The requirements of kashrut (Jewish religious law pertaining to food) have always made running a fully kosher restaurant especially demanding. But a handsome, new kosher restaurant in Cos Cob makes light of the constraints. Its owners, the kosher restaurateur and caterer David Teyf, of the Madison & Park Hospitality Group, and his sons, Elan and Tollan Teyf, have also reimagined Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jewish cooking to make the restaurant, Greenwich & Delancey, appealing not only to traditionalists but to diners across a wide cultural spectrum.
Some background. Teyf senior is the proprietor of the Lox café at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in lower Manhattan. He is also the executive chef of the famed Second Avenue Deli and created the menu for the deli’s Second Floor bar and event space. “I consider my dad a pioneer in changing the perspective on kosher food,” says Elan, a trained chef himself who now wears the whites as head chef at Greenwich & Delancey. “He really made it good — delicious and nutritious.”
Originally from Minsk, Belarus, which was then part of the Russian Empire, the Teyf family had once owned a matzah factory. Elan and Tollan’s great-grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and, in his honor, his recipe for Minsk Matzah Babka — comprised of matzah, eggs and caramelized onions -— is featured on the Greenwich & Delancey menu. The restaurant serves it as an amuse-bouche.
Elan was four years into his course at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in cuisine and business hospitality, when the pandemic hit.
Back in the States, meanwhile, his parents decided that “being stuck in an apartment” in New York City was not such a great thing during Covid. They moved to Greenwich, where “there was more open space,” elaborates Elan, who returned from France soon after. But once settled in Greenwich, David realized there was no kosher restaurant nearby. “So, my dad said, ‘Why not just do it ourselves?,’” Elan recalls. “He’s always had a dairy restaurant in the city and thought, this time, why not do meat?” (Jewish dietary laws require the separation of the two, an either/or scenario.)
“Kosher food is stigmatized,” puts in Tollan — also a trained chef and an executive director of the restaurant. “We went to Jewish school and I remember the food tasting like rubber. But now we’re trying to show everyone, not just Jews, that kosher food can be delicious.”
Elan also sees it as a kind of mission to preserve the cuisine of old. “People are no longer familiar with it, or if they are, it’s a faint memory. So many people remember going somewhere as a child with their parents and having the matzah ball soup or pastrami. It’s like this Proustian idea. But for some reason, no one can replicate it, that feeling.”
The ultimate goal, he says, is to revive old recipes and give them new appeal, using refined French techniques.
“If you think of gefilte fish,” Elan goes on, referring to the preparation of minced carp or white fish, over which Jewish opinion has always been sharply divided (basically, you either love it or hate it), “you might think of gray matter. But we want you to think of it as more of a French croquette.”
While he may be inspired by his classic French training, the laws of kashrut are always waiting to remind him of the limits of what he can achieve in a kosher milieu. Aware of Elan’s occasional frustration, Tollan’s advice to his brother is to “spin it around” and regard the limitations — including the injunctions on many foods such as pork and shellfish, as well as laws prohibiting the mixing of meat and dairy — as a challenge. “He wants me to see what can actually be achieved, rather than fighting it,” says Elan. “And it forces my father and me to be more creative.”
Its own merits notwithstanding, because there are only a handful of restaurants with full kosher certification in Westchester and Fairfield counties, Greenwich & Delancey is already attracting regular kosher diners from Stamford, Scarsdale, White Plains, New Rochelle and even New Jersey. This is in addition to a growing following of local customers, who are not bound by the laws of kashrut but who simply enjoy the restaurant for the high-quality food it serves.
The menu, meanwhile, is part paean, or love letter, to a forgotten world and part modern iteration of contemporary Eastern European dishes. Odessa borscht, for instance, gets a French twist with garlic; duck blintzes — themselves a riff on cheese blintzes of yore — are comprised of confit of duck with Vidalia onions; and Chicken Kiev (so poignant to see on a menu right now), in a spin on the classic dish with hot garlic butter, features chicken breasts with a wild mushroom stuffing and tofu cream sauce.
There are reworkings, too, like branzino pirozhki and Chilean sea bass knish, both delicious. And while pelmeni and veriniki may sound like crazed Carpathian twins but are actually varieties of Polish dumpling, they are both so light that you can do away with any thoughts of that old standby, bicarb of soda, as a “chaser.” Tollan contributes to the menu with his own version of a BLT, here made with “beef bacon.”
Methods like “pan-seared” and “rosemary-grilled,” along with ingredients like sumac, baby arugula, avocado, shitake mushrooms and extra virgin olive oil may not exactly chime with the cabbage and potato staples of the shtetl, but the updates are all welcome. Similarly, “your choice of healthy side” is not something you would necessarily expect to find on a kosher deli menu, “healthy” being the opposite of the carb-heavy, artery-blocking fare that was once a prerequisite of this type of cooking. It’s all thoroughly modern and in a good way. Heaven alone knows what the Jews of the old country would have made of the asterisked menu footnote, informing diners that “all sandwiches are available on romaine hearts instead of bread.”
As well as dining-in, the entire Greenwich & Delancey menu is available for takeout. There is also a small bar offering beer, a few kosher wines and premium brand liquors and cocktails.
Given the myriad dietary restrictions, as well as the necessity of remaining closed on a Friday night and Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath, but of course the busiest service days and times for restaurants generally), Elan has one last point to make. “My father wants to get across that we’re not just in it for the money. I mean, obviously making some money is important, but we want to make people happy, give them a feeling of escape. Because that’s what a restaurant is, an escape. For a couple of hours, you enter a different world.”
At Greenwich & Delancey, you certainly do.
For more, visit greenwichanddelancey.com.