Brown's New York Deli & Restaurant brings kosher back to Central Florida
It’s been a long time coming. Ever since Amira’s Kosher Deli & Restaurant closed several years ago, there has been a void in the Central Florida Jewish community when it comes to kosher restaurants. But that void has been filled with the grand opening—complete with red-ribbon cutting and Maitland city council representation—of Brown’s New York Deli, in the Village Plaza Shopping Center, on the corner of SR17/92 and Lake Avenue.
A tin-etched ceiling and round, hanging deco lights with the New York skyline etched into the shiny lamp shades, a terrazzo tile floor and square tables not too close together, give customers the feeling of walking into 2nd Avenue Deli, (once ranked as the best in the Lower East Side) or Katz’s on Houston Street (the legendary deli where Meg Ryan did that orgasmic performance in When Harry Met Sally). But the brightness from the many windows reminds guests that, yes, this is Central Florida!
Lauren Brown, owner and founder of Brown’s Deli, saw the need for a kosher restaurant in the area several years ago. As a past president of Temple Israel and serving on recruiting committees, she said, “For all my synagogue work and committee involvement, when recruiting professional Jews to come to Florida, they would ask ‘What’s it like to be Jewish in Orlando?’ And, for a two or three year period, to have to tell somebody that there is no restaurant they can go to that is kosher, that’s when they take the job in Baltimore.
“Having no kosher restaurant (here) is a disadvantage to bringing Jewish professionals to Central Florida. I felt a personal need that there should be one and Maitland was the right place for it,” she said.
So, two-and-a-half-years ago, Brown said “I’m gonna do it!,” and committed herself to opening a kosher restaurant. She was already doing in-house catering for Temple Israel, which was where “her food-service-self emerged,” as she put it, because Brown didn’t start out in the food service industry. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and a master’s degree in taxation, and was a certified public accountant for 15 years, as well as a stay-at-home mom for several years. That might make for a great business manager, but a cook of home-style kosher meals? Hmm. Well, it’s not like she didn’t have any training in preparing meals. “My mother and grandmother were tremendous cooks,” she said. “I’ve been cooking with them since I was big enough to be put on a counter and handed a bowl and a spoon. I’ve rolled stuffed cabbage since I was knee high!”
Sometimes that is the best training of all. Brown comes from a large family where “holiday dinners were big.” So when she started doing the in-house catering for Temple Israel, it wasn’t such a leap to go from dinner for 50 to dinner for 150.
After Brown committed herself to opening the restaurant, that’s when Kinneret called. They needed someone with kosher skills to operate the dining services out of its kosher kitchen. Would she do it? That was in March 2011, and her dream of opening Brown’s Deli was put on hold.
Then, last November, the Jewish Academy of Orlando approached her and asked if she would operate JAO’s kitchen for the lunch meals.
Most recently, Brown’s staff took over the operations of the deli in the JCC’ lobby.
With her company, Brown’s Deli, taking care of operations at Kinneret, JAO and the JCC’s deli, Brown was then able to turn her attention to the restaurant.
Inspections and food preparation in the restaurant is under the supervision of a mashgiach of the Greater Orlando Vad Hakashrut, an organization supported by the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis.
What’s good to eat? Brown suggests the brisket or stuffed cabbage.
“The brisket recipe is my mother’s,” Brown said with pride. “They (her mom and dad, Arlene and Murray Schwartz) come here every day and they will let me know if we have deviated from her recipe!
“And the stuffed cabbage is another house specialty that is authentic—it’s my grandmother’s, Sophie Schwartz.”
In fact, the stuffed cabbage is just one of many of her grandmother’s hand-written recipes Brown cherishes. Which makes this a truly family oriented, home-style, kosher restaurant—Brown keeps her family close. Her oldest son, Matthew, (who just graduated from UCF with a degree in history) works full-time in the deli; her son Sam owns Sam’s Smoothy Shop in the parking lot in front of the deli, and her two youngest, Daniel and Rachel are nearby in school.
Brown’s Deli is open for lunch and dinner, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week (closing at 4 p.m. on Fridays), and is at 1201 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland.
Kim Fischer contributed to the article.