As if going up against the juggernaut of Christmas wasn’t bad enough, the Jewish holiday of Passover always pales in comparison to Easter. While little Christian children get to search for colorful baskets of chocolate eggs and sugar-dusted marshmallow peeps, we have to fight to the death over the Afikomen — a dry sleeve of matzo covered in a cloth napkin. And while the Easter feast includes lamb, ham, and that fantastically junky string bean casserole concoction topped with pop-top onion crisps, we dine on quivering jellied fish lozenges culled from a jar.
But then, there’s matzo ball soup.
It may not sound great on paper — spongy dumplings made from eggs, water, matzo meal and chicken fat. But for good little Jewish boys and girls, nothing says grandma like this Passover treat. Debate rages eternal over whether the ideal matzo ball is a sinker (substantial and dense) or a floater (light and fluffy), but personal preference generally comes down to whatever way your bubby made them (sinkers all the way!).
So what better way to track grandma’s influence this holiday season than with a matzo ball crawl all throughout Brooklyn? Whether you go for purely traditional, or with a little modern edge, these area restaurants are serving up the goods. And you don’t even need to have a Jewish grandma to appreciate them.
A former Mile End chef used to offer “The Whole Mishpucha” every Passover, a hoity toity matzo ball soup loaded with high falutin’ add-ins, like chicken galantine, chicken stuffed wontons, and ramen-style noodles. It was tasty and all, but Mile End’s classic Matzo Ball soup (still served year round), is an exercise in simplicity, containing one plank of celery, a hunk of parsnip, a wedge of carrot, a sprig of dill, and a single nubby sinker that has us reminiscing big time. 97A Hoyt St, (718) 852-7510
The Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg don’t generally get as much food press as their impossibly hip neighbors. But they sure do make a note-worthy matzo ball. “We haven’t changed a thing since my grandparents opened the store, so I guess this recipe is at least 50 years old,” said Gottlieb’s owner Menashe Gottlieb. The price can’t have changed much either; an oversized bowl goes for $3.75. Chicken bones are boiled down with carrots, celery, squash, peppers and “secret spices” to make a super flavorful stock, but the one buoyant ball still claims center stage. 352 Roebling St, (718) 384-6612
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
We can’t say we’re in love with everything at Blue Ribbon—how can you reconcile a menu that includes hummus, sushi, paella, and crawfish etoufee? But owners Bruce and Eric Bromberg stick to what they know best when it comes to the matzo ball soup, inspired, of course, by their grandma’s classic recipe. We particularly love the heady, fragrant broth, made from a whole chicken cooked down with aromatics. Schmaltz is used to add rich umami flavor to the matzo balls, and seltzer gives them a lighter-than-air consistency. 280 5th Ave, (718) 840-0404
Jay and Lloyd’s
The sign on the door at this Avenue U deli reads “Come in and Eat, or We’ll Both Starve.” So what are you waiting for? The house-smoked pastrami, old fashioned grilled hot dogs, fat potato knishes, and specialties like noodle kugel and kasha varnishkas are all tops, but we’re talking matzo ball soup here. It’s kind of reminiscent of Campbell’s (in the best way possible), vividly yellow, totally salty, and swimming with squishy egg noodles. And the feather-light matzo ball is a paragon of the form. 2718 Avenue U, (718) 891-5298
Classicists probably won’t appreciate the Deli Ramen at this “Brooklyn ramen” spot on Smith Street, which boasts a chicken tare-accented broth, a poached egg, ramen noodles, bamboo shoots, and a wad of Mile End smoked meat. The result is that the matzo ball itself is sort of secondary, but there are plenty of places in Brooklyn that serve a traditional soup. Somehow, we think that Bubby would approve. 271 Smith St, (718) 643-0781
If you’re going to eat one thing at Junior’s beyond obscenely rich slabs of cheese cake, better make it the matzo ball soup. The landmark, Flatbush Avenue diner still makes the stock for their tasty soup from scratch, served straight up with two fluffy, schmaltz-slicked matzo balls. 386 Flatbush Ave Ext, (718) 852-5257
Shelsky’s Smoked Fish
We’re not going to hold it against Shelsky’s that they proudly serve floaters (we know our preference for sinkers isn’t exactly standard). This Smith Street appetizing shop perfectly toes the line between old school and new; offering Jewish specialties that are refined in execution and totally traditional in flavor. 251 Smith St, (718) 855-8817