Our Daily Bread (South): The Power & The Glory of Pastrami
Sometimes a sandwich is more than just a sandwich. Take the pastrami on rye at the new Our Daily Bread Bakery & Café in Chatham, NY (not to be confused with its elder, gluten-free, vegetarian sibling at the north end of town that confusingly goes by the very same name). Lean, deeply smoked, and peppery, it’s served warm with a pickle and slaw — pastrami in its Platonic form. One is tempted to ask: What’s a knockout like you doing in a town like this?
Not that there’s anything wrong with Chatham, with its charming commercial district filled with unsullied turn-of-the-last-century storefronts, including a propitiously sited flatiron building with a clock tower. Yet, despite this great infrastructure and several shops well worth traveling to, Chatham hasn’t become a big draw for vacationers and weekenders, the way Hudson, Rhinebeck, Great Barrington, and some others towns in the four-county region are. A once lively and raffish railroad town where the train has long since just passed through, Chatham seems perpetually on the brink of a renaissance. Yet, much to the satisfaction of some people, who like it as is, humble and unpretentious, the town remains stuck midway to tourist glory. For every promising new shop, business, or restaurant that opens, another shuts down.
For those stalwarts that do make it, at least among the restaurateurs, ambition seems to be in modest supply. (A notable exception is the Old Chatham Country Store & Café, but that’s in the countryside 15 minutes north of town.) Although one can stave off hunger, even have a good meal, in several of the local eateries, there’s little evidence of kitchen crews reaching for the stars, striving to make food that could be described as “memorable,” let alone “world class;” the sort of food, in short, worth going out of your way for. Until, that is, ODB’s pastrami swaggered into town.
All the more telling that it arrived as raw brisket. “You’re looking at the guy who brined it and smoked it,” says ODB’s owner Zvi Cohen, a Brooklyn-ite, transplanted to Chatham some thirty years ago, who took root and thrived, first as a school teacher, then as a wholesale baker, and finally as the owner of a burgeoning restaurant-and-baking empire that he now runs with the aid of his sons Gavriel, 30, and Yonatan, 29. The boys, along with their sister, Simona, 32, grew up here, attending Hawthorne Valley School K-12, where their mother Beatrice taught for many years. According to Zvi, his wife has donated all proceeds from that and other labors to his growing enterprise, most recently helping to purchase two French bread ovens, each dangling a price tag of more than $100 grand, as well as a Swiss oven for pastry, a contraption for boiling bagels, and assorted accoutrements, including the very baskets French bakers use. “She handed over every dime,” he says, mock ruefully.
If only our own investments were as promising. Cohen figures that about 80% of his baked goods leave town on a fleet of trucks destined for such tony outlets as Dean & DeLuca and the restaurant Jean Georges in New York City. The loaves and pastries that stay behind in Chatham supply the two Our Daily Bread bakeries and their adjacent breakfast and lunch cafés, as well as Destino Cocina Mexicana, the Cohen-owned bar and restaurant next door to the new café at the corner of Routes 66 and 203. Together, this once-dilapidated, now-cheerful yellow-and-white complex (designed by the New York architect Joel Merker, a specialist in restaurants, detail above with general manager Brian Kaywork), gives the intersection a much-needed lift.
The other uplifting enterprise at that same crossroad is St. John’s Lutheran Church. It is a well-known fact of American life that houses of worship and purveyors of alcoholic beverages (Destino has a full bar and the Café serves beer and wine) do not keep company. “The rule is they have to be 300 feet apart,” says Cohen. “I measured and it turned out to be 280 feet. So, with Father Gary’s blessing, I moved the church back 20 feet.” (Perhaps this suggests why, when other churches are failing, St. Thomas’s still does two SRO masses every Sunday morning. But that’s another story.)
What it certainly indicates is how thoroughly one outsider, a Yeshiva-educated Brooklyn boy with a funny first name, has ingratiated himself to a white-bread community. Now, thirty years hence, Cohen dares to introduce the town to classic Jewish deli fare — warm brisket, corned beef ($8.99), and pastrami ($9.99) sandwiches, a Reuben ($11.99), white fish salad sandwich (a special, $9.99) on a menu alongside Middle Eastern (Sabih, above right, $6.99) and all-American fare— a cheeseburger special made from locally sourced, grass-fed beef ($9.49). There’s even matzoh ball soup ($3.50 cup/$4.50 bowl). If the crowded dining room one recent Wednesday in February is any indication, the locals (who else would be around at a time like that?) are lapping it up. But the question remains: Will Zvi Cohen’s world-class pastrami, et al, serve as Chatham’s tipping point?
Eh? Couldn’t hurt. —Marilyn Bethany
Our Daily Bread Bakery & Café
54 Main Street, Chatham; 518.392.2233
Wednesday - Friday 7 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.