Get All Your Passover Needs on the Lower East Side

By Julie Shapiro on April 4, 2012 1:18pm 

Workers at Streit's Matzos pull the freshly made unleavened bread off a conveyor belt.
Workers at Streit's Matzos pull the freshly made unleavened bread off a conveyor belt.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

LOWER EAST SIDE — A hundred years ago, when the Lower East Side was still predominantly a Jewish enclave, residents flooded local shops each spring to pick up the essentials for their Passover Seders, finding everything they needed within a couple of blocks, said Amy Stein-Milford, deputy director of the Museum at Eldridge Street.

The area has changed dramatically since then, forcing most of the kosher bakeries, butchers and factories to close — but not all of them.

Scattered throughout the Lower East Side are a few remaining businesses, like Streit's Matzos and Economy Candy, that have hung on through the years and continue to draw customers from around the neighborhood and beyond.

"Clearly you don't have the numbers and the mass presence you had back in 1890, 1900, 1910," Stein-Milford said. "But there is a surprising, continued [Jewish] life in the neighborhood. There are still Jewish shops, Jewish markets. There is still a community living here."

That means there are plenty of local places for Lower East Siders to pick up last-minute Passover essentials before the first Seder Friday. 

The first stop on most shoppers' lists is Streit's Matzos, which has been baking the traditional unleavened bread in a factory at 148-154 Rivington St. since 1925.

While founder Aaron Streit died in 1937, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren still manage the business, churning out stacks of matzo round the clock as Passover approaches to keep up with demand.

In addition to fresh matzo, the Streit's storefront at the corner of Suffolk and Rivington streets also sells a slew of other Passover-friendly products, from chocolate-covered kosher marshmallows to special cake mixes made with ground matzo instead of flour, which is forbidden during the eight-day holiday.

Streit's will be open until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and then will close for Passover beginning Friday.

Just a couple blocks away, Economy Candy at 108 Rivington St. was packed recently with pre-Passover shoppers, including Naomi Feinstein and 12 of her relatives.

A peacock Seder plate sold at the Museum at Eldridge Street.
A peacock Seder plate sold at the Museum at Eldridge Street.
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Museum at Eldridge Street

Feinstein, 77, makes the trip into the city from Long Island with her children and grandchildren every year to shop for macaroons, dried fruit and much more at the 75-year-old Lower East Side shop. Each child gets his or her own basket to fill with as much as they can carry.

"It's the greatest place on earth," Feinstein said as her family fanned out through the narrow aisles. "I adore it."

Economy Candy is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Thursday and Friday, giving last-minute shoppers plenty of time to pick up their sweets.

Down at Essex and Grand Streets, Alan Kaufman, owner of The Pickle Guys, recently stood out on the sidewalk grinding stalks of horseradish, drawing customers in with the pungent smell.

Using an old family recipe that was brought over from Poland, Kaufman combined the spicy horseradish pulp with either apple cider vinegar or fermented beet juice, and then he sealed the mixture in jars. The bitter concoction plays a key role at Passover Seders as a reminder of past suffering, though many have grown to love the taste. 

"This is made the old-fashioned way, just like your grandmother would have made it in the old country," said Kaufman, 53, who has been working at The Pickle Guys for the past 34 years.

The small company puts out 2,200 to 2,400 pounds of horseradish each Passover season, all peeled and grated by hand. The Pickle Guys also sells special Passover pickles, along with pickled carrots and okra.

The shop, at 49 Essex St., will be open until 6 p.m. on Thursday and until 3 p.m. on Friday.

Those who want some help preparing their Seder meals have several catering options on the Lower East Side.  

East Side Glatt, a kosher butcher at 500 Grand St., is running low on some items but is still taking orders for brisket, matzo ball soup and chopped liver. Customers who spend $50 or more get a free roasted shank bone, which is one of the traditional items that sit on the Seder plate. East Side Glatt will stay open until 9 p.m. Thursday but will be closed Friday.

Just down the block is Moishe's Bakery, 504 Grand St., which offers Passover versions of their usual delectable desserts, including a seven-layer cake and pastries topped with nuts and apricots, along with handmade matzo. Moishe's will be open Friday morning but will close before noon for the holiday.

Russ and Daughters, 179 E. Houston St., also offers a Passover menu, including potato kugel and flowerless chocolate cake. The shop will be open all through the holiday on a special schedule.

And anyone who still needs to pick up a Seder plate can try the Museum at Eldridge Street, which offers a colorful peacock-shaped plate for $54 and another with an intricately painted tree for $96. The museum, located at 12 Eldridge St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.

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