I love the story of Passover. I’m not a religious guy, but I can’t help but revel in the cinematic drama and hyperbole of the story. It has it all – bondage, oppression, lice, boils, death…it’s all there. And many of those same plagues were present when I first reviewed Eddie’s House back in November, 2008. It was an awful meal, plagued by abysmal service, weak food, and smoke pouring out of the kitchen. There were moments during that meal where I, like the ancient Jews, was looking for the Red Sea to part so I could get the hell out.
Fast forward about 18 months and I found myself, my family and my father seated at a table in Eddie’s House for our Passover Seder. Although I was the one that picked the restaurant, I did so with admittedly low expectations. Cooking seemed too much of an effort this year, with two little kids running around the house, so we opted to let Mr. Matney and crew do the work this year. And in case you don’t want to sit for the whole Haggadah of a review, it was a damn fine meal. Eddie and his wife pulled out all the stops.
We arrived to a comfortable table set with the traditional Seder plate, well adorned with all the requisite items. At each place setting was a Haggadah, the traditional book that tells the story of Passover. And for each adult was a glass of 2010 vintage Manischewitz Concord Grape wine. If you haven’t had this stuff, you should. It’s like Welch’s Grape Juice with a buzz. (All Jewish kids learn to love this stuff and drink as much of it as possible at Temple events. Parents turn a blind eye, knowing that their kids will sleep late the next day.)
The menu was divided into First Tastes, Second Tastes, Features, and a Dessert option. For each course, we had a choice of a traditional item (like gefilte fish), or something more contemporary, like a tomato and mozzarella salad. Just as many people adore the foods of their people that “outsiders” find repugnant (Menudo, anyone?), I absolutely LOVE gefilte fish. Although my aunt’s homemade gefilte fish is the best, I’ll gladly settle for the stuff from a jar replete with globs of congealed broth on top. I don’t think Eddie’s gefilte fish was homemade, but it wasn’t bad and the horseradish that accompanied it was brutally powerful. I loved it. My wife refuses to eat gefilte fish until she actually witnesses a gefilte swimming in the sea, so I gladly ate her serving as well. I think we once had a gefilte fish eating contest in my Jewish college fraternity. I won, and my friend Howie slurped up the congealed broth with glee. (These are the things us crazy Jews do as frat boys.)
Round two was a choice of either “Grandma Carmen’s Chicken Matzo Ball Soup” or “Mazza plate with Hummous, olives, herb mascarpone and veggies.” I’m all for being progressive, but no self-respecting Jew will resist the opportunity to compare someone else’s matzo ball soup with his mother’s. And no Jew is dumb enough to say that ANYONE’S soup is better than his mother’s, but Grandma Carmen did a damn good job. The broth was relatively dark in color and very rich, with a nice onion flavor. It almost had the richness of French onion soup, but lighter. It’s not my mom’s, but it made me happy.
Ancient wars have been fought over what constitutes the “perfect” matzo ball. Should they be fluffy, or doughy? Floaters or sinkers? Large or small? My mom’s were always nearly baseball sized and fluffy as can be. She has always prided herself on her matzo ball perfection, and I grew up loving them. But, secretly, I always seemed to enjoy the “doughy” ones. But just as you grow up knowing that it is “wrong” to lust after the shiksa girl that sits next to you in school, I always found greater pleasure in the heavy matzo balls, the ones that sunk to the bottom and were almost hard inside. I’m certain that many kvetchy diners felt that Grandma Carmen’s matzo balls were too small, or too heavy, or too hard, but in my mind they were perfect. Just don’t tell my mom.
As the guilt of my lust for someone else’s matzo balls sunk in, I began to notice the festive atmosphere around me. There were large families celebrating Passover, singing the traditional songs, and enjoying the night. There were kids everywhere, some laughing, some wanting to go home, and some sneaking some Manischewitz under the table. It really did feel like we were in Eddie’s house, not Eddie’s House.
The main course arrived just as my kids, ages 2 and 4, were starting to get cranky. I had the Roasted Half Chicken with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, and my wife had the Braised Beef Brisket with Potato Pancakes, apple sauce and Broccolini. Both of my kids opted for the Onion Encrusted Salmon with Forest Mushroom Quinoa and Asparagus. My daughter immediately grabbed a stalk of asparagus and devoured it, and my wife gave the brisket the greatest compliment of all: “it tastes like brisket should taste. Not fancy brisket, not deconstructed brisket…just brisket. The kind you would make at home.” And therein lays the beauty of the night.
As if the Seder couldn’t have gotten better, the final chapter was the best. A gigantic, gooey, sweet and perfect Coconut Almond Macaroon. There was no guilty pleasure in this; it was pure delight.
I don’t know Eddie Matney, but I’ve heard that he is Lebanese and married a Jewish woman. I love the irony of it all: two cultures that have been at odds for what seems like eternity, united through marriage, producing Jewish soul food with a Lebanese twist. Eddie’s House did a huge service to the Jewish community, and to itself. Eddie’s wife was working the room, Eddie was barking out orders from the kitchen and the room was boisterous, festive and warm. It was like being with my in-laws from New Jersey…loud.
Next year, at Eddie’s House….
Photos of the meal can be found at www.ericeatsout.com
7042 East Indian School Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
7042 E Indian School Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251