For one day only, local residents can grab a real Coney Island knish without hopping a plane to New York City. Organizers of the HardLox Jewish Food and Heritage Festival, to be held Oct. 20 in Pack Square, are shipping some of the traditional Eastern European dumplings down here from Long Island for guests to sample — along with more than 20 other Jewish delicacies that can be difficult or impossible to find in Western North Carolina.
According to festival organizer Marty Gillen, members of the congregation of Asheville's Beth HaTephila Temple and other volunteers will be cooking up a huge spread of homemade goodies for the crowd, including 40 gallons of chicken soup with 1,200 matzo balls, 150 apple cakes and several thousand rugelach, or Jewish pastries.
The theme this year is “Gnosh Locally” and several local businesses will represent at the event. Gillen says a festival favorite every year is the chopped liver made by Eric Scheffer, owner of Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian Restaurant on Merrimon Avenue. Scheffer makes the spread from his grandmother's recipe, a closely guarded secret until now (see sidebar). The liver is served on bread or a bagel with red onion and tomato. City Bakery provides the rye for the pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches, as well as for Scheffer's chopped liver. Carolina Mountain Bakery will offer black-and-white cookies as one of the dessert options.
If chopped liver and pastrami seem less than appealing to the non-meat-eating set, Gillen says vegetarians will find plenty to gnosh on, including falafel, hummus, potato latkes and knish, cheese blitzes and noodle kugel.
There will be a dedicated children's area, and an entertainment stage will feature Israeli dancing, performances by Temple Beth HaTephila members and local musical celebrity Billy Jonas, and, of course, klezmer music. For those not familiar with Jewish culture, there will be educational activities about the Torah, Jewish festivals and holidays and a how-to on writing your name in Hebrew.
The festival does not rent booths to commercial businesses, but other vendors will be on hand selling Jewish-related items, and the participation of 14 area Jewish organizations will add to the festive atmosphere. Gillen says planners have even created at 250-foot-long Jewish delicatessen in front of the Biltmore building to serve as the food court.
“We try to create a thoroughly Jewish environment where you feel like you're in a special place,” says Gillen.
Dining and vacation packages including private cooking and dinner parties with local chefs will be raffled off, with drawings held every hour during the festival. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20, with each ticket providing a chance to win one of the 10 packages. Raffle tickets are available before the event at the Beth HaTephila office on North Liberty Street.
HardLox runs 11a.m.-4p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, in Pack Square. Admission is free. Tickets for the food will be for sale at the event. Visit www.hardlox.com for details or call 253-4911.