'Cooking for the people' (chosen and not)

Kitchen manager Jim Barrett (left), owner/manager Andy Gerofsky with baked goods at Mort's in Lancaster.
Kitchen manager Jim Barrett (left), owner/manager Andy Gerofsky with baked goods at Mort's in Lancaster. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)

Mort's brings New York-style Jewish deli to Amish country.

Posted: July 27, 2012

A New York-style Jewish deli in Amish country with a kitchen under the meticulous supervision of a born-again Christian?

No, it's not a reality show. Welcome to Mort's New York Style Delicatessen in Lancaster.

A growing number of urban Jews have been settling in bucolic Lancaster County over the last several years, lured by the wholesome charm and the proximity to Philadelphia and New York. So many, in fact, that Lancaster has three synagogues and a Jewish community center.

What it didn't have, in this place where most Zimmermans and Kaufmans are not Jewish, was a place to get a decent nosh.

This was problematic for those like Sherry Ostroff, formerly of Philadelphia's Oxford Circle, who grew up with a Jewish deli on every corner. "We just took it for granted," she said.

Then she moved to Lancaster and soon started using a cooler for food runs to such Northeast Philly haunts as Jack's Delicatessen and Lipkin's Bakery, from which she brought back goodies for the synagogue Sisterhood.

Since Mort's opened in her neighborhood, she's not missing Philly quite as much. She rates Mort's rye bread right up there with Lipkin's, and she's thrilled to have "totally authentic" corned beef and pastrami almost in her backyard.

Jack Paskoff, a Long Island native and Lancaster rabbi, was kvelling, as they say in Yiddish, when he was asked to preside over the traditional hanging of the mezuzah at the restaurant.

"Who would have ever thought we would be here, in this place, in Lancaster?" he asked the crowd there, many of whom showed up from his synagogue to support Mort's owner, fellow congregant Andy Gerofsky.

After a Lancaster newspaper featured an article about the restaurant's debut, local demand, from Jews and Gentiles alike, was so overwhelming the food ran out.

"We didn't anticipate that big a demand, but we're loving it," Gerofsky said with a smile as big as his outgoing personality.

He came to Lancaster by way of Philadelphia to run a movie theater. When that job ended, he became a bartender, serving drinks at functions and earning the moniker "Martini Czar."

But he had a craving to run his own restaurant and he tired of the trip back to Philly every time he needed a deli fix.

He found an investor, and the rest is chopped liver.

The restaurant was dubbed "Mort's" after a relative, he explains, and because every Jew has a relative named Mort.

Gerofsky started out with family recipes. A key hire was his cook, recommended by some in Lancaster's Jewish community: a formerly Catholic born-again Christian named Jim Barrett.

Say what?

"It's a great fit," Gerofsky said of his kitchen manager. "He's got the background and he's just what I needed."

Barrett happened to be schooled in the ways of kosher and traditional Jewish cooking (the former governed by Jewish religious laws; the latter influenced by Eastern European and Russian culture).

Like many other traditional Jewish delis, Mort's does not follow strict kosher preparation, which has prompted some complaints. Barrett points out that Mort's never claimed to be kosher.

But he is proud of his many Jewish specialties, such as his homemade brisket. The matzo ball soup, chopped liver, and deli salads are also made in-house. So are the rugelach, outsized black-and-white cookies, and macaroons.

The knishes come from New York. The deli meats and fish are primarily Hebrew National and Sheinman's, a Philadelphia firm.

Rounding out the basics are egg creams made with the real deal, raw eggs. And Joyva halvah slices. Barrett said he's looking to add gefilte fish and potato latkes to the menu.

A self-described "mutt" by way of background, Barrett learned his craft in the kitchen at a local college that catered to several students who kept kosher. "It was a job," he said of his former gig.

Of his current position, Barrett said: "I don't try to convert them," referring to Gerofsky and his wife, "and they don't try to convert me. It's strictly business. We're cooking for the people."

Gerofsky says they haven't had any Amish customers thus far. But he says a woman in a traditional Mennonite hat stopped in with her husband out of curiosity.

The husband was looking for a ham-and-cheese sandwich and was flummoxed when there was no ham to be had. Gerofsky gave him a corned-beef sample instead: "He didn't like it. Then I gave him a piece of brisket. That was more like what he had in mind."

They must be doing something right - Gerofsky says demand is so great, Mort's is now open seven days a week.


Gluten-Free Macaroons

Makes 12 macaroons

11/2 teaspoons almond

extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

11/3 cup sweetened con-            densed milk

6 cups sweetened coconut,

   shredded

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray pan to prevent sticking.

2. Combine almond extract and vanilla extract with sweetened condensed milk in a large bowl. Add coconut and heavy cream. Mix until just combined.

3. With small cookie scoop, scoop out portions onto lined or sprayed cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on top.

- From Mort's New York Style Delicatessen

Per macarooon: 262 calories, 4 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 52 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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