- WASHINGTON POST
The New York bagel wars have a new contender: Philadelphia
17:43 JST, November 27, 2022
The hottest new restaurant in New York, Laser Wolf, comes to the Big Apple courtesy of Philadelphia-based chef Michael Solomonov and restaurateur Steven Cook. Their Israeli eatery, located on the rooftop of the Hoxton in Williamsburg, serves grilled skewers alongside dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline.
On Tuesday, Nov. 22nd, the business partners opened their new spot, K’Far Cafe-also in the Hoxton, several stories below Laser Wolf. Featured on the menu will be distinctive oblong, sesame-seed-encrusted Jerusalem bagels. Notably, they’ll be imported from Philadelphia to New York.
But if that gets the locals’ hackles up, relax.
“We’re not here to threaten New Yorkers’ bagels,” Solomonov says.
Given the choice between a plain Jerusalem bagel and a plain New York bagel, Cook says, “I’ll take the New York bagel.”
K’Far, an offshoot of a spot in Philadelphia that opened in 2019, will sell Jerusalem bagels as the kind of pressed sandwiches you find in cafes all over Israel: the panini-style pressing lends them a density and satisfying crunch. Here, they’re styled like an American breakfast sandwich. Think egg and cheese, but with a little za’atar, and the Yemeni green chile sauce schug. You won’t be able to buy them plain or with a schmear of cream cheese, but you can get them as the base for other sandwiches, including grilled cheese, and smoked salmon.
Jerusalem bagels aren’t new to New Yorkers. Chef Einat Admony featured them at her terrific, now-shuttered cafe Bar Bolonat. Breads Bakery sells oversize sesame-studded ones. Now, Solomonov and Cook, a former investment banker, are importing their take on the oval-shaped delicacy. Because their Williamsburg kitchen doesn’t have enough space, K’Far’s Jerusalem bagels, as well as their pastries, will be made in Philadelphia, trucked to New York and baked on-site.
Jerusalem bagels are distinct from the classic New York version because they’re baked-not boiled-and yeast-heavy, making them airy without the chewiness and crust of the best New York ones. Pressing them into sandwiches thins out their texture and makes them easy to eat on the run, though Solomonov and Cook would prefer you didn’t.
The two have modeled this branch of K’Far on the Israeli cafe-style spaces where people hang out during the day and late into the night. Along with the pastries, the New York spot will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks in the Hoxton’s capacious and newly renovated lobby.
In Israel “you sit at places to have coffee, you don’t grab things to go and speed off,” Solomonov says. The chef grew up and learned to cook there, in a city called Kfar Saba, which inspired the cafe’s name. He and Cook own a series of restaurants with Israeli-oriented menus, including the world-famous Zahav in Philadelphia. (This branch of K’Far and Laser Wolf operate in partnership with Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group.)
The Hoxton’s lobby, a big-windowed basement space decked out with millennial-friendly globe lighting, plants and plush chairs where the laptoperati camp out, seemed like just the place for it.
Even in a city awash in fantastic bakeries, K’Far will stand out, with pastries that add unexpected flavors to classic treats, such as a marzipan challah Danish with sweet marzipan paste tucked between cinnamon-roll-like rings. The flaky olive feta bourekas are made with Solomonov’s grandmother’s dough recipe. And then there are the bestselling, sweetly nutty pistachio sticky buns.
The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus have the same unconventional sensibility. One small plate features French onion dip made with labneh and topped with charred sweet potatoes, a surprising, dazzling combination. In kataifi schnitzel the chicken coating replaces standard breadcrumbs with fine pastry strands that crackle between your teeth.
In the kitchen a few days before opening, Cook and Solomonov, who’s wearing a crewneck emblazoned with the name of the Israeli-American rapper Kosha Dillz, sample haloumi and quince baklava from a cast-iron dish. They analyze the presentation and flavor and consider options like a finishing splash of quince syrup on top. Solomonov wonders if the shape of the dish should be different; Cook starts browsing the website of a popular cast-iron pan manufacturer.
Cook also considers how crowded K’Far might get. After rave reviews, Laser Wolf has become one of the hardest reservations in town, and disappointed would-be diners will undoubtedly head downstairs to try their luck at the new sister restaurant.
Will K’Far have to start turning hopeful eaters away?
“I think people will be able to get in,” Cook says, after a pause. But he’s not making any promises. Just in case, the Jerusalem bagel sandwiches are available to go.
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