What's it like to be a vendor at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg? This series will follow one of the market's new vendors and get the inside story of how a pop-up food business goes from idea to reality.
Noah didn't jump into his first week of Smorgasburg expecting everything at Scharf & Zoyer to be perfect. If the first week was a feeler, then the following Saturdays could be described as a chance to make good on those initial lessons. To tweak and hone. First time vendors face issues they never anticipated—some, like overlapping products with neighboring stalls, caused by the market's layout.
Going into the Smorgasburg, there wasn't a clear and definitive product that Noah envisioned anchoring Scharf & Zoyer with. But from the onset, he saw that people were latching on to the concept of his kugel double down, a sandwich that replaces bread with slices of griddled noodle kugel, and in these first weeks it has been his most popular item. Noah's idea for the sandwich dates back to 2009 when he was inspired by a recipe for potato pave in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home.
"You see the striations of slices of potatoes, which are very pretty, and the whole thing browns. Seeing that, I thought it looked like kugel, and it kind of clicked," Noah explained. "Back then I'd make it with Benton's bacon, just drunk food. But I thought if I could make something more balanced, that hits all the flavor notes I need, it would be something pretty good."
Fast forward three years, shortly before the birth of Scharf & Zoyer. Explaining the evolution of the sandwich to me, Noah told me about a Virginia-made maple goat cheese that he would buy from Saxelby's. It was so good, he said, that he'd simply smear it on toast. He had been using farmer's cheese to make the kugel bread, and decided it'd mix well with the maple. But he needed something to balance it, to cut through the fattiness of the kugel and sweetness of the farmer's cheese. This search led him to an apple and onion pickle.
For the first week, Noah rested on the apple and onion pickle—but felt like there was still room for improvement. The pickle, he found, was too strong. But he still wanted something acidic and not too sweet. He toyed with the idea of leaving the apple raw, but thought that the color would make the sandwich too monochromatic.
Considering his options, Noah was attracted to the idea of persimmon preserves. However, the difficulty in obtaining them made for a hard ingredient to scale. The only one he could find, in his brief search, was a seasonal product from an online California-based distributor. Berry preserves were out of the question, as Noah found them too sweet, and pickled lemon would have been too acidic. He found his solution in a combination of orange and apricot preserves.
"The new type I came up with does the same thing I wanted the first one to do, but a lot better," Noah said. "So instead of the pickle you get a little acid from the preserves, and I wanted a chunky texture. I wanted some savoriness and something onion-y, with texture, so I added the fried shallots."
Since the second week, Noah has changed the size of the sandwich as well. He found the original portion size for the kugel bread to be too large for Smorgasburg and downsized accordingly. The smaller double down is roughly half the size of the original, and more fit for the grazing many market goers do.
In addition to this re-configured kugel double down, Noah plans to introduce at second version of the sandwich in the third week. As opposed to the vegetarian original, this will feature fried chicken skin and a purple cabbage and carrot slaw with buttermilk and smoked paprika. The griddled kugel will be finished in chicken fat, giving it a richer flavor; currently, he's looking for a supplier of chicken skins.
Other changes are afoot at the market as well. In the second week, Noah introduced takeaway containers for his salted habanero pimento cheese and chopped liver spreads. While the chopped liver resonates with others who grew up in Jewish households, he's had a hard time selling it at large. Sometime in the coming weeks, Noah is thinking about introducing egg creams and Dr. Brown's based floats, though he's still mulling over these possibilities.
What matters more is that now he has his "killer app." Focusing on it will give Noah a singular and unique product for his customers to identify him by.