COMBINING “TALENT AND CHARISMA,” PETER SHELSKY AND LEWIS SPADA OF COBBLE HILL’S SHELSKY’S OF BROOKLYN ALONG WITH “BREAD WHISPERER” MATTHEW TILDEN EMBRACE A BIT OF THEATRE IN THE BAGEL ROUND
BY TIA KIM
Born and bred New Yorker Peter Shelsky grew up on Kossar’s bialys and Zabar’s hand sliced nova (a more intensely flavored cured salmon than lox), eventually working in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park, Café Sabarsky, and Wallsé. Tuned into both professional chef culture and the flavors of his Eastern European and Jewish roots, he partnered with Lewis Spada, a Brooklynite and 20 year front of house veteran of Cobble Hill seafood market, Fish Tales, to open Shelsky’s of Brooklyn. The aim was to combine respective “talent and charisma,” as they put it, to produce a non-traditional delicatessen that aimed to revive “an old tradition that never really died.”
Since opening in 2011, the partners have been selling classics like whitefish salad, nova, sable, chopped liver, and latkes, plus an array of sandwiches slathered with cream cheese and loaded with smoked fish and accoutrements. In 2015, with the addition of a deli, the eatery added a menu built on Shelsky’s childhood memories. It combines adherence to classics with bold and unexpected flavor combinations items like house cured gravlax, pastrami, corned beef, and tongue, along with “pastrami salmon.”
In December, the concept expanded to Park Slope with Shelsky’s Brooklyn Bagels, on the corner of 4th Avenue and 10th Street. For the project, Shelsky and Lewis partnered with Matthew Tilden (of the now closed Bedford Avenue shop, SCRATCH bread) affectionately known as the “bread whisperer” to create small, dense, and chewy bagels and bialys made in house daily.
The menu at Shelsky’s Brooklyn Bagels include classic bagel flavors like poppy, sesame, everything, and onion, along with imaginative options like pepper and salt and Sichuan pepper. The shop also offers plain onion and garlic bialys, plus pletzel (bialy like bread) sandwiches smothered in poppy seeds and garlic (only available on weekends). It will continue to serve classic deli and smoked fish sandwiches, too, along with other new additions, plus deli meats, coffee and tea, and pastries.
Bagel centric menu highlights include: Cracked Pepper and Salt Bagel (best served with cream cheese and house cured gravlax); the Black Sesame Bagel with spicy chili crisp cream cheese and cilantro; Garlic Everything Bialy Buns; and Scrapple and Egg with Cheddar and Maple Syrup served on roll, bagel, or bialy. There’s also a Turboff Sandwich made with baked salmon salad, nova, tomato, onion, capers, and lemon on a well toasted bialy, and Lewis’s “Knish Bomb,” made with pastrami, Riesling braised sauerkraut, and spicy brown deli mustard served hot and pressed on a Coney Island style fried square knish. Another smoked fish sandwich turning editorial staff members’ heads is the Brooklyn Native: smoked whitefish salad, Eastern Gaspé Nova, pickled herring, and sour pickles on a bagel or bialy. Geshmak!
The interior presents traditional New York deli details, including a black backsplash and black and white tiled flooring, plus industrial finishes and windows into the kitchen to let patrons watch bagel making in action. Shelves displaying an assortment of grocery items flank the deli counter, and include team curated gems like Dichotomy Corn, a mixture of caramel and cheddar popcorn from Cleveland, Ohio; salted preserved duck egg yolk flavored fried fish skin chips imported from Singapore; and lard bread from Caputo’s Bake Shop on Court Street.
Shelsky’s Brooklyn Bagels
453 4th Avenue / 718.855.8817 / shelskys.com