Some grandmother’s pass down recipes for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, others make the best lasagna, arroz con pollo, or sweet potato pie.
For good little Jewish boys and girls, nothing says grandma like a steaming bowl of matzoh ball soup, and the Passover holiday makes those childhood memories even sweeter.
Traditionally served as part of the Seder meal, the toothsome dumplings are generally made by combining matzoh meal with eggs, water or broth, and oil or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). The mixture is rolled into balls, boiled, and then added to chicken soup, perhaps with a few chunked veggies or a smattering of parsley or dill thrown in for good measure.
Debate rages eternal over whether the ideal matzoh ball is a sinker (substantial and dense) or a floater (light and fluffy), but personal preference generally comes down to whatever way your bubby made them (sinkers all the way!)
So what better way to track grandma’s influence this holiday season than with a matzoh ball crawl all throughout Brooklyn? Whether you go for purely traditional, or with a little modern edge, these area restaurants are serving up the goods — Jewish grandma not required.
Mill Basin Deli
This 37-year-old kosher delicatessen’s won plenty of accolades for pastrami, but the supremacy of Mill Basin Deli’s flying saucer-sized bowl of matzoh ball soup ($4.95), sided with an overflowing basket of soft rye bread, cannot be denied. The golden broth is subtle and clean-tasting, not overly salty or greasy, with one impressive orb (the perfect happy-medium between a sinker and floater) nestled in a moat of carrots and egg noodles. The soup is made fresh every day, using an old family recipe contributed by owner Mark Schachner, but don’t bother probing him for details. “Our job is not to ask questions,” he said. “It’s to eat, enjoy, and savor the delicacy of it all.”
It’s a matzoh ball smackdown at Boerum Hill’s Jewish/Canadian eatery, with grandma’s classic bowl ($6.50) going up against the chef’s special, The Whole Mishpucha ($12 per person), served family-style in a cast-iron crock. It’s hard to find fault with the fancy-schmantzy version, an intensely flavorful (if overly salty) broth, spicy with black pepper and loaded with goodies like chicken galantine, chicken stuffed wontons, thick-cut veggies, ramen-style noodles, and of course, spongy matzoh balls. But in the end, you’ve got to give it up to grandma for expertly seasoned soup and audacious simplicity —the one plank of celery, hunk of parsnip, wedge of carrot, sprig of dill, and single nubby sinker had us reminiscing big time.
Yes, there are still Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, and yes, they still know how to make matzoh balls. “We haven’t changed a thing since my grandparents opened the store, so I guess this recipe is at least 50 years old,” said Gottlieb’s owner Menashe Gottlieb. The price can’t have changed much either; an oversized bowl goes for $3.75. Chicken bones are boiled down with carrots, celery, squash, peppers and “secret spices” to make a super flavorful stock, but the one buoyant ball still claims center stage.
With a name like that, a respectable matzoh ball soup is a given. “It’s made fresh every day with ingredients right from the market,” said Bubby’s Brooklyn general manager David Taylor. “The organic chickens they use come from Gioanni farm, upstate.” The matzoh balls are of the light and fluffy persuasion (just like chef Ron’s bubby used to make) and the serving, while not cheap at $10, is appropriately satisfying at the DUMBO restaurant.
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
Bruce and Eric Bromberg may be celebrated restaurateurs, but the brothers behind Blue Ribbon know to give credit where credit is due. “The matzoh ball soup is inspired by their grandmothers, absolutely,” said Jeremy Vroman, manager of Blue Ribbon Brooklyn in Park Slope. The recipe uses schmaltz to flavor the matzoh balls, and seltzer water to give them a lighter-than-air consistency. “They also cook them separately in water before adding them to the broth,” said Vroman. “That way, they don’t make the soup cloudy or get overcooked.” It’s another $10 bowl, but how can you argue with such time-tested technique?
Mill Basin Deli [5823 Avenue T. between East 58th and 59th Streets in Mill Basin, (718) 241-4910]; Mile End [97A Hoyt St. between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 852-7510]; Gottlieb Restaurant [352 Roebling St. at Division Avenue in Williamsburg, (718) 384-9037]; Bubby’s Brooklyn [1 Main St. near Plymouth Street in Dumbo, (718) 222-0666]; Blue Ribbon Brooklyn [280 Fifth Ave. between First Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 840-0408].