We’re not saying that 2015 was the worst year ever to be a Jew in Berlin, but it’s true that fans of New York kosher-style deli food got the knobbly end of the proverbial knish. Manhattan-born Kyra LaMariana, creator of the city’s best everything bagel with lox and a schmear, forsook Berlin and bequeathed her café Two Planets to a bunch of toast-making Australians. Michael Rosenfeld, who’d had the chutzpah to serve brisket and potato pancakes on Arabic-dominated Sonnenallee, closed his much-underrated diner MJ’s Foodshop after a mere year and a half.
And Mogg & Melzer, the deli that sparked a thousand trend pieces when it opened in the relaunched Jüdische Mädchenschule in 2012, shrunk to the less-sexy-sounding Mogg as its founders parted ways.
Brit (and goy) Paul Mogg may have kept the Mitte premises, but Oskar Melzer (a German Jew) got custody of chef and real live New Yorker Joey Passarella. The two joined forces with brothers James and David Ardinast, who’d previously collaborated with Melzer on trendy Frankfurt eateries Stanley Diamond and Maxie Eisen. Now, after half a year of rumours, the foursome’s new diner Louis Pretty is open for business in Kreuzberg. We’re always suspicious of Frankfurt money being injected into Berlin’s restaurant scene, but right now, deli food here needs all the help it can get.
A splash of colour on an otherwise shadowy Kotti byway, Louis Pretty is supposed to have a “Palm Springs” vibe, although turquoise Formica tables, pink banquettes and midcentury-ish chairs don’t necessarily a desert Rat Pack hangout make. And they’re overshadowed anyway by the obligatory open kitchen/counter, which takes up half of the already-small space. Behind it, you can watch your pastrami sandwich being assembled in real time.
Purists will want the classic Reuben (€12.50, served with coleslaw and a pickle). At least eight centimetres thick, it comes bulging with moist, peppery meat, melted Swiss cheese, homemade sauerkraut and Russian dressing. On first bite, it’s heaven. By the time you’re a quarter of the way through, all that fat and salt is already a bit much, and you’ll definitely need a Brooklyn Lager (€4.50) or two if you plan on getting the whole thing down. But such is the nature of the deli food it’s striving to emulate. This is a sandwich that does exactly what it’s supposed to, and does it much, much better than the now Melzer-less Mogg, as a recent taste of the gristly beef in their Reuben confirmed. What’s more, it’s €2 cheaper… if not exactly cheap.
A couple of other options exist – including a tuna melt; a somewhat gloppy veggie sub with king oyster mushrooms, guacamole and chipotle mayo; and the trendy if decidedly un-kosher pulled pork – but it’s Passarello’s brined, smoked beef on rye bread that is Louis Pretty’s raison d’etre, just like it was Mogg & Melzer’s. You can also get it plain with mustard, or as a “PLT” with lettuce and tomato. Those in need of more greenery may be out of luck: the most virtuous thing on the menu, the Israeli-influenced house salad (€8.50) was overdressed and marred by undercooked chickpeas. But if you want to stay on the calorie train, you could do worse than to order the cheesecake (€4.50) for dessert – despite the chef’s disclaimer that the recipe hadn’t been 100 percent finalised yet, the version we got was irresistibly creamy and smooth.
Like Diamond and Eisen before it, Louis Pretty’s name refers to a member of Chicago’s little-known Jewish mafia, the “Kosher Nostra”. It also recalls the catchphrase of famously Jewish New Yorker Larry David. They’ve still got some fine-tuning to do on the menu, and we’ll have to come back to try the matzo ball soup… but no need to curb one’s enthusiasm. This place is already pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Originally published in issue #147, March 2016.