By Estee Cohen
Now that it’s getting cold here in L.A. (finally!) and darker earlier I find myself not wanting to go out as much to restaurants, and instead have been cooking more and sampling the vast take out options that our Kosher markets have available. So, with your permission I’m going to do a mini-series on supermarket takeout food. Let’s start with the gourmet takeout at Western Kosher’s Pico location at 4817 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.
When I talk about the David and Judy Kagan who own Western Kosher I feel like I’m talking about family. I have known them “forever” and, since their hilarious son is part of my lively carpool, I interact with Judy on a nearly daily basis. As a little kid, my mom used to shlep us from Encino to “the city” to shop at the first Western Kosher on Fairfax to buy “the best Kosher meat”. I remember Mr. Kagan senior (David’s dad) greeting us when we arrived- the distance between the city and the valley seems to have gotten smaller as I get older, but in those days it was a worthwhile journey. Western Kosher’s Pico location was formerly Kosher Club, and when that market closed I wondered what would become of the huge space and awesome parking lot. When I heard that another Western Kosher was opening I was so excited, because the store is so large and had much potential and I knew that David Kagan would utilize the space to its maximum.
David had grand plans for the new market; he visited New York’s finest Kosher emporiums and brought back a treasure trove of ideas which included creating a large and creative take out menu. Wife Judy Kagan, together with her sister in laws Chaya Esther Kagan and Atara Reichman, pooled their best recipes and shopped, planned, and cooked all of Western Kosher’s takeout food.
Let me just digress for a moment to tell you how incredible Judy Kagan is. For the average balabuste cooking for hundreds is a big difference than the usual food prep for a family of 6 or 8 and would be met with reluctance and kvetching. But, Judy Kagan cooks vast quantities of gourmet food as part of her daily routine. If you haven’t been to Judy’s Shabbos table, try to get yourself an invitation: I have never in my life seen one woman produce so much delectable food on a regular basis. Several options of meat entrees, three types of chicken, dozens of salads and kugels are the norm. Seriously, a sight to behold. These Kagans know their way around the kitchen.
Any how, team Kagan cooked up a storm for about a month and had no plans to stop until a serendipitous meeting in a restaurant supply store. David Kagan was in line to purchase a pile of pots and pans for his takeout kitchen when he and another customer started yakking. The customer was Alex LaBorwit, who mentioned that he had worked on the catering team at Wolfgang Puck, and at his own catering business and was currently doing hot lunch for the Jewish high school, Shalhevet. David admired Alex’s charm and humility and the two immediately clicked. Judy Kagan and her posse packed up their aprons and let Alex take over. Judy, Chaya Esther, and Atara’s recipes continue to be used for many of Alex’s weekly dishes, and the trio still participate in the menu adding their suggestions and ideas to Alex’s experience and original recipes.
Western Kosher’s takeout has a mix of traditional Jewish recipes and modern side dishes, meats, and salads. Mr. LaBorwit gives credit to his two sous chefs, Doris and Emma, who had previously worked in Israeli restaurants and have years of experience making Israeli salad, spicy carrot salad, cole slaws and many more traditional Jewish dishes. Chef Alex keeps Doris and Emma’s classics on hand, but also changes up his offerings depending on the season, availability of ingredients and his mood. He is proud of the chicken potpie and Shepherd’s pie that are often available because these pies are not typical of what you would find in a Kosher market, but have become fan favorites.
The Moroccan salmon and hot and spicy chicken nuggets are two of the most popular dishes and sell out every week. I recommend the London broil and (fake) crab cakes. The London broil makes a great starter Shabbos day; you can make a beautiful salad with lettuce, mandarin oranges, hearts of palm and a raspberry vinaigrette and top it with four or five thin slices of London broil to really impress your guests. The crab cakes are a delicious replacement for gefilte fish, or can be added to enhance any fish course.
Because Chef Alex likes to mix it up, sometimes a salad that I’ve come to love is suddenly unavailable. However, if you call a couple days in advance Mr. LaBorwit will do everything he can to accommodate customer requests. Chicken nugget platters in a few different flavors, or any other type of party platter can be put together to feed your large party if it is ordered in advance. Call 323-933-8283 for orders.