FOOD REVIEW

Blintzes, bagels, matzo ball soup: Rooster serves up taste of Jewish tradition

The food Rothman is cooking at the Rooster Café & Kitchen is food cooked from recipes handed down from bubbies and babas and Jewish friends of Jewish friends.

Break out the Manischewitz, the long wait is over

The challah bread is one of the restaurant's signature Jewish-inspired additions to its menu. (Rooster Cafe and Kitchen)

Charles Rothman could no longer ignore the voices in his head — voices that were saying, "Feed them your blintzes, your bagels, and balls of matzo meal in broth. Give them capers and cream cheese and Manischewitz, and they will follow you all the days of your life." 

Or, maybe I'm projecting.

For years, I have dreamed someone in Edmonton would come along and feed me these things.

Now, my dream has become a reality.

The food Rothman is cooking at the Rooster Cafe & Kitchen is food cooked from recipes handed down from bubbies and babas and Jewish friends of Jewish friends. 

It is food cooked with love and heart from a gung-ho community guy who thinks supporting local producers is the right thing to do.

Rothman has a gentle touch, a rare trait in chefs these days, it seems, where manhandling and over-manipulating ingredients is the preferred method of food preparation.

With his impressive beard and thick wild curls that refuse to be contained under an ever-present toque, Rothman is more likely to be mistaken for a lumberjack than a mindful cook with the ability and sense to restrain himself in the kitchen. 
Charles Rothman's heritage plays into his Jewish-inspired brunch restaurant in Old Strathcona. (Charles Rothman/Supplied)
Take the kippered salmon club, named "the Gail Hall sandwich" after his friend, the late chef who passed away in 2016 from breast cancer.

He pays homage to Gail's Jewish roots in the kippering of the fish, and the use of local vegetable and challah bread.

The aquavit and brown sugar baste only serves to gild this delicious lily, and sweeter yet is that one dollar from every sandwich sold goes to the Edmonton Community Foundation's ChefGail Fund. 

Whitefish from Manitoba is seasoned, smoked over apple and hickory wood, cooled and shredded, mixed with mayonnaise, sour cream and fresh dill, and presented on a board with a Gryfe bagel (sesame seed or poppy seed were the flavours last week).

That a soup should be the one item I would crawl over cut glass to have again.- Twyla Campbell

The bagels are Rothman's favourite brand and hail from his hometown of Toronto. They arrive boiled, par-baked and flash frozen, and finished to order. These bagels are smaller and not as heavy as a New York bagel, and have a delectable flavour and noticeable (but not energy-draining) chew.

A "Schmear" will get you a basic plate of bagel with cream cheese, onions, tomato, and capers; a "Mensch" gives you the option of adding Sgambaro's Atlantic Smoked Salmon or one of two house-cured gravlax.
Our food explorer - Twyla Campbell - checks out a neighbourhood joint on Whyte Ave that serves up some rare delicacies for Edmonton... bagels, blintzes and matzo ball soup. 7:44

I don't think any choice would be wrong but I would lean to the cured fish, as Rothman's ability to balance flavour and texture has left me in a dreamy state still — four days later.

That a soup should be the one item I would crawl over cut glass to have again, or have me yearn a few hours later for more, should speak volumes.

The gorgeous broth is his mother and grandmother's recipe, but how is it that one big matzo ball can be light as air and richly satisfying at the same time? Is it generations of love and hardship and perseverance and tradition? This soup is all these things.

There are non-Jewish offerings as well: mushrooms on toast, grilled cheese, various soups (depends on what's left in the fridge — Rothman is loath to waste). There is fresh squeezed juice from Texas oranges that are grown specifically for their juice content and sweetness, and there is poutine, salads, and 'frittata of the day,' too.

Sweets to eat 

If you see the chocolate babka (bread) or cinnamon buns in the deli cooler case at the front, grab one.

Those sweet goods are the icing on the cake, and speaking of that, save room for the honey cake, a dessert that could bring about world peace, or at the very least result in a spontaneous moan or sigh. Pardon me while I take a moment.

And yet, this is the Rooster Café & Kitchen, not the Rooster Jewish Deli. Rothman is hesitant to have it labelled as such, despite the blintzes and bagels, Schmears and Mensches. He wonders if Edmonton is ready for a full-on Jewish deli.

I say, yes! Bring on the knishes and brisket, already. We have waited long enough.

Rooster Cafe & Kitchen is located at 10732 82nd Avenue.

You can hear Campbell's reviews on Edmonton AM every second Friday. You can also see more of her reviews on her blog, Weird Wild and Wonderful, and can follow her on Twitter at @wanderwoman10.