With Kelley McLaughlin.
335 Harvard St., Brookline
“Knish Happens," "Love you a latke," "Almost Kosher," and "Got Matzo Balls?"
Zaftigs in Brookline knows its brand, and its tongue-in-cheek T‑shirts are as iconic as the fresh takes on Jewish cuisine that it serves.
With the high holidays upon us, we were in the mood to have some traditional Jewish noshes when we stopped for lunch. Zaftigs' menu offers an abundance of such choice in the matter, and we could not resist ordering appetizers as well as mains.
When we sat down in our booth the diner was packed, especially for a weekday lunch. We were seated quickly, and did not wait long for service either. While the space is dark, everything else about it, from the counter service bar to the chrome accents to the quirky "luscious lady" artwork that pops up everywhere, radiated diner chic.
A "zaftig woman" means a voluptuous woman in Yiddish, and an icon of such a woman also appears on the menu, helpfully pointing out "Nanny's Favorites".
The cheese blintzes:
In true diner style, our food arrived quickly, generous portions still crispy from the griddle.
The cheese blintzes, which were warm and well-filled, came with a lovely mountain of fresh, room temperature berries. The naturally sweet, bright taste of the berries perfectly complemented the rich cheese filling, and also added necessary texture. It seems like a small detail, but we also really appreciated that the berries were served at room temperature rather than chilled, so they did not take away from the warmth. Eating these blintzes gave us both that idyllic "weekend morning breakfast" feeling, midday on a Tuesday. As a starter, blintzes come two to an order, which is perfect for an appetizer, but we definitely regret not ordering the full size serving ($12.95).
The homemade knishes (we chose potato) were fluffy on the inside and well-seasoned, not dry or dense at all, which is truly an accomplishment for a potato filling. On the other hand, the outer dough was a bit soggy and pale. Overall they were fine, but compared to everything else they seemed a bit boring.
The matzo brei:
The matzo brei, which is matzo crackers pan-fried with scrambled eggs, came with cinnamon sugar for dusting and beautifully crispy garlicky home fries. The matzo brei itself is plain, though still comforting. But if you sprinkle some of the cinnamon sugar over top, it takes on new life. Sweet, cinnamony eggs with bits of crunchy matzo are an unexpected delight.
And last, though definitely not least, the Loaded Latkes, which we ordered with smoked salmon and dill sour cream. These were probably the best latkes at least one of us has ever had, and they were plated beautifully. They were a glorious golden brown and oh so crispy, thick but not dense, and bursting with a well-balanced blend of onion and potato flavor. The dill sour cream adds a lovely creamy tanginess to the mix, really lifting the flavor instead of making it heavy. These are not your bubbe's latkes, and can also be served up in a variety of other combinations, including with bacon, with chili and cheddar cheese, with barbeque chicken and bleu cheese, and with black beans and pico de gallo.
Zaftigs offers a large selection of good quality food in an unpretentious diner-like setting. It is a modern take on a Jewish deli, though it is important to note that the food is not kosher (and in some cases, not even almost!).
The wall outside of Zaftigs Delicatessen in Brookline:
Review from the Independent Review Crew.