In Yiddish, the word “traif” is used to describe foods that fail to adhere to the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut, i.e., foods that non-kosher. Ironically, Chef Jason Marcus opened a restaurant by that moniker in the Hasidic enclave of South Williamsburg a few years ago. Fortunately, for him, the food at Traif is just as provocative as its name, and is also sure to enforce the notion that rules were meant to be broken.
Brooklyn’s restaurant scene has been getting a lot of love lately. Though there are some truly excellent establishments, as a food-loving Brooklynite myself, I feel that the dining scene here is at least mildly overrated. The borough is often viewed as Manhattan’s cooler, hipper sibling. Though this may indeed be the case, too many mediocre chefs and restauranteurs use “Brooklyn” as a crutch for their unspectacular and uninspired cuisine. Traif is a very rare breed of restaurant in the sense that it’s been grossly underrated and underhyped, if you ask me.
Though it’s a bit off the beaten path, the food, service, and vibe at Traif are all well-worth the trip. The dishes are served small-plates/tapas style, so it’s a great place for groups, provided that you’re not dining with any vegetarians. The restaurant’s logo is a pig with a heart, after all, so you can certainly expect the menu to be very meat-heavy. Upon entering the restaurant, you’ll likely notice the sights, sounds, and smells of the open kitchen. Though you’ll be tempted to take a seat nearby, keep heading towards the back, where the garden awaits. The greenery is the perfect complement to all the meat that will be sitting on your plate come dinnertime.
As for the food? Superb. Traif is a meat-lover’s paradise – even the doughnuts are served with bacon. The menu is arranged so that lighter dishes are listed towards the top, and the richer, more decadent dishes are listed towards the bottom. For most diners, I’d recommend mixing it up with a variety of menu items. However, given my penchant for gluttony, my order was very bottom-heavy. I thoroughly enjoyed everything churned out by Chef Marcus’s kitchen, but here’s a selection of the dishes that truly stood out.
Tuna tartare w/ tempura eggplant: The execution of this dish was a great lesson in contrasts. The smooth texture and cool temperature of the tuna was the perfect complement to the crunchiness and warmth of the fried eggplant.
Strawberry-cinnamon glazed baby back ribs: Does this dish really need any explanation? Just order it and enjoy. You won’t regret it.
Seared foie gras, fingerling potatoes, bacon, fried egg, maple syrup, & hot sauce: I wish I could eat this for breakfast everyday without: (1) going broke, or (2) dying of a heart attack. The serving of foie gras was possibly the largest I’ve ever seen in a restaurant setting. Though it was admittedly a bit overcooked, the foie still provided its trademark richness, flavor, and texture. Supremely decadent and delicious.
Bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche, & coffee ice cream: Possibly the restaurant’s best-known dish, and rightfully so. Fantastic combination of sweet and savory. The perfect finish to an incredible meal.
My experience at Traif almost makes me regret moving from the neighborhood. If Williamsburg wasn’t such a trek from where I now live in Brooklyn, I’d definitely be here more often. For the sake of my waistline and arteries, it’s probably better that I live far away. However, for the sake of my sanity, I need another order of those bacon doughnuts ASAP!
Traif (229 S. 4th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 | 347-844-9578 | www.traifny.com)