At the start of his career, Jonny Silverberg thought he’d work as a chef in fine-dining restaurants. He certainly wound up making fine food. But his success is based on his family favorites and the flavors of his childhood with his Napkin Friends food truck and, now, plans for a restaurant.
“It took me a while to figure out what kind of cook I am,” Silverberg says. After culinary school in Arizona and then stints at restaurants, including head chef at Redmond’s Pomegranate Bistro, Silverberg got the idea for a pressed sandwich using latkes in place of bread. “Some people thought it was genius,” he says. “And some people were like, ‘I don’t know about this.’”
Enough diners fell on the “genius” side to support a food truck serving specialties like house-made pastrami and matzoh ball soup based on his Grandma Sylvia’s recipe. The menu is tinged with nostalgia, but — as you’d expect from the creator of a latke-press sandwich — nontraditional. Silverberg, who grew up in a Reform household and connects to Judaism culturally more than religiously, blends family influences along with those from his childhood in the Southwest and his culinary training.
The truck, which opened in 2014, was a good start, but Silverberg calls himself a restaurant person. Which brings us to Schmaltzy’s, a restaurant and catering business Silverberg hopes will fill Seattle’s stubbornly empty niche for Jewish-style delis.
He’s looking for a space large enough to accommodate the catering and food truck divisions as well as the deli, which he envisions serving pastrami, corned beef, and chopped liver. And he’s cooking more with Grandma Sylvia (that’s her picture on the Napkin Friends truck), hoping to learn kreplach and whitefish salad and other classics to share. “Every time we get together,” he says, “I learn a little bit more.”
Silverberg thinks there’s plenty of demand from the region’s Jewish population and beyond. “There are a lot of people who see themselves ethnically as Jewish but not religiously — and there are a lot of people who are from Chicago and Cleveland or New York, who are not Jewish, who love deli.”