Market Tours: Schwartz's Kosher Supermarket in Williamsburg
Like a trip to Flushing, where English signs are hard to come by, a stroll down Lee Avenue in Brooklyn's South Williamsburg—home to the Satmar Chassidim—uncovers a community conducted (almost entirely) in Yiddish. A visit is something of an unexpected vacation, with amusing mistranslations and unfamiliar customs (and quite a few stares, especially for the unaccompanied female in shorts and flip flops—hey, it's been a hot summer.)
On the corner of Lee and Hooper, across from a white-washed Jewish temple and the tinted-windows of Singer Clothing (which stocks nothing but identical long sleeved black frocks) is the modern, bodega-like awning of Schwartz's Kosher Supermarket. Friendly purple and white lettering advertises fruits and vegetables, and indeed the corner market has the expected varieties, stacked in cardboard boxes along the sidewalk. A quick peak through the glass doors, however, reveals a wall of impeccably packaged bin candy: Jordan almonds, jellies shaped like the fruits they claim to resemble, hard toffee in twists of colored paper, and an ice cream case announcing Klien's, The Ice Cream People. Real Kosher.
There's no shortage of kosher markets in South Williamsburg (or in Borough park, where the Bobov Chassidim are headquartered), but there is a shortage of kosher markets with helpful staff. Luckily, the long-bearded men behind the cash registers at Schwartz's, in their matching white shirts and black slacks (the community dress code), are such a staff (relative to their neighbors, in any case).
Schwartz's is almost as old as the community it serves. "We've been here more than fifty years. My grandfather opened the place, and then my father ran it, and now I do," explained the owner, staring down from an impressive height. He wouldn't tell me much else, name included, but nodded as he stood in the middle of his crowded grocery. "We have everything you need."
If you're looking for kosher or parve products (the Hebrew term for meat-and-dairy free foods), or for better and bigger versions of classic New York deli staples, the dual-level store is a good place to start. The candy wall is of course a definite draw, as is the chocolate babka and rugelach, the chocolate-coated wafers, the bagels, the chips (in interesting flavors like "falafel"), the sour pickles, the red and white horseradish (both of which come in "extra strong" only), the pickled herring, and the slew of ready-to-eat products from the famous Flaum's: lox salad, lox spread, cream of lox, whitefish salad, egg salad, potato salad and more.
Schwartz's doesn't stock meats (for that, head west on Lee Avenue to the butcher on the corner of Rodney Street). Otherwise, it has all treats you'll need for the upcoming Jewish holidays: there's flat egg noodles for kugel, both matzo meal and boxed matzo ball mix for making the dumplings in the famous comfort-food soup, and frozen gefilte fish (which I'd venture is far, far superior to the jarred version, which they also carry.)
And for more everyday Shabbat fare, you'll find glass jugs of grape juice (in peach, gold and blush), frozen potato knishes, frozen parve kishka (the stuffed sausage you find in cholent), several brands of both egg noodle and matzo farfel (commonly served as a side dish), and 6-pound bags of high-gluten flour, good for making great homemade bagels.
The ruddy, red-bearded man who took me around laughed when I asked him which product was his favorite. "Well, I would have to say, matzo. Matzo and horseradish. It makes an excellent snack." And because it's New York, Schwartz's has regular matzo—and salt-free and whole wheat, too.
If you're planning a trip to Chasidic Williamsburg, remember places close before sundown on Fridays, and don't reopen until Sunday.
Schwartz Kosher Supermarket
120 Lee Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211