As a kid in Oklahoma, Aaron Tomasko didn’t grow up with much access to Jewish food. While his Ashkenazi grandmother grew up in Brooklyn and raised his mother on Long Island, he only encountered Jewish delis and bakeries on visits to family on the East Coast, or when his grandmother Lorraine and grandfather Gerry came to visit. Otherwise, he was reliant on what his mother made at home.
Seeking Out Jewish Food
As an adult, Tomasko sought out Jewish food wherever he traveled, including knishes. He and his partner, Rachel Brashear, typically avoid red meat, which meant skipping a lot of the Jewish deli staples, like pastrami sandwiches; instead, they ate things like whitefish and kasha varnishkes. So when he and Brashear opened their latke cart Sweet Lorraine’s in 2021, they decided to focus on the dishes they ate and love: latkes, rugelach, savory kugel, black-and-white cookies. This year, the two moved Sweet Lorraine’s into Southeast Portland’s Labyrinth Forge Brewing Company, serving the potato knishes and various latke variations. By accident, the couple opened Portland’s only real dairy restaurant.
The Concept of a Dairy Restaurant
A dairy restaurant, for those uninitiated, is a luncheonette that specifically follows kosher law, keeping dairy and meat strictly separated. So instead of serving things spotted at delis, like pastrami, dairy restaurants focus on, well, dairy: cheese blintzes, whitefish melts, potato-cheese knishes, borscht garnished with a dollop of sour cream, cheesecake. Dairy restaurants have been disappearing nationally; in Portland, several Jewish restaurants in general have closed with alarming rapidity — Jacob & Sons, Kornblatt’s, and Kenny & Zuke’s have all closed this year, meaning the city is fully without a true Jewish deli that serves meat. That leaves Sweet Lorraine’s as a sort of unicorn within the city: One of the few dairy restaurants on the West Coast, and one of the few places in the city where folks can eat latkes and whitefish year round.
A Menu Inspired by Tradition
Much of the menu development at Sweet Lorraine’s involves a combination of Tomasko and Brashear’s favorite dishes, as well as dishes Tomasko’s mother and grandmother loved growing up. Whitefish hit the menu as an homage to his mother’s memory of Lorraine, eating whitefish while playing mahjong with her friends; at Sweet Lorraine’s, whitefish salad arrives on handmade challah with lettuce and tomato, a half-sour pickle nestled on the side. During Hanukkah, his mother made latkes while the family played dreidel; he serves his potato latkes, which are lighter and fluffier in texture, with sour cream and applesauce, but also offers rotating latke variations with flavors like zucchini-leek, jalapeño-cheddar, and red pepper-scallion.
Creative Menu Offerings
Tomasko and Brashear like to get creative with their menu. The Oy Gevalt tops potato-onion latkes with hot-smoked salmon from the Smokery, fried eggs, and dill sauce. They go particularly wild with knish flavors — Sweet Lorraine’s has offered varieties like “Bloomy” cheese and sweet potato, broccoli cheddar, and cherry cheese. Other specials often explore rarer dishes than what’s typically found in Portland, like Hungarian cheese latkes. “It was a really good vehicle for exposing people to some of the foods that maybe aren’t as common as you know, pastrami sandwiches and bagels,” he says, “and to just explore that for ourselves.”
Building a Bridge Through Food
Since Tomasko and Brashear have lived in Portland, the couple has consistently heard Portlanders talk about how few Jewish people live in the city. But Tomasko challenges that narrative: According to a Brandeis University study, 56,600 Jews live in Greater Portland, which is not insignificant. However, 20 percent of Jewish Portlanders are a part of a congregation, and 30 percent reported that “not finding Jewish activities of interest” was a fundamental barrier to connecting with the larger Jewish community. In Tomasko’s view, it has more to do with isolation than numbers. “The Jewish community in Portland is not super connected,” he says. “One of our missions is to build a bridge and connect people through food.”
A Hanukkah Party and Pre-Orders
Another way they plan to do that is with a Hanukkah party, which will be held at the brewery from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, December 10. The party will include live music, dreidel, and a potato-grating competition, plus — of course — plenty of latkes. “It’s important to us that we’re a safe and welcoming space for everybody,” Tomasko says. “We have customers of all different backgrounds.”
Sweet Lorraine’s will accept Hanukkah pre-orders of sufganiyot and latkes, which those interested can pick up from December 6 through December 15. Sweet Lorraine’s is located within Labyrinth Forge Brewing Company, 61 SE Yamhill Street.
Original Story at pdx.eater.com – 2023-12-05 00:04:12