I opened the menu at Mike’s Kosher Steakhouse
and wanted to cry.
There was the matzo ball soup that I love; there was stuffed cabbage that brought to mind my mother’s light rolls with their delicate sweet and sour sauce; and something I haven’t tasted since my cousin Neal’s wedding in 1975: stuffed derma.
Oh, God. Stuffed derma.
When it’s good, it’s like Jewish crack.
But this is a steakhouse, right? Well, yes and no. The word "steakhouse" is misleading. It’s obvious from what I’ve described that Mike’s menu deviates from the usual porterhouse and sides found in similarly named eateries.
Mike Domgjoni, the restaurant’s chef and owner, is familiar to Brooklyn Heights residents. He’s the former owner of the Pastrami Box, a kosher restaurant that was a favorite lunch spot for courthouse regulars who worked in Downtown Brooklyn before he closed it in May 2006. His new place offers steak and other plates, like that derma, chopped liver and overstuffed corned beef sandwiches that his kosher and non-kosher customers crave.
Even desserts are typical Jewish holiday table fare: seven-layer and checkerboard cakes and brownies. The only thing missing was a baked apple.
When the restaurant opened in September, it was billed as "kosher style," with typical Eastern European dishes. At that time, a rabbi did not oversee the kitchen, so customers who kept kosher couldn’t dine there. Since early October, Rabbi Israel Mayer Steinberg has been making unannounced monthly visits to see that the kitchen is adhering to strict kosher guidelines and that there are no milk or dairy products on the premises. In late September, Mike’s received its Kashrut certification.
The furnishings at Mike’s differ from the usual clubby, wood-paneled dining rooms typical of steakhouse decor. There’s a softly lit wood bar on one side of the room, where two televisions air sports. Separate from the bar is a dining area with dark wood tables, brick walls and large windows that afford a view of busy Clark Street. The tables are set informally with bamboo placemats, and pencil drawings of celebrities hang on the walls. (One, of a cross-eyed Barbra Streisand, distracted me through much of my meal.) Instead of innocuous Muzak, customers are treated to a cross-cultural, age-spanning serenade: "Going to the Chapel" followed by "Gasolina," and so on.
We ordered several appetizers, and when they arrived, our table looked like a buffet in a Catskill’s resort: potato pancakes with applesauce, stuffed cabbage and yes, stuffed derma. (It’s a sausage of sorts, also known as "kishka" or guts. Beef casings are filled with matzo meal, "schmaltz" chicken fat, onions and seasonings, and steamed then roasted.)
Is the assortment of dishes Jewish nirvana? Almost. The potato pancake was tasty and crisp but lacked strands of the vegetable that make for a pleasing texture.
The stuffed cabbage was more Italian than Eastern European; it was pleasant in its own right with lots of garlic and rich, chunky tomato sauce, but I missed the tang of my mother’s version.
And the derma. The derma was good. Not
as triumphant as the one I recall from Neal’s wedding, but that
memory is clouded in nostalgia anyway. Domgjoni’s is a hefty
round of meaty goodness, doused with a deeply flavored brown
The sandwiches are nothing more than fresh meat piled high between rye bread, which is as it should be in this sort of restaurant. Order the brisket and the waitress will inquire, "lean or juicy," the latter meaning fattier. Go for juicy, which is barely fatty at all. Pour on the well-seasoned beef gravy, but leave enough to dip one of the crisp onion rings.
Carnivores won’t be disappointed with the oyster steak. It’s a shoulder cut similar to a filet mignon with a soft texture and tenderness, but has a richer flavor. The meat arrived with a thick, crusty, grilled exterior, rare and juicy inside.
When it comes to side dishes, Domgjoni’s style is on the spare side. Of course, in a kosher eatery, you’re not going to get the usual creamed spinach. Here, the fresh, chopped vegetable is simply sauteed. It’s fine on its own, but some garlic and a little olive oil wouldn’t hurt. Fries are thick, freshly cut and only so-so.
You’d think that with Brooklyn being home to such a diverse mix of people, finding a kosher restaurant that offers Old World favorites would be an easy feat. Not any more. Assimilation, diets and a cosmopolitan clientele have made Jewish restaurants like Mike’s a thing of the past. Nobody ever said kosher-style cooking was light, or that it was particularly healthy, either. It is good for the soul though. So eat "bubelah." Just eat.
Mike’s Kosher Steakhouse (72 Clark St. between Henry and Hicks streets in Brooklyn Heights) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $9.95-$32.95. Oyster steak for two to four persons: $64.96-$129.95. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. For reservations, call (718) 855-1555.