The names of Jewish-American women appear in restaurant signs and logos across the city, but fewer of their voices end up leading kitchens. More often, a business is named for a bubbe or an aunt — but owned by a grandson or nephew. “Like many cultures, Jewish women were often the ones doing household cooking,” says Elyssa Heller, the owner behind Edith’s, a Jewish pop-up that has been operating out of the kitchen at Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Greenpoint since August. “There has been a lack of that perspective here.”
Over the last six months, through block-long lines and sold-out menus, Edith’s has put a spotlight on the contributions of women to modern Jewish cooking. There’s work to be done, she says — and for her, work to be continued. This week Heller is set to open her first brick-and-mortar business, a sandwich counter and deli located at 495 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. Edith’s, named for her great aunt, opens ahead of Passover on Thursday, March 25.
Fans of Heller’s work at the Edith’s pop-up can exhale: The menu at the new location is mostly staying the same. Her hand-twisted, Chicago bagels — essentially, an everything bagel that’s been rolled in red pepper flakes — are coming along for the ride, as are her bacon, egg, cheese, and latke sandwiches. But there are exciting newcomers, as well. One, a lunch special with sausage and bread made in-house, nods to the Hebrew National hot dogs of Heller’s childhood. Another, a schnitzel sandwich, is made by stuffing za’atar-breaded chicken into house-baked pita.
All told, the number of bagel and pita sandwiches offered at the pop-up is doubling at the Lorimer Street sandwich counter, with toppings like brisket hash, merguez breakfast patties, chickpea schnitzel, and lots and lots of trout roe.
Edith’s is moving into the former home of the Meat Hook Sandwich shop, a small storefront that belies a larger back kitchen, which is helmed by chef Christina Jackson, formerly of the well-reviewed Tetsu. Here, Jackson has the space to culture her own cream cheeses, ferment sauerkraut, and smoke salmon, bacon, and pastrami in a smoker left behind by the Meat Hook team. That extra breathing room also spells the end of some of the stricter rules around ordering at the Edith’s pop-up. “People couldn’t come in and buy a half-dozen bagels because demand was so high,” Heller says. “That’s going to change.”
Like countless restaurants across the city, a portion of the storefront will be devoted to prepared and takeout foods. Edith’s will offer bagels by the dozen, cultured cream cheese by the pint, pickles by the quart, and smoked salmon by the pound — all made in-house. A small retail section will offer imported Israeli candies, Russian mezze, Lebanese beverages, and other snacks from the Jewish diaspora.
In Greenpoint, Edith’s developed a local following for its bagels, which were wood-fired in the pizzeria’s ovens by Jackson and created in partnership with star pastry chef Caroline Schiff. Many customers, including those at Eater and the New Yorker, found the wood-fired oven to be a welcome change of pace. Topped with Maldon salt, heaps of poppy seed, red pepper flakes and — starting the new location — golden raisins, each bagel had its own character. Others, Heller’s father included, were nibbling around burnt scraps or “leaving discarded pieces of bagel on their plates like children,” she says.
“The wood-fired oven was less precise,” according to Heller. “Our bagel makers had to tend to each bagel individually.” At its new location, Edith’s will make its bagels in a combination pizza oven, which produces a similar but more consistent crust, she says.
Edith’s started as a pop-up bagel and sandwich shop in August 2020 out of the kitchen at Paulie Gee’s after the acclaimed Greenpoint pizzeria temporarily closed. As the story goes, Heller sent a cold email to Paul “Paulie” Giannone, owner of Paulie Gee’s, after having met him once over limoncello eight years ago. Heller previously managed supply chain operations for brands like Milk Bar and Dylan’s Candy Bar, but had never run a restaurant. Still, Giannone agreed to let her operate out of his pizzeria through February 2021.
“It’s beshert,” as Heller describes it, a Yiddish word meaning destiny or meant to be.
Within weeks of opening, Edith’s became as well known for its wood-fired bagels as its lengthy lines: “Get there early, or show up late and bring a friend,” Eater advised in September. The pop-up was originally slated to end its run at Paulie Gee’s in October but extended its stay due to an outpouring of local support. The restaurant often served more than 500 customers a day, Heller says, and lines stretching down Greenpoint Avenue became a regular sight last summer. During its last week of service in February, it had to remove itself from third-party delivery apps in order to keep up with in-person demand.
Through it all, Heller says she often felt like she was “throwing a birthday party and just hoping people would show up.” Edith’s is open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.