It’s been an unrelenting year and a half for Elyssa Heller, the Jewish-American restaurateur behind the Edith’s pop-up and sandwich counter in north Brooklyn. In 2020, Heller popped onto the borough’s restaurant scene somewhat unexpectedly, operating a bagel pop-up out of the kitchen at Paulie Gee’s while the pizzeria was temporarily closed due to the pandemic. It was a sold-out smash. The first-time restaurant owner followed up with a small sandwich counter — also named Edith’s, after her great aunt — last spring, and this week her popular rolled bagels are getting a new home.
On January 11, Heller is opening the doors of Edith’s Eatery & Grocery, a restaurant and grocery store at 312 Leonard Street, on the corner of Conselyea Street. “This has been the plan all along,” she says. “It’s actually been in our name from the start.” Zoom in on her restaurant’s Instagram profile picture and there it is — “Edith’s Eatery & Epicure” — the same logo that’s been hiding in plain sight for the better part of the last two years. It’s located about five blocks from her sandwich shop in Williamsburg.
The “eatery” is really more of a restaurant, bakery, deli, grocery, small bookstore, and place to linger. (Eventually, there will also be a bar.) According to Heller, she wanted to open the kind of old-school Jewish restaurant where people can come to eat — but also celebrate birthdays, mourn losses, meet for business, and so on. “The Jewish deli of the now is really not like that,” she says. “A lot of the ones that are still around are so old and iconic that they have become tourist destinations.”
Heller, who previously worked in operations for companies like Milk Bar and Dylan’s Candy Bar, hopes Edith’s can be different. “This is Zabar’s for the next generation,” she says. Or in her case, Barnum and Bagel, the Barnum and Bailey Circus-themed Jewish deli she grew up going to in Evanston, Illinois.
Like those New York institutions, a sizable deli counter spans one length of Heller’s restaurant, displaying smoked fish, aged meats, pickled vegetables, and cheeses, much of which is prepared on-site. Opposite the counter, a handful of “aisles” — shelves just deep enough that a customer can step into one and be surrounded on three sides — are stocked with spices, coffees, bottles of the restaurant’s everything bagel seasoning, and other pantry items.
“I want to make it easier to incorporate these foods into your everyday life,” Heller says, and indeed most of the items sold here are accompanied by hand-written notes with staff recommendations and tidbits of history.
Everything can be ordered and eaten in the restaurant’s front dining room, or at a smaller cafe space in the back, where pastries and breads are sold and a refrigerator is stocked with frozen foods: tahini chess pies, a collaboration with Petee’s Pie Company, and frozen Chicago-style pizzas, a nod to the owner’s home city, from Emmett’s in Soho. There’s about 20 seats in total.
A small kitchen is led by chef Christina Jackson, who’s been with Edith’s since its time as a pop-up in Greenpoint. She and Heller are pulling from across the Jewish diaspora with an all-day menu of malawach — a Yemenite Jewish flatbread prepared here with grated tomato, herb oil, green harissa, and no small amount of butter — and syrniki, a cheesy Russian pancake that comes with currant jam.
Other dishes are closer to the Jewish classics found at many of the city’s longstanding delis. There’s the meaty chicken consomme, bobbing with celery slices and balls of matzo, and a plate of chicken schnitzel and cornbread. A separate dinner menu will follow later this spring, according to Heller, as will a list of cocktails served from a bar.