For decades, the stretch of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill has been known for its many Islamic bookstores, mosques and halal restaurants.
For the last year, it’s also offered a kosher option.
Later this month (Oct. 25, to be exact) marks the first anniversary of Pardes, a trendy, French-inspired meat restaurant founded by chef Moshe Wendel — who previously worked at Basil, an upscale dairy eatery on the “black side” of Crown Heights — and his wife Shana. It has Orthodox Union certification and a city Department of Health “A” rating.
For the couple, both baalei teshuvah who became part of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement a few years ago and decided to combine their mutual interests in the food business, their decision to open a restaurant in the Boerum Hill neighborhood — it has few kosher-observant Jews — was a leap of faith. And it’s an expression of their shared vision of a “funky,” innovative-but-unpretentious business that displays friends’ Jewish artwork on the walls and plays easy-listening Jewish and pop music in the background.
Why Boerum Hill?
“We liked the neighborhood,” says Moshe, 32, who grew up in Philadelphia and apprenticed in France. The couple looked for a location in a non-Jewish neighborhood — they’d find more openness to their brand of eclectic eating, they figured. Then the site of a former Thai-Vietnamese restaurant on Atlantic Avenue became available.
Pardes moved in. Moshe works the kitchen, Shana works the front.
Moshe says he feels comfortable with his Islamic neighbors — with his bushy beard and large knit skullcap, “They thought I was a Muslim,” he says. He is careful to steer Islamic customers away from many of his beer-laced productions and directs them instead to the alcohol-free options, since alcohol is banned for observant Muslims.
Moshe calls his menu, which changes daily depending on his whim and the availability of ingredients, “progressive French.” On one recent day it featured Organic Chicken & Waffles (“a traditional Southern black dish”), Duck with Jersey Peaches, and Lime Meringue.
Don’t look for knishes or a pastrami sandwich.
“I wanted to make a place I would want to eat in,” a place that would appeal to sophisticated kosher customers, Moshe says. His type of restaurant “doesn’t have kugel.” His original offerings were tamer, more burgers and steaks, until Shana challenged him. For this you trained in France? He returned to his gourmet roots.
The restaurant (pardesrestaurant.com) pulls in a steady flow of customers, especially at dinnertime, most driving in from Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods and further away.
Vicky Jemal, a resident of Brooklyn’s Syrian-Jewish neighborhood a half-hour drive away, tries to come at least once a week; she brought her mother and daughter for lunch the other day. “They serve gourmet meals,” says Jemal, who calls Pardes cuisine Manhattan-style (i.e., upscale haute cuisine) in the middle of Brooklyn.
Pardes is “off the beaten path,” but “people don’t mind traveling” for a satisfying meal, says Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine.
So far, Moshe says, Pardes has beaten the odds; an estimated 80 percent of new restaurants in New York City close within the first year.
The Wendels will celebrate the restaurant’s first anniversary low key later this month, he says.
“I’ll probably bring in a big bottle of champagne.”
French, no doubt.