Am I tilting at windmills? I feel like I've been on a sporadic, yet eternal, search for the Jewish bread and rolls of my childhood (which wasn't SO long ago). Born in Brooklyn in 1964, I mostly grew up in Nassau County. Most of my family remained here, some were in every boro but the Bronx. There was never a shortage of great bakery stuff, it was only a matter of whose was best.
I live in Kensington now and have plenty of access to Boro Park and Midwood. I can't tell you exactly what places I've visited since none have warranted a return visit. I've sampled on 18th Ave, New Utrecht, Macdonald, 13th and 14th aves. I guess I haven't really searched Kings Hwy. Just the other day I finally got to Isaac's on ave J, having seen recommendations on CH, and found it completely forgettable.
To be clear, I'm not talking about pastries and cookies. I can find a decent babkah, strudel, etc and many of those items overlap with other Eastern European bakery cuisines, so the chances are better. I generally don't bother with rugelach. I have found a palatable one here and there, which to me means a minimum of chemical aftertaste of most commercial stuff. But none are as good as my mom's and I don't expect them to be.
Certainly, I can find a hearty, chewy, flavorful rye bread at a boutique shop supplied by a high end baker. It's not EXACTLY what I want, but Grab in the South Slope, for instance, gets a great version. Maybe, it's a bit too chi-chi. I find it shocking, though, that almost every rye from an actual Jewish bakery is barely salty enough to even have flavor.
Any onion roll I come across in the Jewish areas is simply tasteless bread, with a desultory stripe of onion and poppy inside. I'm looking for an entire layer of moist onions almost enabling the roll to be cleaved by hand. The blackened onions on top should cover the whole thing, and the roll itself should be dense, yellow and moist. We used to call it a "Miami Roll" but when I ask at any Kosher place they look at me like I have two heads. I still don't know what they call the crappy rolls that do have the onion inside.
At Isaac's I asked for a salt stick, and he asked if I wanted sesame or poppy! Uh, a salt stick isn't just an oblong roll - it's egg brushed and topped with tons of caraway seeds and kosher salt. I never had poppy or sesame salt sticks. For some dumb reason I took two flavorless salt stick shaped rolls home and threw them out.
Finally, I haven't found a cornmeal rye in twenty years! Again, I ask and get blank stares and even dismissive barks. I don't make the mistake of calling it corn bread anymore. (I stopped that after visiting the South for the first time.)
Any new, or overlooked old, news would be amazing. Thanks, esteemed CHers.
Isaac's Bake Shop
1419 Ave J, Brooklyn, NY 11230
438 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215