Grab lunch or dinner at Brooklyn's latest chic kosher food venture, Hassid + Hipster.
Hipster or Hasidic? Yuda Schlass says “Both.”
Jimmy Kimmel made the question famous on his show by asking it in a recurring bit that had him talking to Brooklyn’s bearded denizens in a tight close-up that gradually widened to real whether the interviewee was the former or the latter. (Hint: facial hair alone is not conclusive.)
False dichotomy, if you ask Schlass, and that’s the spirit animating his two-month-old “sandwich lab” of almost the same name.
“Me, myself, as much as I’m Hasidic, I’m also hipster,” said Schlass, 30, when the Jewish Week visited his Crown Heights duplex, where he operates a sandwich service he’s very careful to call “Hassid + Hipster,” with an emphasis on the plus sign.
The resemblance, in name and vibe, to “Mason and Mug,” a new small plates place in neighboring Prospect Heights, is no coincidence. Both Schlass and Itta Werdiger-Roth, one of Mason and Mug’s co-founders, are admirers of Brooklyn chef Moshe Wendel, a religious Jew whose Pardes restaurant is known for its cutting-edge, kosher food. They also both have Chabad roots.
Schlass was born in Jerusalem and raised in the Old City by parents who entertained incessantly in the sprawling, sure-come-in style of the sect’s missionaries, even after they were no longer officially affiliated with it.
“Chabad has always been the so-called open-minded Hasidic sect,” Schlass said. “The mission is outreach work to other Jews, so you have to know what’s happening, what the trends are.”
Schlass’ father, a former hippie who’d returned to the faith in the 1970s, had owned a macrobiotic restaurant in downtown Manhattan, so Schlass learned through constant exposure how to entertain and cook.
He cut his teeth in the business by creating, with friends, a health-oriented meal delivery service called the “Fresh Diet,” which started out kosher, but didn’t stay that way as it grew. A home-based business in Miami serving about 70 customers when it started seven years ago, today the Fresh Diet has locations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as well and generates more than $25 million in annual revenue.
After several years on the road for the Fresh Diet, Schlass decided to relocate to Crown Heights among friends and family. He found Brooklyn’s food scene quite to his taste and began to refine his own cooking: rigorously kosher, but influenced more by the borough’s small-batch, locavore ethos than by any business lunch or dinner joint in Midtown.
“Since the end of the summer I’ve wanted to get back into the creative side of food,” he said, “I was looking to do something that I enjoy and living here in Brooklyn, the food scene in the non-kosher world is amazing. Brooklynis the Silicon Valley of food. The ideas come from here.”
He created Hassid + Hipster out of his duplex bachelor pad on Eastern Parkway in part to test the demand for a storefront sandwich shop. So far he’s sold out – and made money – every time. Each sandwich costs $15; soup and desserts are also available. He cooks the food up in his kitchen, which is dairy on one side and meat on the other, and customers come pick the food up on their lunch breaks or on their way home from work for dinner.
He has no official kosher supervision, which gives some of his customers qualms, but those who give it a go anyway conclude that they either know him and trust him, or know enough people who do.
“Uh-oh,” said one such customer, Abe Zuntz, when the subject of supervision came up. He works in Crown Heights in auto leasing and sales and dropped by the day Tu B’Shevat started to pick up lunch for his entire office.
“Most people would prefer it if there were supervision, but they accept it,” Schlass chimed in.
“Most people like it because it’s different,” Zuntz said. “It’s not the sandwich you can get at every sandwich shop. If [Schlass] did it three times a week we’d be here three times a week.”
Schlass posts upcoming dates and menus on his Facebook page, along with allusions to his inspirations.
On Wednesday, the day Tu B’Shevat started, Schlass based his sandwich on the tradition of eating the “seven species” of Israel – the fruits and grains named in the Torah – on that day. The result was the Tu-bi-banh-mi, a kosher take on the Vietnamese pork sandwich, of beer-braised veal belly with pomegranate and date glaze, sprinkled with pickled raisins and citrus oil on a baguette layered with smoky fig and eggplant pate.
“Not,” said Schlass in a satisfied tone, “your typical steakhouse fare.”