There are plenty of Jewish delis in L.A. that are not kosher (hello, Langer’s), but there may be only one kosher sandwich shop that isn’t a deli. Opened in March across from Pan Pacific Park by chef Eric Greenspan, Fleishik’s is where Orthodox men in black hats and schoolgirls in tartan pinafores queue up with customers who might usually opt for the pork belly at Animal. Because as Greenspan proves, rotisserie brisket layered over beet horseradish with crunchy chicken-skin gribenes and fried onions is exactly the kind of flavor-packed dish anybody would want to line up for.
Good food, not religious devotion, was foremost on the chef’s mind when his Mid-course Hospitality Group partnered with businessmen Avi Heyman and Daniel Uretsky. Other than his bar mitzvah, nothing about the 42-year-old’s background would hint at his interest in Orthodox-appropriate cooking. Greenspan isn’t even observant. Rather, he saw a gap between L.A.’s sizable population of Orthodox Jews and the minuscule number of restaurants where they can eat. To step in with a place of his own, he’d have to do more than abide by the book of Exodus, keeping meat and dairy (fleishik and milchik in Yiddish ) separate. He’d also have to honor the Sabbath, refraining from operating electrical or gas devices until sundown—which is determined to the minute in the world he was entering. “On Saturday nights we’ve opened at 9:07 and we’ve opened at 9:15,” he says with a chuckle in the open kitchen.
Greenspan heads to the back sink, where Jacob Kohanpoolad is washing romaine lettuce leaf by leaf, checking for aphids, which are definitely not kosher. Kohanpoolad is one of two mashgiachs, essentially chefs who ensure that the restaurant stays true to the certification granted by the Rabbinical Council of California. They’re responsible for everything from turning on the ovens to inspecting the yolk intended to crown the smoked turkey sub before it can hit the pan. “They won’t let me order kale,” says Greenspan, ribbing his companion. “The RCC says it contains too many aphids.”
Greenspan has had a peripatetic career. Before his stint as chef de cuisine at Patina, he apprenticed in New York in the kitchen of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, where the lobster mille-feuille he prepared included truffles, lobster béchamel, and a lobster glaçage. “The treyf-iest of the treyf, ” he says. He also ran the Foundry on Melrose and, later, a grilled-cheese counter.
Maré, his Hyperion Avenue spot, specializes in shellfish soups. So isn’t Fleishik’s constraining by comparison? “I’m in a very specific box,” he says about not being able to reach for go-to enhancers such as cheese and butter. “But it hyper focuses the creativity.” In an age when chefs can do anything, limits are appealing. The vegan baker, the Belgian-style brewer, the chef who specializes in the Isaan cooking of northeast Thailand all understand how curtailing the extent you can roam pushes you to go deeper into what you can do. “They’re excited someone is putting a twist on things,” Greenspan says of his Orthodox customers. “It’s not like the secular world, where there are lots of options.”