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Jack’s Wife Freda takes New York by storm

  • NiaJacksWife1 B
Jack’s Wife Freda was a baleboste* of note. She was a larger-than-life character who graciously entertained family, friends and sometimes strangers, whipped up chopped herring and fried fish balls at the drop of a hat - or a drop of a wig.
by NIA MAGOULIANITI-MCGREGOR | Aug 24, 2017

Freda liked wigs. She was, as her grandson Dean Jankelowitz describes her, both “extra loving and impossible at the same time”.

Jack’s Wife Freda is not only the inspiration but also the name of two of Dean’s popular eateries in New York - in Soho and the West Village. These are two distinct areas for two lively all-day bistros. 

“One is cute, one is more mature”, though both are infused with the same ingredients: warmth, hospitality, playfulness and good, homey-with-a-twist, reasonably-priced food.

Okay, but why the quirky name?

Just as Jack and Freda were immigrants to South Africa from Lithuania, Dean and his wife Maya were immigrants to the United States. Dean is from South Africa and Maya from Israel. They met while working at iconic New York brasserie Balthazar.

After each shift, they’d share a smoke over a fire hydrant until the flames of love blew in and they married.

After their two sons Noam and Benjamin were born, they dreamed of starting their own place. And in 2011, after, as Dean says, “good fortune brought along a lease on Lafayette Street”, they sat to work out a menu, a vibe, and a name. The name eluded them. They slept on it.

When Dean woke up and said, “Jack’s Wife Freda”, they both laughed. But it stuck.

“Freda, with her funny little hair, her mountains of soul and warm hospitality, was the perfect inspiration for our Jewish-style gastro-like pub.”

The menu includes, “all the things we love to eat”, based on memories of both Dean and Maya’s childhoods. This includes eggs benny, two poached eggs over potato latkes, smoked salmon and beet hollandaise (based on Dean’s great-grandfather, Benny, who used to make and sell potato latkes on the streets of Johannesburg), chicken prego rolls and peri-peri chicken - Dean’s favourite.

You’ll also find fish balls, matzo ball soup and Madame Freda - Freda at her most fancy - a pressed sandwich with duck prosciutto, cheddar béchamel, gruyere and a sunny-side-up egg.

Maya’s Israeli childhood influences bring Kefta kebab - Persian meatballs with tahini and pine nuts - and spiced rack of lamb with herbed Israeli couscous to the table.

But the good food is only a part of Jack’s Wife Freda’s success.

“We have a wedding photo of Freda and Jack on the wall. People can relate to them. Everyone either knows a Freda or a Jack or is a Freda and Jack. It’s all about family... the fact that Jack put up with Freda being the first act to his second act. You can almost reach out and touch the humour, the warmth and good energy.”

Jack and Freda moved from Hillbrow to Houghton to Killarney – “a flat filled with Côte d'Or elephant chocolates, fluffy, decorative things on the couches and polystyrene heads for all her wigs. They built a good life together for 40 years.”

Dean says Maya is the “embodiment” of Freda. “She has the warmth, the character, grace and elegance.”

Dean and Maya check in between the two restaurants and now the boys, 10 and six, pop in after school with their friends. “We are developing a sense of community,” says Dean. 

The South African community pop in too. “South Africans who live around the world, visit and we all play Jewish geography.” Dean loved Nando’s as a child and is thrilled co-founder Robbie Brozin of Nando’s visits regularly when in New York.

“We’re front of house people. We didn’t know much at first, except that we enjoyed restaurants, food and people, and that breaking bread, drinking, laughing - that’s the centre of life.”

-           The Jack’s Wife Freda cookbook, full of inventive Jewish comfort food, is now available on Amazon.

 

* Baleboste - mistress of her house.

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