From the Gegent: Despite Mama Kitchen’s recent expansion, chef Shira Asas keeps it personal, homemade and even unexpected.
‘From the Gegent’ is a series of articles featuring businesses, services and the people behind them in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Presented by Mica Soffer, owner and publisher of community news service COLlive.com and neighborhood directory gegent.com:
Tucked away on Rochester Avenue in Brooklyn, right off the bustling Fulton Street, there’s a chance to feel and taste a slice of authentic Jerusalem. If Mama Kitchen NY sounds and feels like an eatery near Shuk Machane Yehuda, then you are in the right place.
The eclectic Israeli decor, including colored tile floor, warm stone and wood walls, and cafe-style seating transports you to an outdoor cafe somewhere in Jerusalem, while the myriad of Israeli diners surround you as they converse in friendly Hebrew. Sunlight streams in from an open skylight as diners enjoy the casual and hearty Middle Eastern fare.
Israeli-born owners, Shai and Shira Asas, serve up home cooked food which Shira, the chef, learned in her grandmother’s kitchen growing up in the city of Chadera. She personally prepares and cooks all the dishes served in the restaurant, beginning her days at 6:00 am, preparing homemade Israeli delicacies.
All of their dishes are slow cooked, some simmering for 5 or 6 hours. Their most popular, Shai says, is their hummus. “I can say that we have the best hummus in the United States,” says Shai proudly. “We use a special process which takes 48 hours to prepare, and it is our most popular dish.”
“We serve slow-cooked food,” he says. “We don’t do fast food at our place. Even the schnitzel, we deep fry it in a small pan, so it doesn’t have a ‘factory’ taste, it’s like your mother making it just for you, it tastes homemade.”
Their dishes are large, plentiful, and mouth-wateringly good. A sample selection is Hummus and freshly baked pita, potato latkes topped with eggplant and a spicy jalapeno topping, Sabich with fried eggplant and eggs, Moroccan Salmon, and a Teriyaki salmon with a side of potatoes and Basmati rice.
The menu also points to fried schnitzel, Moroccan meatballs, and a dish called Tripoli Mafrum – a potato stuffed with vegetables and ground beef alongside couscous.
The couple opened the restaurant in the tiny storefront a little over a year ago, having moved from Israel to New Jersey in 2008 and later moving to Flushing, Queens.
“My wife always loved cooking, and she started a catering business from our home. We all convinced her that she must open a restaurant, because everyone loves her food,” Shai says.
A year later, having already gained a large following, they were fortunate to get the store next door, and recently expanded to the larger space which can accommodate more customers as well as give them the opportunity to prepare more dishes.
“Before, we would have a long line outside, and after a few hours, we would run out of food and have to close. We just didn’t have place to prepare more than that,” Shai says.
With their location at 7 Rochester Avenue, on the borders of Crown Heights and Bed Stuy/Bushwick, the restaurant caters to both the Crown Heights crowd as well as the large Israeli community working and living in the Brooklyn neighborhoods nearby.
“For people living in Crown Heights, we are far enough that they are ‘going out’ and close enough to be convenient,” he says.
The special thing about the restaurant, Shai says, are the two specials they offer every day, which are not on the menu.
Each morning, Shira prepares a seasonal dish that is “a surprise,” Shai says. “People love to come by just for that, because you never know what you are going to get,” he says.
Mama Kitchen NY