January 20, 2014 | Short Order
Theo Peck Brings Old School Lower East Side Flavor to Brooklyn
by Elizabeth Nelson
I was still sniffling from a bout with the flu as my friend and I made our way to Peck’s, the prepared food shop that officially opened in Clinton Hill this month. “You should have some matzo ball soup,” he suggests. “That will cure you.”
“I’ve never actually had matzo ball soup,” I confess.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says, shaking his head in disgust. “Don’t they have Jews in Colorado?”
As I ponder why I never encountered matzo ball soup in my native state, we pull up in front of the spanking new Peck’s, brightening Myrtle Avenue with its freshly painted cobalt blue façade.
Owner Theo Peck, great-grandson of the co-founder of famed kosher dairy restaurant Ratner’s—New Yorkers remember it, on Delancey Street—lives nearby with his wife and son. Inspired by family tradition, he decided to bring the old-school Lower East Side to his own neighborhood.
Yankee fans, take note: Peck is a Mets man.
Is Brooklyn really in need of another Jewish deli? “Back in the day,” my friend explained to me on the ride over, “we made a special trip to the Lower East Side to get this food. Sure, you could get it in Brooklyn, but going into the city was like going to Chinatown for Chinese. It’s the pageantry of it. We’d go for sandwiches, then sneak hot dogs for the car ride home. Now even the Brooklyn kosher places are closing,” he says, citing the recent demise of Adelman’s, a King’s Highway fixture for sixty years. My pal’s eyes grow a little misty. Did I mention he’s not even Jewish?
The soup is kept refrigerated, not simmering in a tureen, so it stays fresh.
He’s right about the soup, a revelation for this sheltered shiksa. Generous chunks of chicken, carrots and noodles swim in a ridiciously salted broth with a pale meatball-like orb bobbing in the middle. I had expected a giant, soggy oyster cracker. I hate cracker mush. But when I bit into the matzo ball, it was light and pillowy, like a very delicate gnocchi. I felt my head clearing immediately.
Peck’s may be inspired by Ratner’s, but it’s decidedly not kosher. The deli case brims with an impressive array of blood sausages, pâté, salami, prosciutto and chorizo, made by the owner himself. Carnivores, rejoice.
There’s a lot more than just meat and matzo ball soup here. The ever-increasing multitude of neighborhood parents will find everything they need to feed their little Becketts and Harpers, from free-range organic rotisserie chickens (“They’ve definitely been hugged,” says Peck) to fresh-baked scones and cookies. Specialty grocery items run from the pedestrian (Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies) to the locally-sourced and artisanal (People’s Pops). Mom and dad can even fill up a growler of craft beer to sustain themselves when the nanny goes off duty.
Fair warning to vegetarians: these fingerlings are roasted in fat from pampered chickens.
Besides soup, Peck plied me with sour pickles, chicken liver pâté, muffins, hamentashen, macaroons, black and white cookies and rice pudding. Is it “feed a fever, starve a cold,” or the other way around? In any case, I wolfed it all down with only a little help from my daughter, my friend and his parents.
The corn muffins, made from Ratner’s original recipe, had just the right level of sweetness, with a satisfying bit of crunch. My daughter asked for butter on hers. “There are probably already six sticks of butter in that,” my friend informed her. Just the way I like it.
The shop’s signature muffins are packed with caraway seeds and dried cherries.
Peck called the cherry rye muffins “adult muffins” for their hearty, savory flavor. I didn’t even try to pass one off on my child. I much preferred the rice pudding. Thankfully my daughter was offended by the inclusion of plump, golden raisins in the pudding—more for me. But she ate the whole black and white cookie without even giving me a bite, the little beast. “The white half was better,” she confided. I’ll have to take her word for it.
“It’s like lemon cake with a vanilla side and a chocolate side,” says my daughter, the cookie thief.
My friend’s father pronounced his matzo ball “very fluffy,” and happily noshed on the chicken liver pâté. He remembered that Ratner’s had the best onion rolls in the city and rhapsodized about their blueberry blintzes with sour cream.
“Have you ever had blintzes?” he asked.
“Only at the International House of Pancakes,” I answered.
“You’ve never had blintzes,” he laughed.
Maybe Peck’s will make blintzes one of these days and I’ll find out what he’s talking about. For now, I’m happy to have finally discovered matzo ball soup. Next time I have the flu, I know what I want.
Peck’s, 455A Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11205, 347-689-4969