Jewish Food

Jewcy Goes Traif

If you’re going to do something unholy you might as well go all the way. With the sound of the Shofar blowing in the distance, somewhere deep in the south side of town, three Jews found themselves in Williamsburg on … Read More

By / April 21, 2010

If you’re going to do something unholy you might as well go all the way. With the sound of the Shofar blowing in the distance, somewhere deep in the south side of town, three Jews found themselves in Williamsburg on the eve of Shabbat about to indulge in the most unkosher meal imaginable at Traif, a meat mecca smack dab in middle of the Hasidic hotspot of Brooklyn, the Jewish capital of New York City.

Traif, which is located on S. 5th and Roebling, just one block west of the BQE, opened its doors to the public just one week ago. Given the company-foodie favorites like Marlow and Daughters, Miss Favela, Fatty ‘Cue and the recently re-opened Pies ‘n’ Thighs are opening en masse in South Williamsburg-it isn’t surprising for a restaurant like Traif to set up shop in the Southside amidst the black hats and earlocks-but it certainly is risky given the gimmick. Every dish at Traif includes either pork or shellfish (or both), making for a wholly unkosher experience complete with the likes of BBQ pulled pork sliders with smoked Gouda (that’s pork AND meat and milk!), crispy pork belly with artichokes and steamed mussels with chorizo. While serving unkosher meals may not seem like a big deal-after all, most restaurants aren’t exactly mindful of the religious implications of their food-the decision to open an eatery whose name is literally translated to mean as much is a bold statement, no matter how you slice it.

The brainchild of co-owners Jason Marcus, who doubles as head chef, and Heather Heuser, who works front-of-house, Traif is something of an homage to the pig, in all its delectable glory, but it is also representative of Marcus and Heuser’s feelings about food, religion, culture and tradition-and not in the way one might assume.

“Traif represents us,” Marcus said. “It’s about not following the rules-not in a Sex Pistols, rebellious way. More like, just being honest and following your own formula. Traif reflects who we are” Raised in a Jewish household, Marcus explained that, while he identifies with the Jewish religion and faith, he isn’t necessarily dictated by its customs. Rather, his traditions and customs are malleable, and individualized to suit his lifestyle, beliefs and values. “I was Bar Mitzvah-ed, and I was raised to be proud of who I am. There are many, many rules in the Torah that I break but I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m also proud of other things. You can be a Jewish person and eat bacon.”

In creating and curating their restaurant, Marcus and Heuser took special care to make Traif as community-friendly as possible, with the hope that the inherent questions is raises will help shape it as a space where topics like religion, cuisine and culture can be discussed openly, honestly and respectfully without judgment or disdain.

“We like the idea of having a dialogue open up and have people talk about things t hey wouldn’t normally discuss,” Marcus said. “What we’re doing here is much deeper rooted in ethics for some of our customers than it is for us, and we want to talk about it. Traif isn’t a bad word. Our first night a huge group of ex-Hasidic Jews came in and they told me this was like their mecca. We’re sort of a new generation of Jews. We want to connect with traditions and reform our beliefs, and figure out how it can all be cohesive.”

Marcus and Heuser do, however, understand the controversy. In a neighborhood like Williamsburg, the social and cultural tension might as well be carved into the sidewalk. As demographics shift and North Brooklyn gentrifies questions about public space, real estate and cultural divides are constantly being considered, and naming a restaurant something pointedly unkosher-and thus in stark opposition to the traditions honored by those who have lived in Southside Williamsburg for generations-can easily be taken the wrong way. But in deciding to name their restaurant Traif, Marcus and Heuser’s maintain that their intent was never to upset, or disrupt, the community.

“The location-South Williamsburg-wasn’t intentional, it’s totally coincidental actually,” Marcus said. “But most of the concerns we’ve heard have been coming from Reform Jews. We’re not puffing out our chests and hanging a pig carcass outside. We’re trying to be discrete, but also true to ourselves.”