Blog: Fourth Annual Latke Festival
It’s a familiar yet tantalizing smell and sound, as perfectly formed potato patties hit oil for a shallow fry to a lovely golden brown. Hash Brown you say? No way man, I’m talking about the latke! This seemingly simple side dish is far from ordinary. The tater based food is actually a major part of world history, dating back to biblical times. As a member of the Jewish community, these savory treats were no stranger to me as a child. Yet after one trip to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Monday night, I will never think of this food as simple ever again. The team from Great Performances were back for the “Fourth Annual Latke Festival!” For one night only their team and nearly twenty New York City restaurants would completely transform a sold out crowd’s opinion on how latkes can be prepared and served. The LocalBozo.com team was front and center to celebrate food and to open our eyes to a world beyond apple sauce and sour cream to top these hearty spuds!
At 6:30pm on the dot, the huge doors of this grand venue opened wide. I could literally see event-goers wafting in the scent of fried potatoes while they were checking in. This fantastic smell permeated every square inch of BAM and all in attendance were thrilled. The “Latke Festival” took place on both the main floor and the BAMcafe space providing plenty of room to roam. And in a way to keep things unconventional, while still trying everything I decided to start on the second level first. Few things beat the BAMcafe space. It’s a sprawling, ornately lit room with great views of the street below. Basically it’s perfect for the holiday season. And on this night, everyone regardless of religion was celebrating Hanukkah! Our first tasting selection should be no surprise to anyone. The folks at Blue Ribbon Brooklyn and their Manhattan sister have tantalized taste buds for years, but were they able to do latkes? You’re darn right. Their stacked team prepared a uniformly fried potato pancake with vanilla applesauce and “Schmaltzy Onions.” This sampling easily fits under the category of sweet meets savory. I have never had vanilla applesauce, but I hope to again quite soon. And since I was having good luck at their table, I thought it only fitting to travel mere steps away toward the kitchen crew from Balaboosta who was not fooling around. Their latke pulled out all the stops as it featured a yam and carrot latke with honey, preserved lemons & yogurt sauce. It was literally a delicious piece of food art.
After consuming that much salty goodness it was time for a drink break of the adult beverage variety. Fortunately, the great crew from Shmaltz Brewing Company were on hand to provide this packed house with its beer fix. It seemed only fitting that the company that brought us “He’Brew” would be supplying the suds on Monday evening. The always knowledgeable team brought three ales that perfectly paired with any of the seemingly endless array of gourmet potato pancakes. The beers included: “Dry Hooped Session Ale,” “Nut Brown Ale,” and “He’Brew Hop Manna IPA.” And even though I would eventually try all three ales, it was necessary to start light since there were a ton more latkes to dig into. The “Session Ale” perfectly fit this mold with it’s bold yet easy drinkability with most foods. And with a cup of the “Chosen” brew in hand it was time to hit the tables again. It would be a virtual trip to the Lower East Side’s extremely popular Clinton Street Baking Co. and their latke with house smoked salmon, salmon roe, and chive créme fraiche. This pancake will go down as the most “Jewish deli” gone wild variety. The combination of salty sensations exuding from the caviar and smoked salmon sent me to the moon with this one. The chive créme fraiche brilliantly evened out each bite in a way that mirrors how cream cheese balances out lox on a bagel.
It must be said that not once during the event did I spot a long line or any substantial wait for sampling. The flow of the crowd perfectly matched the preparation and serving of the latkes. Therefore, hundreds of smiles donned the faces of all in attendance as we collectively celebrated the food on hand and the season. Even the most popular selections were served at a solid pace. A prime example of this came from a restaurant located directly across the street from BAM itself. The efficient kitchen crew from Berlyn were not fooling around when it came to ingredients. They served a “Ganz Gut Latke” with goose confit, roasted squash and apples. And after the first bite, my taste buds and adventurous palette said “Thank you.” Needless to say I took great pleasure in this highly decadent classic “game” selection. And in keeping with my favorites, the Williamsburg mainstay Fatty ‘Cue killed it with an apple, daikon latke with seasoned ricotta and smoked crab. While the cache of the restaurant’s name may have brought crowds over, but their delivery of flavors stood out above all else.
“The Fourth Annual Latke Festival” was truly a night for celebrating an amazing facet of what makes the holiday season so special. Each restaurant needs to be commended for taking a dish made by Jewish grandmothers worldwide and elevating it to gourmet status. The LocalBozo.com team would like to thank the crack team from Great Performances and The Brooklyn Academy of Music for hosting a fantastic evening which showed this Jewish boy from Jersey how excellent a potato pancake can really taste. Trust me, I’m putting the apple sauce and sour cream to the back of the fridge. It’s time to get serious.
- Jay Rubin