"You having something to eat? What do you want? I'll take care of you!" Though he's just sat down to tell this writer the story of Frankel's—Greenpoint's favorite new Jewish delicatessen—co-owner Zach Frankel can't resist jumping out of his chair to lend a hand when he sees a familiar face walk through the door. When he finally does manage to stay in his seat for more than a few minutes, he spends a good deal of that time doling out friendly nods and waves.
"The Jewish deli disappeared," he says, "but, even more than that, this style of service had disappeared: Highly personal, one-on-one, dealing with someone from start to finish. You come to the counter, it's me every day." Since opening in April, Frankel has indeed been on hand every day, doing his best to talk to every customer and shake every single hand.
It's a family business, born of a shared desire on the part of two brothers, New York City natives who simply wanted to see more of each other. "We're as close as friends could be," says Frankel of his relationship with his brother and co-owner Alex (one half of influential NYC dance-pop outfit Holy Ghost!), "but we work in such disparate businesses that it takes a lot of effort to be in the same room at the same time." And while the restaurant has only been open for two months, it's the result of an idea that had long been brewing in Frankel's head—"among many other harebrained schemes," he says, laughing.
He decided to refine the idea just as any self-respecting, aspiring delicatessen owner would: he absconded to a cabin in upstate New York, by himself, for three months, during which time he drafted a business plan. "Best time of my life," he says. He promptly came back to the city and pitched it to his brother, who liked the whole idea well enough—but fell fully in love with it upon the discovery of their Manhattan Avenue location in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood. "We saw a corner in a neighborhood that needed something like this, a neighborhood that reminds us of the Upper West Side, where we grew up."
So Frankel tracked down a chef he knew he could trust with this material, Ashley Berman, and together they set about building a menu and testing out all the recipes. "We both referred to our grandmothers' recipe boxes a lot," says Frankel, "but if you reproduce those recipes, they're not actually that great. Grandma's cooking is good, but a lot of that is because she is Grandma. It was about taking those recipes and elevating them a little bit, seasoning them properly, and making them viable on a larger scale."
Some of the biggest hits so far have included the brisket, the potato latkes, the pastrami sandwiches, and their specialty bagel combos (particularly the #1, featuring pastrami salmon, dill cucumber, and scallion cream cheese). A good deal of the menu items are fully constructed on-site, while others use ingredients sourced from friends around town, like Baz Bagels on Grand Street and Paisano Provisions in Boerum Hill. "If there's something that someone else is already doing that we can't do better," explains Frankel, "then we're not going to do it. The stuff that we knew we could do better than anyone else—chicken salad, whitefish salad, the chopped liver, roast turkey, matzo ball soup, latkes—we're making all of that from scratch, in-house."
It's Friday morning, and the place has a healthy 10 a.m. hum to it as Frankel looks around the room with an air of calm contentment. "It's completely utilitarian and non-denominational," he says as he scans the crowd. "Look around right now: You have hipsters, guys with tattoos, but also a little kid in a stroller with his grandmother—and that's a little rare, especially in this neighborhood. There aren't a lot of kid-friendly restaurants around here; we try to take care of kids and make it fun for them."
With that, he hops behind the counter, and gets back to taking orders from an ever-growing line of customers.
For more, see frankelsdelicatessen.com.