Save your appetite! The Weinberg Park Heights Jewish Community Center has a new café vendor.
Chef Dan’s Café at the J will hold its grand opening on Oct. 27 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the JCC, 5700 Park Heights Ave. The restaurant, which will operate under the supervision of the Baltimore-based Star-K kosher certification organization, will be operated by veteran restaurateurs Dan and Shira Neuman.
The café’s menu – which will range from pizza and omelets to lemon dill salmon and a baked potato bar — will be Cholov Yisroel dairy.
The bistro, located in the JCC’s lobby, replaces the Eden Café, which closed in June after operating in that space for 15 years. (Mama Leah’s Kosher Pizza closed its cafe at the Owings Mills JCC in September, and the center is currently searching for a new vendor there.)
The opening of Chef Dan’s Café is part of a multi-year improvement plan for the Park Heights JCC, which opened in September of 1960.
“Over the next two years, you will see a major growth of LifeBridge Health wellness programming tailored to the needs of the frum [religiously observant] community,” said JCC of Greater Baltimore Chief Executive Officer Barak Hermann in a statement. “Rooms and offices will be moved around and redesigned to accommodate LifeBridge and numerous new fitness opportunities. …
“The Weinberg Park Heights J is a truly unique JCC, as it is the only JCC in the country that primarily serves an observant community, focusing on separate male/female only programming,” he said. “With the continuously growing observant population in Baltimore of over 30,000, we believe we are positioned to serve the wellness, recreational and engagement needs of the community.”
A native of Baltimore, Dan Neuman met his wife, a Frederick native, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he worked at several kosher restaurants. The Neumans, who live near the Park Heights JCC, returned to this area about six years ago.
Neuman, 34, who also goes by the Hebrew name of Yechiel, previously worked at the Serengeti kosher steakhouse in Pikesville, the downtown glatt kosher restaurant The Daily Special, and at Pikesville’s Market Maven.
Jmore recently spoke to the Neumans, who have three young daughters, as well as to David Mitnick, senior building and operations director of the Park Heights JCC.
Jmore: Why did you choose the name Chef Dan’s Café?
DN: I want people to know there’s a person behind this food. I’m here. It’s not just a cook in the back making things just for a paycheck. It shows people that I’m proud to put my name on it. I really care about this menu.
Being personable also has a community connection. People know that it’s me. Having my name on it makes it more personal.
SN: People should know that he works all the time. Whenever they come here, chances are Dan will be here, too.
What most excites you about this new venture?
DN: Food, in general, excites me. Most of my training was in New York, and I think Baltimore is ready for those standards of service and quality that we’ll have a Chef Dan’s Café.
SN: We’re offering lots that’s new and different. Acai bowls, or smoothie bowls, are new for a kosher restaurant. We have a protein shake and a whole wellness section offering protein banana pancakes and black bean veggie burgers, as well as a buffalo and cauliflower burger, among the dishes that also include pizza and pasta. In addition, we have a cold-pressed juice bar and many selections in our grab-and-go section.
DN: A lot of the menu items are taken from our childhoods. These include the potato bar, the mock crab cake and a kosher, southern-style, crab cake po’ boy.
We also want this restaurant to be fun for kids, not just kid-size portions of adult food. So we came up with a kids’ menu that will excite them, including unicorn pancakes and pink monkey smoothies.
Why open at the Park Heights JCC?
SN: The JCC is a special place for the community, and we’re excited to be part of it. What better place to be than the JCC? This is the heart of the Jewish community for families. One of the ways we’ll show we care about this community is our attention to food for people with allergies and diet restrictions. We hope to be a safe space for those people who might not be able to get that at other kosher establishments.
DN: The JCC is a healthy environment, so we offer lots of health options to meet special needs like gluten-free, high-fiber and high-protein.
How does the JCC benefit from the café being here?
DM: We are working hard to improve the member experience at the JCC. Chef Dan’s Café, with its very high standards, is one example. The JCC and The Associated [Jewish Federation of Baltimore] are poised to do other major renovations as we are improving on a lot of different levels. We are investing heavily in a major upgrade of our swimming pool, and we are expanding our relationship with LifeBridge Health, which will now have a representative in the building. Everything works together to supply cutting-edge quality and service.
What else will you offer besides food and beverages?
DN: We have tables that seat 100, so there will be plenty of room for people to hang out and talk, as well as to use the Internet on their digital devices.
SN: In addition to sit-down [service], we offer a full catering service, too, for meat and dairy with a menu that can be seen at chefdanscafe.com/catering-menu. We will cater events, bar and bat mitzvahs, business lunches and more.
OK, so what are some of your favorite dishes here so far?
SN: I really like the onion blossom, the fettuccine alfredo and the baked potatoes, and I like to make my own baked potato at the baked potato bar.
DN: Among my favorites are the alfredo panini and the pineapple express smoothie.
Chef Dan’s Café officially opens Oct. 27. The grand opening event will feature free pizza for kids, a moon bounce, face painting and other activities. For information, visit https://www.facebook.com/chefdanscafe/.
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.
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