NYC’s Balkan restaurants share culture, traditions with classic dishes

Djerdan Burek, a restaurant that was started over

“Most cultures have some kind of crispy, melty combination of bread and cheese: for Italy, it’s pizza; for the United Kingdom, it’s the toastie; for Brazil, it’s pao de queijo. And for the lesser-known “Balkans,” it’s the burek. Reminiscent of Greek spanakopita, burek is a flaky, layered phyllo dough pie that can be filled with the likes of cheese, beef, spinach, potato or apple. (…) Djerdan Burek, with locations in Astoria, Brooklyn and a factory in New Jersey, was started more than 20 years ago by Esma and Hamo Medunjanin, refugees from Bosnia. It was a true mom-and-pop shop then, according to daughter Selma Medunjanin-Ismajli, who took over the business with her two siblings when their parents retired.”

Back in the late 1990s her mother was making burek pies at home in their one-bedroom apartment and selling them to a local Balkan restaurant, and her father saw an opportunity. They rented a building on 34th St. and 31st Ave. in Astoria — where the restaurant is still located — and her mother worked the kitchen while her father worked the floor.”

“At this time many Bosnian refugees had settled in Astoria and not much was available to them,” Medunjanin-Ismajli explained. “We were one of the first Balkan restaurants to start up in the area. It was a very simple mom-and-pop restaurant with homemade food and friendly familiar service. To this day we try to operate and maintain the same principles and service.”

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New NYC restaurants: Danish bakery Ole & Steen’s stateside debut, and more

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“Ole & Steen

“NYC’s Nordic offerings continue to grow beyond destinations such as the Great Northern Food Hall with the stateside debut of this 28-year-old Danish bakery. Find Danish rye breads, pastries and tarts, as well as sweet or savory porridges, open-faced sandwiches, salads and more on the all-day menu. Now open Mon.-Fri. from 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. from 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; 873 Broadway, 929-209-1020”

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NYC’s Most Anticipated Openings of Winter 2019

“To be sure, increased costs is having its impact. Some of the city’s most exciting restaurateurs are focusing their efforts on smaller spaces. The Franks of Italian favorite Frankies 457 are now working with one of Long Island’s most legendary pizzamakers, Umberto Corteo, but it will be for a slice shop. All-day dining — a format that, for some, is a way to help maximize sales — continues to flourish, like at Gertie, Pilar Cuban Bakery, and Bourke Street Bakery.

Money, after all, still runs things. The biggest change to the dining scene will be the debut of all the restaurants at Hudson Yards, the behemoth Manhattan far west side development from Related Companies that has cost $20 billion. Most of the chefs in it needed to have at least $2 million in upfront capital. It arguably isn’t great for the future of NYC dining.”

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The Absolute Best Rugelach in New York

Orwashers Bakery

“Amidst the many delights at this iconic New York bakery — sour-cherry-jelly doughnuts, sticky-bun babka, black-and-whites — the rugelach more than hold their own. The twisted nuggets of shortbread pastry glisten with mouth-puckering raspberry or apricot jam — arguably the preeminent jam in the rugelach oeuvre. And they come packed with chewy bites of raisins, a scattering of sunflower seeds, and, if you’re making your rugelach run at the original Upper East Side location, a sultry dip into melted baking chocolate.”

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Restaurants Offering Halloween Promotions

For the first time ever, Krispy Kreme has released the Trick-or-Treat Doughnut—a scary good mashup of candies and doughnuts. This new creation features an Original Glazed Doughnut dipped and drizzled in salted caramel and topped with pieces of some of your favorite chocolate Halloween candies.

The Trick-or-Treat Doughnut joins another new creation, the all-new Monster Batter Doughnut, featuring a classic cake batter filling, dipped in slime green icing and topped with monster eyes and festive confetti. These two new doughnuts join Krispy Kreme Halloween fan favorites the Jack-O-Lantern Doughnut, and the Chocolate Iced Doughnut with Halloween Sprinkles.

“Our newest collection brings the fun-filled spirit and delicious flavors of Halloween, creating an unexpected treat option for celebrations all month long,” says Alison Holder, Vice President of U.S. Marketing for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. “No matter what your Halloween plans or cravings are, Krispy Kreme has the perfect spooky treat.”

To complete the season of fun, Krispy Kreme is also hosting the ultimate costume party. Wear your costume on October 31 to get a free doughnut of choice at participating U.S. Krispy Kreme shops.”

To view more restaurants offering Halloween promotions click here.

102-year-old Orwasher’s Bakery is preserving NYC nostalgia while adapting to the times

“The original Upper East Side location of Orwasher’s opened in 1916 on East 78th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues by a Hungarian immigrant named Abraham Orwasher when a swatch of Yorkville was known as “Little Hungary.” The Orwashers used family recipes for the high-quality rye, black, and grain breads of their homeland, baking them all in a basement brick oven and delivering the loaves by horse and carriage. Thought the Upper East Side location looks small from the outside, there were, literally, millions of pounds of dough being mixed there. Doing a quick calculation, Keith estimates that this amounted to more than 10 million loaves of bread over its 103-year history. Today, Orwasher’s churns out between 9,000 and 10,000 loaves a day!”

“He describes the vintage East Side store as “an oasis.” When you walk in, “it seems like you’re going to a country store in Vermont.” But even though the 1,200-square-foot West Side location on the corner of 81st and Amsterdam is a bit more modern, the customer base is quite similar. A lot of people used to travel across town and now have a store closer.”

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A Better Chocolate Babka

If you are looking to nosh on something, with your coffee, tea or seltzer, might I suggest a slice of babka?

Babka is a sweet loaf, similar to a light textured coffee cake.  Babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan.  It starts with a rich, slow-rise dough made with lots of butter, real vanilla, fresh egg yolks, lemon zest, sugar and sea salt.  The dough is rolled around an almond frangipane (made from almonds, almond flour, more vanilla, butter, sugar and eggs), then brushed with dark chocolate and cinnamon sugar.  You can fill a babka with almost anything sweet: chocolate, jam, dulce de leche, homemade ganache, and Nutella to name a few.  The babka is usually scattered with brown sugar streusel.

This pastry is associated with Eastern European Jewish tradition.  The word “babka” is both Polish and Yiddish, deriving from “baba,” meaning grandmother.

Baking a babka requires commitment.  Babkas can take a day or more to make, which includes three and a half hours to bake, and six to twenty-four hours to rise.  Refrigerating the dough in between steps makes it easier to work with, and a longer proofing period gives the loaf a more complex flavor.  Proofing is the final rise of shaped bread dough before baking.

New York bakeries have joined the babka movement.  Bklyn Larder fills its babka with ganache, Sadelle’s creates a chocolate-cookie version and Breads Bakery presents a Nutella loaf.  Baz Bagel even bakes its babka into bread pudding.

Babka freezes very well, making for second servings, and another delicious snack or dessert.

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