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Challah Back! Where’s the Good Challah At?

When Empanada Boy and I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn from Washington Heights, the heavily Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan, I thought that even though we might be leaving tostones and arroz con pollo behind we would at least be getting some good bagels and challah. After all, Brooklyn has the largest concentration of Jews outside Israel and Park Slope is home to the largest reform Jewish temple in Brooklyn. When we got here, there were delicious bagels aplenty, but finding good challah was a struggle.

Back in the Heights, we typically bought Zomick’s challah (see above), which is made on Long Island and is sold at most New York grocery stores in a green-checkered plastic bag. It’s soft and fluffy, with a slight chew and a little sweetness. It makes a pretty good French toast (essential to preserving my family’s Saturday morning tradition). It also miraculously stays fresh-tasting for much longer than it probably should and only comes in plain or raisin varieties. Do poppy and sesame seeds just cut too far into the already slim challah profit margins? I’m not sure. All I know is that after doing our best to sample all the challah varieties that our Brooklyn surroundings have to offer, we are now back to where we started, buying Zomick’s at the grocery store, and no closer to the challah ideal than when we first arrived in New York. How did we get here, you might ask? Allow me to recount the steps.

The first place we tried after moving to the south end of the Slope was Lopez Bakery. It was an unlikely first choice because it’s a Mexican bakery, specializing in various kinds of pan dulce and some basic breads. We selected it for it’s proximity and for the fact that it’s actually a bakery, meaning breads are baked on the premises. This turns out to be a very rare thing in Brooklyn and in New York in general when it comes to savory breads. In Portland, I can count at least five bakeries that make their own breads, including fantastic challah— and it’s not exactly a Jewish hotbed. But I digress… the challah from Lopez actually tasted a lot like pan de muertos, the egg bread made for Day of the Dead, minus the anise flavoring. While this traditionally has many of the same ingredients as challah, it also tends to be dry and a little stale tasting, which this challah also was. Our next thought was to try the challah made by Hudson Valley bakery Bread Alone. This one is sold at our food coop, where we do almost all of our shopping. But like nearly every other Bread Alone product I’ve sampled (so overrated!), this one was dry, bland and disappointing.

Our third try was somewhat better. We have always liked Amy’s Bread one of a handful of great bread bakeries in New York City. When we saw that Grab Speciality Foods, a gourmet mini mart near our house at the time, sold challah by Amy’s, we thought we had finally found a surefire winner. Amy’s makes a long, flattish loaf with a matte surface, compared to the glossy, egg-coated Zomick’s (see above photo). The bread wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste like challah. It took us a few bites to figure it out, but this challah tasted like bagels. It was ultra-chewy and somewhat dense, but its flavor really reminded me of biting into a bagel. The problem is, I’ve had much better bagels and much softer, eggier and more flavorful challah. This leaves Amy’s challah a middling choice, which we promptly checked off our list of worthy candidates.

Feeling frustrated, I complained to my colleague Salt Man who lives on the Upper West Side (a veritable challah heaven with Silver Moon Bakery leading the way). We happened to be stopping in at Mahattan Judaica near our office to buy Hannukkah candles during our lunch hour, and Salt Man had the bright idea to ask the shop’s owner where to get the best challah in Brooklyn. The owner thought for a moment and said, “Well it depends on whether you like sweeter or more savory challah.” I said I liked it more savory, but the truth is I just wanted to know what was THE BEST in his mind. My wish was granted when, without further hesitation, he said: Ostrovitsky Bakery.

Ostrovitsky is a kosher bakery in the heavily Jewish Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s not that far from our house, but it’s definitely not close enough to walk. And it’s a hike from the nearest subway station to the bakery itself. But EB and I decided we had to try it, so one Friday he put his bike on the subway and rode to the Avenue I stop on the F train. He then rode up to the bakery where patrons in various degrees of Orthodox garb were snatching up loaves of some beautiful looking challah. When we ate our shining poppyseed (!) loaf that night, we knew we had found the challah ideal. It was perfect in every dimension: fluffy with just a hint of chew, slight sweetness, delicious eggy exterior, I could go on and on. And the French toast the next day was amazing. That guy at Manhattan Judaica really knew what he was talking about!

So after hitting challah nirvana, why are we back to eating Zomick’s? Convenience—perhaps the single most important factor in any New Yorker’s life. We just don’t have the time to trek over to Midwood every Friday afternoon. My fundamental question is why can’t good, fresh-made challah make its way to Park Slope? There are plenty of hipster artisans looking to revive old crafts in the neighborhood and surroundings. Couldn’t they abandon their now-tired cupcake shops and pickling companies and open a bonafide neighborhood boulangerie instead? One that makes a good challah would be ideal. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to abandon supermarket challah and start shopping there.

Zomick’s Challah is sold at:
Union Market
754-756 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.230.5152
and many other locations.

Lopez Bakery
647 5th Ave.
New York, NY 11215
718.965.0289

Bread Alone challah is sold at:
Park Slope Food Coop
782 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.622.0560
and many other locations.

Amy’s challah is sold at:
Grab Specialty Foods
438 7th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.369.7595
and many other locations.

Ostrovitsky Bakery
1124 Avenue J
New York, NY 11230
718.951.7924 ‎

Ostrovitsky Bakery on Urbanspoon

5 thoughts on “Challah Back! Where’s the Good Challah At?

  1. Mango Mama says:

    I guess your other alternative would be to bake it yourself. It could become a family tradition!

    Remember the challah from Goldberg’s near the MJCC? It was amazingly rich and sweet… Now we have Baker and Spice, Grand Central, and even New Seasons offering great challah options. I usually go to New Seasons for the convenience, but lately they have been only offering plain or raisin as well. I agree with the ML – what’s wrong with a few poppy seeds? It would make Daddy Salmon very happy.

  2. The Saltiness himself says:

    This “Salt Man” sounds like a real hero, and I don’t mean a sandwich!

  3. Empanada Boy says:

    Our new house is further away from Ostrovitsky’s, yet easier to get to by train now than before. (I’m sure the brooklynites will know what I’m talking about). Anyway, I predict Ostrovitsky’s will be a bigger part of our plans in the near future.

  4. Ellen says:

    Just saw your post and wanted to let you know: You can now get Ostrovitsky’s challah right here in the Slope! D’vine Taste (7th Ave near Garfield) carries Ostrovitsky’s challah and also some of their desserts. Just think – the best challah in Brooklyn, and convenient too.

  5. Mango Lassie says:

    Ellen, you have just made my day! I have seen the challot in the window of D’vine Taste and wondered where they were from. Now I know, and I am overjoyed! I assumed it was just a matter of time before Park Slopers got tired of waiting and brought Ostrovitsky’s to them.

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