More Safta than Bubbe
Claim to fame: Ingenious, unorthodox takes on Jewish deli classics
Reason to go: The brisket feast, ceremoniously carved tableside––with an 80’s-appropriate electric knife
To look out for: Witty, seasonal specials, like Chinese dishes during the December holidays
While Bubbe, the Yiddish word for grandmother, conjures images of doily-strewn parlors and doting, white-haired ladies with a need to feed you kugel, the word Safta, Hebrew for that same older female relative, has an almost badass connotation. Bubbe is like Yenta, all baleboste and oy vey, Safta is a total Auntie Mame, stiff drinks and fun, ‘til the wheels fall off.
Freedman’s is both. The Echo Park eatery tries hard to look like Bubbe’s abode. There’s wood paneling, curly-framed decorative mirrors and a purposely schmaltzy mix of William Morris-busy wallpapers. The china is mismatched, the lighting is prohibition era-dim, the water jugs are fish-shaped. It’s like stepping onto the set of Woody Allen’s Radio Days. But like any descent trompe-l’oeil tableau, there’s more to this than meets the “rye”.
Freedman’s is the Jewish deli that your Safta would take you to, she’d order a vesper martini and watch you scarf down the trout roe popovers, a delightful tower of pillowy puffs stuffed with caramelized onions, accompanied by a schmear of crème fraiche and a little crock of glistening roe. She’d encourage you to try the schnitzel, made with sweetbreads––because why settle for a veal cutlet when you can make schnitzel with creamy offal? Naturally, there are latkes on the menu, reinvented as a waffle; a triangle of potato-y goodness under a crispy shell, draped in a veil of smoked salmon, served with scrambled eggs and sour cream at brunch, when Freedman’s also offers “Bagel Towers” with various trimmings, both sacrilegious and perfectly kosher. Their pickle plate is an unorthodox salad of half-sours, avocado and nasturtiums, punched up with the Japanese rice seasoning furikake; whitefish cigars are a playful interpretation of eggrolls: whitefish mousse rolled in feuille de bric, fried and topped with caraway and a champagne vinegar glaze, served in one of Bubbe’s decorative tins. The avocado sandwich gets its texture from chicken skin chicharrón, natch! Of course there’s a Reuben sandwich, and matzo ball soup for two or four, served in large, clear bowls that the owners probably scored at a goodwill shop. These are straight-up classic, because sometimes you just shouldn’t change a winning concept. The brisket for four, however, is a sinful showstopper that Safta would approve of, it comes with smoked bone marrow and “Pommes Freedman”, a hoity-toity take on tater tots.
Safta will probably convince you to order the “Hanky Panky”, a gin martini with sweet vermouth, Fernet and orange. By the time you’re done with your meal, she’ll be on her third “Naked and Famous”, a zinger of mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, Aperol and lime. At which point you might be the one exclaiming “oy vey”.