At Bridge Turkish & Mediterranean Grill, customers without reservations were being turned away. Just a block away, down Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, the line for takeout at China Lee Restaurant was out the door.
It was Feb.10, the first Sunday the two were open for business, and the wait staff raced around the respective restaurants, bringing food and assisting customers at the latest additions to the borough’s kosher dining scene.
“People move to communities where there are a range of kosher food services,” said Rabbi Yaakov Luban of the Vaad Hakashrut of Raritan Valley, which oversees the kashrut certification of the community’s kosher establishments. “Kosher restaurants strengthen a community.”
Bridge had been operating previously as a nonkosher eatery. After closing to have its kitchen kashered under the direction of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Friedlander of Lakewood, it reopened the evening of Feb. 9. The process involved “spotlessly cleaning” the entire restaurant and immersing dishes and utensils in boiling water and subjecting some to extreme heat, according to Luban, the religious leader at Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison.
“This is the first kosher Turkish restaurant I know of in New Jersey and beyond,” he said. “The owner realized he was excluding a large portion of the community. His going kosher is evidence of a vibrant Jewish community.”
China Lee opened Feb. 4, replacing another Chinese restaurant, Hawaii Kosher Kitchen, which closed about a year ago. Owner Shalom Cohen also owns the adjacent Jerusalem Pizza, and both are under the supervision of the Vaad Hakashrut, a division of the Vaad Harabanim of Raritan Valley.
During a dinnertime visit to both new establishments, NJJN found some customers enthusiastically digging into their meals, and others eagerly picked up containers to take home to waiting families.
Andy Schwartz of Highland Park, who was standing in line waiting for his takeout order at China Lee, said he was already a repeat customer.
The food, he said, “is delicious. I recommend it, and I’m back again.” A volunteer firefighter in Highland Park, Schwartz said he found the food so good he treated his whole department to some of the restaurant’s Chinese delicacies.
Thad Rich of Highland Park — who had dined in China Lee with his wife, Avigail, and children, Hadassah, 9, and Yehuda, 6 — said that not only did they enjoy the meal and appreciated the large serving sizes, “They made something special for the kids, which was great.” Hadassah said she loved the lo mein and the wonton soup and the fried noodles that went into it — and the French fries that she had managed to grab.
Her father said the restaurant is a welcome addition to the local kosher culinary landscape, asking rhetorically, “How can you have a large Jewish community and no kosher Chinese food?”
Over at Bridge, customers were enjoying the Turkish cuisine.
As they left holding their 16-month-old twin daughters, Lilya and Eddie Blinder of East Brunswick gave the restaurant a rave review.
“It was literally amazing,” said Lilya. “It was beyond our expectations. We had everything, and it was all cooked perfectly.” Eddie said the food was served just as they requested. The twins liked the food, too, according to their father, although, he added, “they can’t tell you.”
Alina Gorbach of Highland Park, whose family was at Bridge to celebrate the birthday of her 4-year-old son, described the food as “spectacular.”
“It exceeded our expectations,” she said.
Bridge’s owner, Sam Eriske, said although he is Muslim, he has experience in running kosher establishments, including having been a co-owner of Jerusalem Pizza in Long Branch.
“I have a lot of Jewish friends from living at the Shore around Long Branch and Deal,” said Eriske, a native of Istanbul.
Even before he made the restaurant kosher, he told NJJN, 50 percent of his Bridge customers were Jewish, and that many of them ordered from the selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
He said much of the menu remains unchanged, although items made with dairy products were altered or removed, such as the feta cheese rolls dessert. Others, like the baklava, are still available, but the butter has been replaced with a pareve ingredient. A popular eggplant dish that used to contain cheese is now stuffed with meat instead. There are new items on the menu, like Russian salad, and though Bridge, as it was previously, remains a BYOB establishment, wine brought in must now be kosher.
The restaurant will close early on Fridays, and opening times on Saturday evenings will depend on what time Shabbat ends. (For now, Eriske said, Bridge will be open from about 7 p.m. until midnight on Saturdays.)
Other kosher establishments in Highland Park include Sushiana, serving pareve Japanese fare; Park Place, a meat family-style restaurant offering American food; and three ice cream stores, Baskin-Robbins, Carvel, and Dairy Deluxe. All are under the Vaad’s kosher supervision, as is the local Dunkin’ Donuts.