A Crown Heights thoroughfare known for baby carriages, yeshiva bochers and the occasional Mitzvah Tank is about to be home to a trendy pizzeria and wine bar, the first exclusively kosher wine bar in the city.
Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, located at the corner of Kingston Avenue and Lincoln Place, is scheduled to open at the end of next week and will serve a variety of kosher wines, gourmet pizzas and Mediterranean-inspired dishes under the supervision of OK Kosher Certification.
The bistro will join an increasing number of Jewish businesses that are expanding north of Eastern Parkway, a section of Crown Heights also home to a large West Indian community as well as a growing population of trendy young professionals — those “spilling over from Park Slope,” according to the restaurant’s owner.
“I felt that there’s a real void for real quality food along with some ambiance that happens to be kosher,” said the owner, Danny Branover, who comes from a background in Israeli high-tech. “Typically the owners use line cooks. There’s no real creativity there.”
So Branover figured he’d take it upon himself to reverse this trend and meanwhile jump on the wine-bar bandwagon that has been overtaking the city.
“It’s much easier to teach a restaurateur about kosher code, versus taking an ultra-Orthodox, religious Jew and teaching him how to cook,” he added, laughing.
In addition to individual artisanal pizzas, the restaurant will also serve fish, handmade pastas, salads and pastries — with morning hours for breakfast pastries and coffee. Executive chef Moshe Wendel, who worked for years as a chef in Philadelphia before becoming Orthodox, says he finds inspiration in the French Bistro Moderne movement. Joining him are sous chef Adam SaNogueria and pastry chef Ehud Ezra, both of whom are also relatively recent baalei teshuvah.
“What I’m hoping is that everybody will come,” Wendel said. “The fact that it’s kosher will be secondary. We’re working so hard to make everything taste like real food, with the best ingredients.”
Both the executive chef and owner are aiming for a casual atmosphere with affordable prices. Wendel expects that a personal pizza will go for about $12, while lower-end wine glasses will start at $4.
“We didn’t want to open something very fancy because we’d scare people away,” Branover said. “We wanted an everyday trendy place that has gourmet food — your everyday food made much better.”
As far as wines go, Branover says he intends to bring in kosher wines from all over the world. While the restaurant will start out pouring mevushal wines only (near-boiled kosher wines that can be handled by Jews and non-Jews alike), Branover says he intends to hire a designated shomer Shabbat waiter, who will be able to pour non-mevushal kosher wines for all customers. Branover is excited to welcome all customers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
“Kosher wine has exploded, and it’s only a matter of time before we have way more for a kosher wine consumer,” said Arron Ritter, president of the Kosher Wine Society.
Branover added, “The idea is to start a trend — not to stop there, but to open some other branches.”
While they hope to expand further into the city, Crown Heights was the ideal starting point for both Branover and Wendel, who admire the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and are excited to bring gourmet food to a neighborhood so steeped in culture.
“I think of this as almost a reverse shlichus,” Wendel said. “Lubavitch goes out and brings Judaism to the rest of the world. Me, I want to bring real food to Lubavitch.”
In other kosher food news, across the river in Manhattan, the Upper East Side is now home to the city’s first glatt kosher Indian restaurant. Dakshin II (64th Street and First Avenue) is owned by Sanjay Bahtnadar and also under the kosher supervision of the OK.