Old-World Fressin’ at 2nd Floor Bar & Essen

2nd Ave Deli opens a moody kosher gastropub with major speakeasy vibes


In July, Yorkville landmark Glaser’s Bake Shop will close its doors after 116 years spent plying the neighborhood with striped marble cakes, poppy seed horns, and arguably the most celebrated black-and-white cookies in all of New York (which, of course, makes them arguably the most celebrated in the world). The storied German bakery’s voluntary shutter (the third-generation owners plan to pack away their rolling pins, sell the building that houses the bakery, and retire) is, as the kids no longer say, a shanda.

Thankfully, if the past half-decade is any indication, New York City’s connection to turn-of-the-century Jewish culinary traditions is stronger than it’s been since before boomers were babies. Relative newcomers like Montreal-style smoked meat and bagel havens Mile End and Black Seed Bagels, the breezy, Barbra Streisand–obsessed Baz Bagel, Greenpoint deli and appetizing shop Frankel’s, and the Horowitz siblings’ Harry & Ida’s, are experimenting with, and in many cases improving upon, the classics, while institutions like Orwashers Bakery and smoked fish specialists Russ & Daughters have branched out with stylish full-service cafés to capitalize on contemporary tastes.

Not far from Glaser’s, the venerable 2nd Ave Deli’s Lenox Hill branch has sprouted a moody kosher gastropub with major speakeasy vibes — 2nd Floor Bar & Essen, which opened last November, is a gambit by brothers Josh and Jeremy Lebewohl to update shtetl cuisine for a younger demographic. More meatpacking district than meat-packed kreplach ($8, admirably fried golden-brown and shrouded in dill and raw garlic) destination, the sprawling upstairs annex is tucked away above the deli proper and accessed via darkened staircases. Inside it’s agreeably faux-worn, with pressed-tin ceilings, industrial-chic lighting, and vintage Yiddish theater posters adorning the walls. Sleepy early in the week, it’s most enjoyable on Saturday nights, when the pleated leather booths fill up with a mix of young professionals and older locals winding their way through the selection of Israeli wines and $14 cocktails — the best of which mingles dry gin and a sidecar of Manischewitz that has been reduced with lemons and cinnamon until it resembles simple syrup, to be added at the drinker’s discretion.

The small plates menu for this nighttime nosher’s retreat is the work of Belarus-born chef David Teyf, who splits his time between running this kitchen, a catering company, and a café inside the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Under his direction, gefilte fish gets turned into fried croquettes ($8) as springy as the fish balls found in Little Fuzhou, and sliders ($12) come with slabs of smoky beef tongue, the cold cuts layered onto soft challah rolls with tomatoes and dill aioli. Instead of the free pickles and coleslaw served downstairs, every table receives blocks of warm matzah babka that tastes like savory bread pudding.

Mini stuffed cabbages ($15) arrive with a table-side pyrotechnics display, at least when the slug of Slivovitz plum brandy ignites the way it should, burnishing the tops of the ground-beef bundles nestled in a tomato sauce spiked with boozy raisins. And what are deli meats if not a cousin of charcuterie? Indeed, 2nd Floor serves smoked pastrami, corned beef, and hard salami with similar gravitas, arranged in solitaire-like cascades on a wooden board ($18 small/$36 large) surrounded by bundles of chewy beef jerky and heaps of smooth, rich chopped liver. The same goes for herring three ways ($12), which finds the briny, fatty preserved fish doing its best impression of sushi, sliced with care and formed over halved fingerling potatoes.

Up here, you can discover the many joys of chicken skin: crisped-up and tossed with shredded daikon radish and browned onions for schmaltzy slaw ($15); deep-fried and laced with more browned onions for what may just be the greatest, heaviest bar snack on earth, gribenes ($8); and sewn together (as in, with string) to make paunchy packets for the Ashkenazi dish helzel ($20), a chicken inception calzone of sorts that is filled with schmaltz-fortified roux. Even more striking is the way Teyf treats duck, filling humble blintzes ($16) with confit leg meat and topping the pan-fried bundles with a luxurious mess of crunchy cracklings.

All of this food is fairly heavy, so by the time dessert is up for discussion you’ll likely be ready to plotz. The two kinds of strudel ($8), chocolate or poppy seed, are fine enough, but they had me wistfully coveting Glaser’s pastries. I’d love to see what Teyf could do with a black-and-white cookie.

2nd Ave Deli’s 2nd Floor Bar & Essen
1442 First Avenue