accompany him to Equinox last week for a private event where we had the pleasure of being some of the first to take a bite out of the Just Egg (life goals).

We were completely blown away.

I watched a chef scramble up this liquid product, resembling liquid carton eggs, right in front of my eyes. As someone who is new to veganism, egg-based dishes have long been one of my favorite ways to get the protein I need without sacrificing taste or adding tons of calories. Finding a nutritious replacement for eggs when transitioning to a plant-based diet was challenging, because to be honest, even the best tofu scramble just won’t cut it sometimes. And yeah, I make a really good tofu scramble.

Pause here.

For those of you who have made it this far into the article, first – I’m very impressed with your attention span. Second, here’s a quick background on my recent transition to veganism: As someone who is deeply passionate about living according to my Jewish values, the transition to eating plant-based this past year felt pretty seamless. It all started after I decided to marry a hardcore vegan who loves spending Sunday mornings eating stacks of vegan pancakes while watching intense Netflix documentaries about the food industry (we’re really cool). So, after watching one too many documentaries, I was “woke” to what goes on behind the scenes at food companies, and could never look at food the same again. Plus, thanks to the amazing DC-based organization Jewish Veg, I realized that plant-based eating and Jewish living go hand-in-hand. I learned how veganism is one way to express our shared Jewish values of compassion, protection for the environment, and concern for our physical and spiritual well-being – every single day.

The minute I walked into Equinox last Tuesday morning, and looked around to see a room full of wide-eyed idealists, chefs, and social media influencers, all with a profound passion for a better world, my eyes started to water (no joke, it was quite embarrassing). I held back tears as I anxiously introduced myself to some of the best and brightest people in the plant-based business, including co-founder of JUST (the company behind Just Egg) Josh Balk and the director of upcoming documentary Meat the Future, Liz Marshall. My cynical soul began crashing down at the site of so many brilliant minds joining together to eat a vegan egg on a toasted, buttery English muffin. Because to me, that egg sandwich we were happily devouring was so much more than the sum of its mung bean, vegan mayo, and Daiya cheese parts. It was as if we were biting into the future.

So, whether you are a diehard carnivore, cheese lover (no judgment, jumbo slice pizza is definitely one of the best meals in DC), or devout vegan, I hope we can all be excited about the possibility of a brighter future for our planet.

A future where all beings, regardless of where they come from or what species they are, can be treated with love.

Learn more about Just Egg here.

vegan egg

 

About the Author: Allison Friedman is the Communications Director for GatherDC. When she’s not at work, you can find her hiking in the great outdoors, enjoying weekend getaways in Bethany Beach and trying out new vegan recipes. She lives in the rolling hills of Cleveland Park with her husband, The Avocadbro.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The Ultimate DC Pizza Rankings (Vegan Style)

The following is a guest blog post by The Avocadbro, a vegan food blogger who shares his greatest animal-free eating adventures on Instagram

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I imagine being asked to rank my favorite vegan-friendly pizza restaurants feels the same as being a parent who is asked to rank their favorite kids. All my favorite dairy-free pizza places are amazing in their own way.

Why am I ranking vegan pizza places you may ask?

Well, Shavuot is this week! Shavuot is the Jewish holiday that celebrates when God gave the Israelites the Torah. For some reason, Jews commemorate this event by eating copious amounts of cheese, and I’d like to provide some dairy-free alternatives for those of us who choose to abstain – or are unable to partake – in the cheese-eating festivities. There are many reasons behind the tradition to consume dairy on Shavuot, but some scholars say it has something to do with Israel being the “land of milk and honey”.

Quick tangent on this…

You might be surprised to find out that the “honey” in this holy phrase isn’t about honey from bees. It’s about honey from dates. As someone who avoids animal products, that’s kind of cool, not bothering bees and all.

But the “milk” part of that phrase is even more surprising. At least two-thirds of the world, including two-thirds of Jews, can’t digest cow’s milk properly. If two thirds of the people who live in a land of milk can’t consume milk, it must get pretty stinky there, right?

Apparently not. In Israel, all 55 Domino’s Pizza locations offer vegan cheese. It’s become one of the most vegan friendly countries in the world.

So, maybe it’s time to rebrand Israel as the “land of almond milk and date honey.”

While Domino’s in the United States still hasn’t caught up, there are no shortage of pizza places in DC that offer vegan cheese.

We’ve got a few pretty delicious vegan-pizza spots worth giving a Shavuot Shout-Out.

I’m quite familiar with DC’s vegan pizza offerings. Pizza is currently in first place as my favorite food. When I first moved to DC about a decade ago, there was one place that I knew of that had vegan cheese: Pizzeria Paradiso. They had the DC market cornered and deserve some special recognition for being trendsetters.

Since then, a vegan cheese company called Daiya emerged and began supplying restaurants around the country with their products. I love Daiya. But if you’ve ever eaten it before and weren’t thrilled, you should know that about six months ago they upped their game in a major way. They came out with a new variety called “Cutting Board” style cheese. Anecdotally, people love it. And slowly, but surely, pizza places have switched over to this new style.

One last thing before I get into the rankings: There’s this myth that vegan cheese is made of weird ingredients. Let me quickly put that myth to rest. It’s not.

Daiya, for example, is mainly a blend of coconut oil and tapioca starch. That’s no weirder than dairy cheese, which could more accurately be called coagulated estrogen excretion from cattle. Sounds more like a Passover plague than an edible food.

Now onto the rankings…

The Elite Three

These places don’t just have vegan cheese (and yummy crust, and a wide selection of veggie toppings). They also have delicious, high-protein vegan meat.

1) Mellow Mushroom: Okay, I’m starting with a chain. But how many pizza places don’t have multiple locations now-a-days? The pizza industry is that strong (yay America!).

Mellow Mushroom’s pizza crust is freaking delicious. Its pizza is considered to be “Southern style.” They recently switched from Daiya cheese to Follow Your Heart cheese, which is very good.  Oh, and they also have vegan calzones. What more could ask for to nourish your late night Torah study seshes?

Pro-tip: Order yourself some vegan pizza with marinated tempeh and sun-dried tomatoes. It tastes incredible.

2) Pi Pizzeria: This place, located in Chinatown, has St. Louis-style deep dish. I love deep dish pizza because it’s more cubic volume of pizza than other styles. They also have Match Meat sausage, which is a really delicious vegan meat.

Word of warning: You have to call six hours ahead of time if you plan to order the vegan deep dish. They lose points for such an oddly strict schedule.

Pro-tip: make it a habit to call them every single morning on your commute to work. That way, you always have a vegan deep dish pizza available to you that evening. (I’m 90% joking – maybe don’t do that if you’re semi-interested in getting summer body ready.)

3) &pizza: Pizza connoisseurs scoff at &pizza because it’s not “real” pizza and gets made in a fancy toaster oven rather than a true pizza oven. But you know what? They’re kinda right. You know what else? Who cares! If you’re in a rush (and if the line isn’t too long), you can get a delicious personal pizza for about $10 and 5 minutes of your time.

Plus, it’s a native DC company and they have Beyond Meat sausage crumbles, which I highly recommend.

Pro-tip: There’s an &pizza location in Terminal C of Reagan National, and most airlines consider your &pizza a “personal item”. Plus, your airplane seat neighbors will be jealous.

Middle Tier

4) Menomale: Full disclaimer: I’ve never eaten here. But they offer both vegan cheese and vegan chicken. That’s pretty awesome. How have I not been here yet? Anyone want to go with me?

5) Duccini’s. This was the first pizza place in DC to get Daiya cheese back in 2010-ish. I remember, because I was there to celebrate that unforgettable occasion (I feel old). Today, they are still rocking the vegan pizza game. Plus, they’re open until 2am on weekends. I’m usually asleep by 10pm after a long night of Netflix, but if you’re cool and party at AdMo clubs, you might enjoy some late night, dairy-free deliciousness.

Pro-tip: They can also make vegan jumbo slices if you call ahead and get the right person on the phone.

6) Pizzeria Paradiso: As far as I know, this was the only place that offered vegan cheese back when I first moved to DC in 2008. Huge points for being part of history. Otherwise, it’s a solid Neapolitan-style pizza place.

7) Pete’s New Haven Pizza: A random city in a random state has its own style of pizza. And after deciding DC was in need of some New Haven, Connecticut culinary pedigree, Pete brought his pizza to DC. They were pretty early in offering vegan cheese. Big points for that.

8) Comet Ping Pong: There’s a dark Internet conspiracy that Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton have ordered vegan cheese pizza from here. Okay, I made that up, but seriously, both of them are vegan and might have ordered pizza from here before.

9) Timber: Wood-fired pizza in Petworth. To be honest, I’ve never eaten here (again, any takers to be my new pizza-eating buddy?). Based on other people’s reviews, this place sounds really good. And I know they offer vegan cheese. I wanted to go on Monday night to prepare for this blog post. But it’s closed on Mondays, resulting in a significant point loss. Some people need pizza at the end of a long Monday (especially before a major derecho). I know I did.

As Pitbull famously wrote, “[Vegan pizza is] going down [my throat]. I’m yelling Timber.”

10) DC Pizza: I’ve never been here either, but they do offer vegan cheese. I think it’s similar to &Pizza, but no vegan sausage option.

Lower Tier

Well, pretty much every other pizza place in DC doesn’t have vegan cheese, which results in a crushing point loss for them. Basically all of the other great pizza places in DC still make pretty good cheese-less pizza (call me crazy, but I prefer cheese on my pizza). As more and more people ditch dairy cheese, these places need to pick up the slack and acknowledge the changing tides.

In Italy, the birthplace of pizza, meat sales are declining. In response, the leading mortadella company in Italy came out with vegan versions of their products. A few years ago, that would’ve been unheard of. As of 2018, the company’s president said:  “It is an incontrovertible fact that the number of consumers choosing vegetarian and vegan [products] is growing.”

And New York City, the most well-known pizza city in the country, is now widely considered to be the most vegan-friendly city, with a large number of lactose struggling Jews and amazing vegan pizza places.

So, my message to Wiseguys, 2 Amys, Ghibellina, il Canale, Etto, Vace, All Purpose, Matchbox, 7th Hill, We The Pizza–heck, let’s throw in Manny & Olga’s, Pizza Boli’s, Ledo’s, Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut–it’s already the year 5778! (in the Hebrew calendar). Let’s get with the times and start offering vegan cheese.

If you have any questions, you can find me in Adams Morgan blocking traffic on 18th Street as I debate whether to get Mellow Mushroom or Duccini’s.

 

About the Author: Andrew Friedman is an attorney in Washington, DC. He writes about food, nutrition, and veganism on his blog, The Avocadbro, and shares his favorite vegan eating adventures on Instagram. He loves animals, but doesn’t love eating them.

Stephen responds to Rabbi Freundel. Koshergate Part III

In the June 22nd edition of “From the Rabbi’s Desk,” Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Freundel – also a rabbi for the Vaad – responds to a May 23 blog post from Kesher congregant David Barak.  I’ve broken it down into a few parts, and I’ve taken the liberty of responding.

Rabbi Freundel (RF):  1. Competition. Competition can be a plus in a business setting where someone is selling a product. It can improve prices and service. But the Vaad in its Kashrut supervision role is not a business, its a regulatory agency and none of the synagogue Rabbis receive any money from their volunteer involvement in the Vaad so there is no financial incentive here for us. Competition between regulatory agencies is not desirable in fact it seems absurd to me. The only way to compete would be to lower standards and if one sees ingesting non-Kosher food as equivalent to eating poison (which is the way the tradition looks at it) lowered standards is not desirable. Would you really want the FAA to have competition? On the service side- when there is a claimed foul-up, the Rabbis all hear about it and have to explain it (e.g. the 6th and Rye situation). That is far more effective than competition in keeping things working correctly.

(SR):

I find it a bit surprising that Rabbi Freundel argues for a monopoly – I had thought the Vaad would deny monopolistic preferences. But now its true colors are shown, so the question becomes: is a monopoly preferable in this instance?  Answer: no, it’s not.

a)      “The only way to compete would be to lower standards.”  False.  You could provide a better service – if the Vaad didn’t respond to my phone call for a week, service could obviously be improved.  Or you could provide services for a better price – unless you’re saying that the Vaad’s price already equals marginal cost and is as competitive as possible (I seriously doubt that).  Competition could improve performance in both areas.  Kosher certifiers will provide service with a smile (not necessarily at a lower standard) if they know they might lose the customer.

b)      Completely beholden.  If there is only one kosher certifying organization in town, kosher restaurants are completely beholden to the whims of the certifying agency for a livelihood.  And if you think that rabbis are never capricious or never play politics, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you – they are as human as the next man.

Fortunately for the consumer, there is no way of legally imposing a kosher monopoly in DC.  There is no Jewish community legislative and executive branch.  People will pick their certifying organizations according to their preferences.  If Circle K isn’t strict enough for them, then they will only eat at the Vaad (or something to this effect – I actually don’t know the comparative “strictness” of these two).

(RF): 2. The New York Situation. If you examine the situation in NY, competition is an ongoing problem. There are dozens of restaurants under supervisions that many observant people won’t use. There is absolutely no uniformity of standards and problems abound. Many people who take kashrut seriously won’t eat in the homes of others who think they are strictly kosher and establishments often bounce from supervising agency to supervising agency which creates great confusion and continuing lack of clarity as to where (given the standards any individual might follow) any individual can eat on any given day. David is right that only the size of the community allows this situation to be tolerated.

(SR):

I’m not 100% sure what is being argued here (and yes, I did read David’s original post).  There are certainly economies of scale in New York City.  As for the uniformity comment…  This is something that will naturally happen if consumers care enough about uniformity.  Again, enforcing a de jure uniformity rule is a moot point because there’s no Jewish agency that can enforce this (but, also again, it can be done through market demand).  But in broader terms, this begs the question of what role does the state play?   Say you have a bunch of different types of electric outlets across states.  Should the federal government mandate that all states have the same electric outlets?  If you ask me, this will happen naturally if necessary – I know that I would pay a little bit extra to stay at a hotel that would allow me to plug my iPhone in, and that would eventually cause surrounding hotels to convert their plugs.  But that’s an aside.

(RF): 3. On PR. Certainly the Vaad could be better. But you will remember that on the most recent issue (6th and Rye) I did a full presentation and Q&A at Carlebach and at Seudah Shlishit. I have done these things before. I also wrote a full article describing the Vaad that was published in the WJW some years ago and the Vaad is talking about doing something similar again. On the other hand there are those who dislike the Vaad to the point where they spread unsubstantiated claims that are patently false or gross distortions of the truth

For example:

a.”The vaad wont give supervision to a places where the genders might mix.”  Has the author visited Ben Yehuda’s or even Eli’s on a Saturday or Sunday night, if you do you can see that the claim is patently false.

b. “The Rabbis make lots of money.” As indicated and as different than most Vaad’s we make nothing, it’s all volunteer.

c. The latest- “It costs $60,000/year for vaad supervision.” The only thing this can possibly refer to is the mashgiah’s salary which in most cases is not that high. Nonetheless the mashgiah in a full service meat restaurant often works 60 or more hours a week. That mashgiah is also entitled to vacation and if we can arrange for it, health care. (Remember these are often people supporting a family). As such they are actually being paid something between $15-18 dollars an hour-hardly an exorbitant amount for someone with specialized training who fills the primary supervisory role. Also, and this is very important, mashgichim are usually allowed to take on roles in the restaurant such as food preparation. Therefore they replace a worker who at the very least might be making $40-50,000. As such the financial burden is just not that great. The only other fees are administrative fees to allow the Vaad to maintain an office, a secretary, and a supervisory structure of an administrator and supervising mashgichim. These are no higher than the normal fees that the other supervising agencies charge.

(SR):

I salute your PR efforts.  But 1) not everyone goes to Kesher Israel.  2) Nobody under the age of 35, who is not a Jewish professional, reads the Washington Jewish Week.

As for the last sentence in the first paragraph – that’s ad hominem.   Trying to deligitimize arguments because you say the person dislikes you.  As Scott Weinberg would say, “Where’s the evidence?”  I, for one, didn’t know a thing about the Vaad or the rabbis there until I tried doing business with them.

Complaint A:  I’ve heard it only once, but I never believed it.

Complaint B:  If the Vaad made a ton of money, then I would imagine every rabbi in DC would want to work for it, or else open another certifying organization.  That’s one the beauties of a competitive market – something you of course don’t support  – it keeps wages in check.

Complaint C:  I’ve never heard somebody say he had to pay $60,000 to the Vaad for certification.  But since I think this complaint refers to me, I think I’ll address it.  Rabbi Saunders (of the Vaad) estimated to me that a mashgiach’s yearly salary would total $60,000.  And Rabbi Saunders said the mashgiach could probably attend to non-kosher duties about 33 percent of the time.  This salary – $15 to $18 per your calculation – is almost double what a normal sandwich shop employee earns.  And these employees do not usually get healthcare either – something you now impose (despite the fact that it has nothing to do with kashrut).  Plus normal employees can work full time, not one-third of the time.  Yes, I realize that this is part of doing kosher business, but you have to also appreciate that $60,000 is cost prohibitive for many small shops that don’t do larger price sales like Eli’s restaurant does.  Additionally, when we asked for quotes from individual mashgiachs not affiliated with the Vaad, we received a much lower quote.

I’ve said throughout my response that the Vaad has no way of imposing a monopoly through law (despite its desires) because it can’t enact legislation that would shut down non-Vaad-certified restaurants.  But I’ve also said in the past that the DC kosher food world suffers from a lack of competition.  How to reconcile these two?  The Vaad has done a great job of dominating market share and keeping out competition simply by reputation.  Local rabbis tell all prospective kosher restaurateurs that they should use the Vaad as their certifying organization (as many Rabbis told me), and many kosher eaters don’t trust any non-Vaad certifiers.  Of course, the Vaad is well-within its rights to exert its influence and power this way.  But individual authors and commenters are also within their rights to try to show the community that subservience – rabbinical and congregational – to the Vaad might result in higher prices and fewer kosher restaurants.  If enough people begin to feel this way, then other options will arise.  That’s why I celebrate Sixth & Rye.

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  The views expressed in this article belong solely to Stephen.

Other GTJ posts on this subject:

Kosher Kontroversy: In Defense of the Va’ad – Bethany Murphy

Koshergate Kotinues – Link to HuffPo / Forward piece.

How Kosher is DCs Kosher Food Truck? – Link to WaPo article.

Q: why doesn’t DC have more kosher food restaurants? A: The Vaad – Stephen Richer