Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, the new-school pastrami spot in the Mission, just came out with a new cookbook, titled Eat Something: for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews. Well, more precisely, the book actually came out last month. But given that it’s Passover, and a plague of sorts has descended on all our houses, many eaters are taking comfort in cookbooks. And this one delivers, with the star dishes the restaurant’s regulars love, which are in fact achievable at home (here’s looking at you, brisket). Plus, the book is kind of hilarious, filled with old snapshots and fun illustrations, sibling arguments and bar mitzvah throwbacks.
Wise Sons originally opened in 2012, with the kind of “deli fare that would make your bubbe proud.” It took a few years for the team to tackle bagel-making, at which time Eater wildly claimed that Wise Sons would “save the San Francisco bagel scene” (okay, okay, let’s not digress into the bagel wars). Now, the modern Jewish deli has six storefronts, with five in the Bay and one outpost in Tokyo. New Yorkers might trash talk our local delis, but Wise Sons brought a modicum of respect to San Francisco, throwing down meaty reubens, chewy bagels, salty lox, chocolate babka, holiday latkes, and so much more in the heart of the Mission.
The cookbook was written by chef and co-founder Evan Bloom, who opened the deli with brother Ari Bloom and buddy Leo Beckerman. And Rachel Levin, formerly the restaurant critic at Eater SF, was inarguably the perfect co-author for this project. (News flash: Chefs aren’t always writers. They often hire paid pens to help with these projects. Ideally smart and funny ones.) Levin captures all of it, the bearded brothers and buddies, the disdainful New Yorkers, the kale-eating Californians. But most of all, it captures the nostalgia of the dishes, where fishy and squidgy foods intersect with family traditions, from the endearing to the ridiculous. The book isn’t just about food, it’s about Jews and food, and to borrow Levin’s word, their nearly “pathological” obsession with it.
Fans of the deli will finally get the full recipes for their favorite comfort foods. The brisket is easy enough for home cooks to slather with mustard, sear off, and slide into the oven for a few hours, and Bloom gives away the secret to a thicker gravy (simmer it down). In this moment, with Passover presiding over a pandemic, the recipe for homemade chicken soup and matzo balls feels particularly timely — “It’s called Jewish penicillin for a reason” — with a whole chicken jammed into the pot, one clawed foot waving what’s up. And now that people are cozying up and doing more baking, it’s a great time to dig into the chocolate babka, a twisted project for sure, but with deep dark chocolate rewards for the more ambitious home cook.
Finally, it’s the retro snapshots and fun illustrations that bring this book to life. The best cookbooks aren’t just a collection of recipes — they capture a larger story. And in this case, Eat Something takes readers careening through family meals and high holidays, from bris brunch spreads to bar mitzvah meatball stations to Chinese takeout nights. The design and illustrations are courtesy of George McCalman, who punched it up scrapbook style, cobbling together recipes, anecdotes, old family photos, and line-drawn illustrations, and treating it to a ‘70s-inspired bubble typeface. The cover almost recalls the first issue of the dearly departed Lucky Peach magazine, which shocked readers with whole raw chickens clutched by the feet. Then again, this whole roasted chicken, thrust triumphantly onto a fern wallpaper background, stands alone. This book isn’t too cheffy. It’s comfort food. And it’s fun.