Since buying the NY Deli in Fort Lauderdale about a year ago, Tammie Weiss-Bell and her husband, Gary Bell, have turned it into a neighborhood gathering spot.
Many of the deli’s regulars are singles, transplants, widows and widowers. On holidays, these customers often find themselves alone. So this Saturday, the second night of Passover, the deli owners will serve a holiday meal full of their family’s traditions.
“I was raised to welcome everyone to my Passover table,” Tammie Weiss-Bell said. “We were encouraged to include people who had no other place to celebrate.”
Of course Passover, which begins Friday at sundown, commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and is an important family holiday that lasts for eight days.
This year, the Bells will celebrate the first night of the holiday with their family, including their two daughters, Jenna, 10, and Juliet, 11. But the second night they will offer dinner to their customers who are drawn to the deli because they feel like they are coming home to their culture.
After all, NY Deli is one of the few places left that knows the difference between nova and lox. And much of the staff is family, including Gary Bell, 46, who greets you at the door with a handshake or even a warm hug. And if he doesn’t know your name on your way in, he’ll know it on your way out.
Weiss-Bell, 44, works behind the counter with her mother-in-law, Paula Pines of Deerfield Beach, as well as her own mother, Cynthia Weiss of Boynton Beach. Her father, Bob Weiss, has been known to circulate through the dining room refilling coffee cups, and a young nephew, Matthew Hirschkorn of Boca Raton, has been seen bussing tables.
After school, on weekends and holidays, Weiss-Bell brings her daughters, who, if they aren’t doing homework at a front counter, help run the credit card machine or take orders when the waitresses are busy.
Having their family close is important to the Bells, especially this time of year.
“As we get older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to get together with those we love. For me, Passover is all about sharing the traditions of our ancestors and grandparents,” said Bell, who has delis in his blood.
His great-grandfather Isadore Pines and later his grandfather Leonard Pines created and grew the Hebrew National company into a kosher-food empire. And Bell’s father owned the National Deli in Miami that supplies Old World, deli-style meats and condiments to restaurants.
Bell became a partner with his father in 2002 until they sold the company in 2012. That’s when he decided that instead of producing fine meats, he’d serve them at his own deli.
On Passover, the Bells not only enjoy their family traditions but also their fond memories of holidays past. During the Seder, the afikomen or a half piece of matzoh is hidden and it’s a light moment when the children leave the table to search for it.
Bell said he remembers being about 8 years old when he beat out his cousins to find the afikomen under the couch. “That’s my first and favorite Passover memory,” he said.
His wife recalls being 5 years old and squeezed into a bridge chair at the Seder table surrounded by siblings, cousins, her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“She had the smallest tush so of course she got the smallest chair,” said her mother, smiling at the memory.
Weiss-Bell said that chair became particularly uncomfortable during her grandfather’s long speeches following the Seder. “As a child, I had no idea what he was talking about, but he spoke and spoke and spoke,” she said, admitting to using the time to kick cousins and climb under the table.
“If my daughters tried that now I’d probably discipline them,” she said with a laugh.
But her mother’s Passover feasts were worth the wait. The table was laden with chopped liver, gefilte fish, matzoh-ball soup, sliced brisket in rich gravy, roast turkey, meatballs and plenty of side dishes.
“Everybody serves the usual meats, but it’s the sides that really personalize the Passover meal,” said Weiss-Bell, who has inherited her mother’s recipes.
Aunt Natalie’s Farfel has long been a family favorite, although the recipe didn’t come from a relative. It was given to Weiss-Bell’s mother many years ago by a “dear friend” who lived next door and had an aunt who was a good cook. Now that Weiss-Bell makes the recipe, she bakes it long enough to turn the farfel or matzoh shards crusty brown.
“We are a family that likes things dry and crisp,” she said.
Her mother was known for her “neverending” Passover desserts, and Passover Mandelbrot was one of Weiss-Bell’s favorites. The cookies may remind you of biscotti, but for this feast they are made with matzoh meal instead of flour so they are appropriate for Passover, when leavened products are forbidden.
When chocolate chips and almonds are stirred into the dough, the cookies become a favorite of Jenna and Juliet, who will be enjoying the holiday at the restaurant with their parents.
Their father claims he spends more time at work than at home, so he’s glad to have his family around him on these special nights.
“Passover is really about spending time together,” Bell said. “That’s the important thing.”
If you go
What: Kosher-for-Passover dinner featuring roast chicken, brisket, traditional starters, sides and nonalcoholic drinks; BYOB.
Where: NY Deli, 3916 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 5 p.m. Saturday.
How much: $21 adults, $11 children under 12.
More info: Reservations required; call 954-566-2616. To-go dinners available with two days notice for pickup by 4 p.m. Friday.
AUNT NATALIE’S FARFEL
Browning the vegetables is a long, slow process. Do it lovingly. As any Jewish grandmother can tell you, it will make all the difference to the finished dish. And to make preparation easier, brown the vegetables ahead of time.
1 (14-ounce) canister or box of farfel
3 eggs, slightly beaten
About 1/4 cup canola oil to cover bottom of pan
1 small head green cabbage, cored and shredded
2 onions, halved crosswise and sliced into half moons
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (8-ounce) box mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons granulated beef bouillon
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
About 6 cups boiling water
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the farfel in a large bowl. Pour eggs over farfel and toss to coat well. Immediately place in a greased disposable aluminum foil lasagna/baking pan and bake about 30 minutes until farfel is golden. Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle; break into pieces in pan.
Meanwhile, add oil to cover the bottom of a Dutch oven over high heat. When oil is hot, add cabbage and cook until it wilts and sweats. Reduce heat to medium and continue sautéing until golden brown. This is a long, slow process. Remove cabbage from pan to a large bowl; set aside. Repeat with individual batches of onions and garlic and then the mushrooms. When brown, add to cabbage. Stir in bouillon powder and black pepper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place farfel in a large pot or Dutch oven (grease foil pan again and set aside for later use) and add boiling water to just barely immerse farfel. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Add farfel to vegetables in bowl and toss to combine. Turn oven to 350 degrees. Place farfel mixture in prepared foil lasagna pan. Bake about 1 hour or until brown and crisp enough for your tastes. Makes about 16 servings.
Tammie Weiss-Bell makes two batches flavoring one with chocolate chips and almonds; the other with raisins or dried cranberries and almonds. She uses almonds because her daughter Juliet is allergic to other nuts. Tammie’s mother, Cynthia Weiss, prefers using walnuts. The choice is yours.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons water
1 cup chocolate chips, dried cranberries or raisins
1 cup chopped nuts of choice
2 teaspoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
2 cups matzoh meal plus more for dusting
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored. Add the oil and water; beat until blended. Stir in your choice of either the chocolate chips, dried cranberries or the raisins. Then stir in the nuts, orange juice and salt, if using. Add the matzo meal and stir until well mixed. Let dough sit 15 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking pan and dust it with matzoh meal. Place the dough on the prepared pan. Moisten your hands and use them to shape the dough into an oblong about 3/4 inches thick; 6 inches across at its widest spot; and 12 inches long). The loaf should just about cover the pan. Bake 30 minutes or until golden. Let sit 10 minutes before slicing the loaf in half lengthwise and then crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Makes about 22 cookies.