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Crown Heights, NY - The Blessed Brick Oven Is a Kosher Melting Pot

Published on: August 25, 2010 07:42 PM
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Passers-by check out Basil’s storefront. (Brian Harkin for WSJ)Passers-by check out Basil’s storefront. (Brian Harkin for WSJ)

Crown Heights, NY - The morning pastries are homemade, the coffee is from Italian roaster Danesi, but the most remarkable thing about Basil, a café and wine bar in Crown Heights, may be who’s working the front and back of the house.

At this strictly kosher, all-dairy restaurant, none of the waitstaff are religious Jews, and a few are African-American and Caribbean-American. All are required to adhere to the Lubavitch dress code, so female waitstaff must wear long black peasant skirts to match their Basil logo t-shirts. West Indians work in the kitchen alongside a few observant Jews and prepare items from a trendy menu that includes thin-crust pizzas and panini stuffed with ingredients like goat cheese and Meyer lemon jam.

Nearly 20 years after the riots that pitted Hasidic and Afro-Caribbean residents against one another, Crown Heights still seems deeply divided in many respects. But Daniel Branover, who moved to the area from Jerusalem eight years ago, is betting that the desire for a decent neighborhood meal can unite even a divided community.

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“There’s a lot of tension here. I thought the only way to bridge the gap is through breaking bread—as long as it’s good bread,” said Branover, 45, who lives in the Lubavitch community and is a religious Jew. “The irony is that Jerusalem is a lot less segregated. Even though there’s a fundamental block, it’s less severe than Crown Heights.”

Opened in March, Basil is the kind of casual, upscale eatery that would be unremarkable in nearby Park Slope, but is unusual in Crown Heights, where dining options are limited to take-out on one side of Eastern Parkway, and kosher markets and restaurants on the other. The mostly non-Jewish staff are a mix of longtime residents and newcomers who live in the area for its affordable rent. They serve about 250 customers daily, mostly youthful, stylish Hasidic Jews from the other side of Eastern Parkway.

“This is an expression of the younger community that has moved in,” said customer Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski, while he finished his mango-banana smoothie at the counter. “When the restaurant opened up, in here were Hispanics, Blacks, and whites. I can speak to people who have nothing to do with Judaism.”

Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu, a neighborhood resident, is a regular, but so are State Senator Eric Adams and Caleb Buchanan, pastor of Saint Gregory Church. Basil’s morning coffee window is popular with the Afro-Caribbean community since it’s en route to the 3-train and there’s no Starbucks in the neighborhood.

Still for some, a contemporary restaurant means dying traditions. When Basil interviewed for its server positions, several rabbis in the community lamented the candidates’ miniskirts.

“Its really just a handful of hardcore people from when the Rebbe [Schnerson, whom some believed to be the messiah] was alive that have a problem with this place,” said Michelle Gelker, 26, a server who grew up in the Lubavitch community but is no longer religious.

The staff has made other adjustments to the mores of the community. Manager Clara Perez, 53, who is originally from Colombia and grew up Catholic, can’t play music with female vocalists, said to arouse Hasidic men. (She sticks to classical, Paul Simon and Julio Iglesias.) Once she asked a Hasidic teenage couple who were kissing to leave.

The local rabbi warned Perez before he koshered the restaurant.

“He said to me, ‘first this must be a religious establishment and second a restaurant.’”

Then he gave the brick oven his blessing.


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Read Comments (21)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 25, 2010 at 07:56 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Sounds like a good thing all round. Jews and Gentiles working together. Good kosher food. People accommodating one another.

2

 Aug 25, 2010 at 08:04 PM Eli Says:

I remember when branovers father in law opened a night club in the heart of crown heights... Which was open 24-7

3

 Aug 25, 2010 at 08:18 PM sumgai Says:

this restaurant should lose it's hechsher and close! it is an embarrassment to Lubavitch, Chassidishkeit, and Yiddishkeit in general.

4

 Aug 25, 2010 at 09:22 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3

Dear Sumgai: The only embarrassment to yiddeshkeit is YOU for making such a negative comment about the most important location in CH other than 770. This restaurant is the kind of hip and cutting edge facility we only wish we could have in willy where most of the so called "heimeshe places" are a big turn off.

5

 Aug 25, 2010 at 10:10 PM Anonymous Says:

doesn't sound too kosher to me...

6

 Aug 25, 2010 at 10:58 PM Anonymous Says:

Sounds like people in ch are proud of this joint. Just keep your schmutz in your neighborhood and don't spead it. Go ahead and become as goyish as possible while keeping kosher. You can also open a hooters and serve kosher drinks. Just make sure they cover till their knees and only less than a tefach of human hair shows. Stockings could be see through and tight clothing is just fine. After all, according to halacha all that's perfectly fine. There are a few other things that are also allowed like polished nails and perfume, but maybe you want to feel "frum" so I left it out.

7

 Aug 25, 2010 at 11:27 PM Elish Says:

Reply to #4

Such a place would never be allowed in Williamsburg!
And if someone would have the Chutspa to open such a place it would be protested like we did in CH but you guys would actually succeed seeing as you have more experience in that field.

8

 Aug 26, 2010 at 01:42 AM Shmuli Says:

What ever happened to Chassnus???
Our chachamim did not want us to break bread with a non-Jew, so our children don't marry their children!

As a Crown Heightser, I think its very important to be friendly with the Afro-American people, uber, this is going a bit too far!

I've never been there and don't plan on going!

9

 Aug 26, 2010 at 09:01 AM Anonymous Says:

To Shmuli"

Thanks for not patronizing this location and staying out of crown heights. The rest of us who are regulars appreciate your staying away and not forcing the rest of us to leave when low class yidden like you arrive. Please stay home and keep your children hidden in a dark cave where they never have to meet a yid from another chassidus or c'v a MO yid or even worse a non-orthodox jew.

10

 Aug 26, 2010 at 10:07 AM ILiv2BHaP Says:

i can honestly say that correctly so besides for a small picture in the back of a rabbi

the resturant does not have any jewish atmosphere and that it is purelyu cooincidental that jews enter the establishment

a goyish restrurant in a chassidic community

CHABAD IS lower class in comparison to other chassidic communities

11

 Aug 26, 2010 at 10:25 AM Aryeh Says:

There is a well known inyan of chassidus that one should be natilas yadayim with nagle vasser from shaking the hands of a sheigetz. Not a halacha, but a chassidishe inyan known even to the strict sephardim. This place should have an OU hechsher, not a chassidishe one.

12

 Aug 26, 2010 at 10:57 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #11

"This place should have an OU hechsher, not a chassidishe one"

You are obviously not a ben-torah or otherwise you would know that a chassideshe hashgacha is the "gold standard" of hashgachot and many litvashe gadolim will not eat meat without a plumba from the most reputable chassideshe hashgacha. Your other comment about having to wash hand after touching a goy has the unusual atribute of both being dumb, racist and not supported by halacha. Otherwise, its a nice minhag for your chevrah of closed-minded bigots.

13

 Aug 26, 2010 at 11:35 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #12  
Says:

Reply to #11

"This place should have an OU hechsher, not a chassidishe one"

You are obviously not a ben-torah or otherwise you would know that a chassideshe hashgacha is the "gold standard" of hashgachot and many litvashe gadolim will not eat meat without a plumba from the most reputable chassideshe hashgacha. Your other comment about having to wash hand after touching a goy has the unusual atribute of both being dumb, racist and not supported by halacha. Otherwise, its a nice minhag for your chevrah of closed-minded bigots.

Aside from exhibiting some deep emotional issues, nothing substantial comes out of your diatribe.
You go to that restaurant?! Good for you. We are very happy to be within the same religion as high class yidden such as yourself.
You don't like anything remotely jewish about what anyone else has to say?! Too bad on you, and call it what you want - shulchan aruch is what defines a frum jew and not emotional feelings.
It's quite reassuring that the Crown Heitghtsers see it for what it is...

14

 Aug 26, 2010 at 11:51 AM awacs Says:

Reply to #11  
Aryeh Says:

There is a well known inyan of chassidus that one should be natilas yadayim with nagle vasser from shaking the hands of a sheigetz. Not a halacha, but a chassidishe inyan known even to the strict sephardim. This place should have an OU hechsher, not a chassidishe one.

"There is a well known inyan of chassidus that one should be natilas yadayim with nagle vasser from shaking the hands of a sheigetz. Not a halacha, but a chassidishe inyan known even to the strict sephardim. "

Source, Aryeh?

15

 Aug 26, 2010 at 01:20 PM Anonymous Says:

to #9 Thanks I felt the same and re PASTED your message !

Thanks for not patronizing this location and staying out of crown heights. The rest of us who are regulars appreciate your staying away and not forcing the rest of us to leave when low class yidden like you arrive. Please stay home and keep your children hidden in a dark cave where they never have to meet a yid from another chassidus or c'v a MO yid or even worse a non-orthodox jew.

16

 Aug 26, 2010 at 06:50 PM Anonymous Says:

wow all you guys go crazy over an article, i was never there but i bet you it is not like that at all!!

17

 Aug 26, 2010 at 06:52 PM mendel from 59 st Says:

Its a good idea

But why would the rabbi give the brick over a blessing?

18

 Aug 28, 2010 at 10:21 PM Anonymous Says:

A new Cholev Yisroel restaurant? It sounds very nice. I am not sure what is wrong with non-Jews eating kosher food as well. As for the dress code, near the top the article mentioned there is one. The part about people not dressing as tznius was when they interviewed foe the job before they started working.

I have yet to eat there, but I have heard from a few different friends that the food is very good and the place is enjoyable. Maybe on my drive from NJ to NY I will stop by.

19

 Aug 31, 2010 at 01:22 PM ActualJew Says:

I cannot wait to go there next time I visit my nephew in yeshiva in CH. i will bring my entire family (G-d willing) to enjoy good kosher food and interact with people.
15 is right. stay in your caves. your kids will end up eating in McDonald's with their non Jewish friends in a few years while the CH kids will eat here with their heimish families in between learning Torah (and improving community relations).

20

 Aug 31, 2010 at 07:25 PM Anonymous Says:

I work at this establishment and I am african american. EVERYTHING IS KOSHER! No short cuts! Even though SOME of us aren't jewish doesn't mean we don't respect what you believe in. Its so so sad to see how some of you are so segregated and racist! Instead you should look at it like you light is shining on others. We wear the uniform out of respect. We don't bring in anything from outside to consume. We try to be very modest and show we only want peace and happiness. Maybe this is the wrong establishment for me...naw its you need to stop being so narrowed minded and we realize in the end we are still the same..of HUMAN SPECIES!

21

 Oct 12, 2010 at 10:28 AM laughing@you Says:

My great grandfather was an rabbi in what's now the Ukraine. If anyone ever wants to know why I'll never be anywhere near as religious as him and his community was, I'll point them to this thread. Most of you are NOT religious, devout Jews living in accordance with Torah. Most of you, from the comments section, seem to be bigoted racist assholes who clothe their bigotry in pretentious pseudo-piety and sham intellectualism, citing various Torah commentaries to justify your own prejudices. #20 is right, the flavor of this thread is one of segregation and racism. Nowhere in the Torah will there be an excuse for that. My family paid for our faith in blood. You sit behind your computer screens spewing venom and pretending that faith begins and ends with hollow proclamations of conformity that disguise your bigotry. Those of you disgust me.

22

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