There was a time when Jewish bakeries in the outer boroughs were as ubiquitous as patisseries in Paris. Turn a corner, grab a babka. Walk up the street, pick up an onion board. Much like other vestiges of Old New York, they’re growing rarer by the day. Check any food forum (like chowhound.com) and you’ll see a lot of posters lamenting the Jewish bakeries of yesteryear. Many owners have retired, and, along with the clientele, moved away. All hope is not lost! On a random trek through hasidic Crown Heights, my husband and I encountered Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery. The only bakery on Kingston Avenue, the only major commerce strip in the neighborhood, the shop does brisk business.
It reminded me of one of the best Jewish bakeries I’d ever been to, Cheskie Boulangerie in Montreal, Canada. On its signage, it also describes itself as “heimishe.”
In Yiddish parlance heimishe or haimish means down-home and unpretentious. As a type of bakery, the term seems to convey an Eastern European-style pastry shop that features a variety of rustic sweets.There are a lot of Jewish desserts, like rugelach, as well as non-Jewish specific regional treats like danishes.
The chocolate danish-like pastry we sampled at Cheskie was warm, chewy–incredible–and the babka we brought back for family prompted an attempted from-scratch reconstruction.
At Gombo’s, there are nearly a dozen items that could be described as “chocolate and dough in rolled-up form.” Soft chocolate rugelach (a type popular in Israel), drier American-style chocolate rugelach covered in powdered sugar, chocolate danishes, large chocolate croissants, chocolate cigars…I think you get the idea. My favorite items were a poppy seed bun and slice of the chocolate strudel-like pastry by the counter, which is cut to order. The local kids, though, were all making a beeline for the bright glaze-covered yeast doughnuts.
Mornings or early afternoons are the best times to snag fresh pastry, and there’s a line on Fridays for their fresh challah.