NEW YORK — Kutsher’s Country Club was one of a handful of once booming resorts (Grossinger’s, the Concord, Brown’s, and Nevele were others) in the borscht belt, nestled in the Catskill Mountains, about two hours from the city. Most of these all-inclusive hotels are shuttered, but, recently, a fourth-generation Kutsher has joined the hospitality business.
“I got this wacky idea that I could leverage my name,” says Zach Kutsher, 38, great-grandson of the resort’s founders. The lawyer-turned-restaurateur opened a modern Jewish American bistro in the heart of Lower Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, capitalizing on some of the traditional Jewish specialties served at his family’s resort. The Catskill menu, as you might expect, wasn’t fancy or creative, but plentiful and kosher, predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, the stuff of chicken soup with matzo balls, chopped liver, pastrami, bagels and lox, roast chicken.
Kutsher’s Tribeca, about to celebrate its first anniversary, offers all these and more. Consider it traditional grandmother’s fare with a face lift. Foods are familiar but updated (and not kosher) and their presentation more attractive than how bubbe might plate hers. Chef Mark Spangenthal fondly remembers his own grandmother’s cooking. “I thought it would be fun to re-create all those flavors and smells I grew up with,” he says.
To that end, a charcuterie plate includes beef and duck pastrami, smoked veal tongue, salami, and chopped liver. You can also order a trio of cured salmon, or borscht, the chilled beet soup, a delightful crispy artichoke salad, and gefilte fish with beet tartare (the diced beets have a terrific zing from grated horseradish).
Friday night roast chicken is available every day, meant for two, and served with wild mushroom stuffing. Prime skirt steak comes with braised greens and caramelized onions. There’s also lamb brisket, duck breast, and pan-roasted trout.
At lunch, pastrami is king. Cured and smoked in-house, the meat has a wonderfully smoky and peppery essence. Potato latkes are made daily and pan-fried to order. The knish, a dough-wrapped puck of sour cream and chive-mashed potatoes, is moister than most and draped with slices of smoked salmon. “We’re not trying to reinvent anything,” says Spangenthal. “Just making the foods we grew up with better, fresher for today’s diners.”
Brunch features poached eggs with chunky pastrami hash, matzo brei (scrambled eggs with matzo), cheese blintzes, and delicious challah French toast with berry compote. By noon on most weekends, the place is hopping with young families, couples, multigenerational gatherings, and 20-somethings sitting around three communal tables.
In their heyday, from the 1950s through the ’80s, the Catskills hotels attracted mostly well-to-do Jewish families from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Other resorts and country clubs had religion and race policies,” says Kutsher. At Kutsher’s, guests stayed for a weekend or a week, even the whole summer. “It was a second home to families for generations,” says Kutsher, who grew up at the resort.
Second-generation Milton Kutsher and his wife, Helen, transformed the hotel into a popular entertainment and sports destination. The region was known as the borscht belt because many Jewish comedians, including Jackie Mason, Buddy Hackett, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, and Joan Rivers worked there. Also performing were musical groups and magicians, activities for all ages. “It was like a cruise ship on land,” says Kutsher. Red Auerbach was the hotel’s first athletic director. A young Wilt Chamberlain worked as a bellhop.
At Kutsher’s Tribeca, the food isn’t as cheap as a deli or diner. The decor is also grander, with blond wood decorative panels, Italian marble tables, and ceiling lights encased in large diamond-shaped boxes. Just as the ambience is bright and modern, so is the food. You may not be served your grandmother’s brisket, but it has the imprint of a younger Kutsher, who seems to have inherited the family gene: He knows what people will like.
Kutsher’s Tribeca 186 Franklin St., New York, 212-431-0606, www.kutsherstribeca.com