Jack's Wife Freda green shakshouka Jack's Wife Freda green shakshouka Green shakshouka at Jack's Wife Freda, a Mediterranean restaurant with two lower Manhattan locations. (Photo: Courtesy of Jack's Wife Freda)

A Mediterranean party that feels like home

Food and drink are served with a smile at Manhattan's Jack's Wife Freda.

Jack’s Wife Freda has built a reputation as a buzzy Soho eatery, and it's become particularly well known for its packed brunch, where the downtown fashion set descends en masse to nosh on signature dishes like green shakshouka and rosewater waffles.

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Dean and Maya Jankelowitz(Photo: Courtesy of Jack's Wife Freda)

Building on their success, husband-and-wife team Dean and Maya Jankelowitz (pictured at left), who met while working at another restaurant in the city, have taken their unique brand of bistro classics informed by their South African and Israeli heritage—Dean grew up in the former country and Maya the latter–to the West Village.

Their Carmine Street location, which opened at the tail end of 2014, is as equally stylish as its Soho sister, and if my recent dinner is any indication, every bit the party.The dining room is spare yet warm, with white walls adorned by a painting here and there, a central communal table flanked by banquette-style seating tables lining the perimeter, and a handsome marble-topped bar decorated with suspended orb pendant lights. The West Village location has many of the same menu hits as the Soho location – zucchini chips and peri peri chicken among them, along with a smattering of new dishes, like peri peri duck wings, liver and onions and spiced lamb tartar.

Settle into your seat and order up a cocktail or two. Jack’s Manhattan, starring bold Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey, goes a long way to help ease some of the noise reverberating around the room, particularly when there’s a rowdy birthday celebration behind you at the communal table. For a subtler but equally potent take, get the New York Sour, fashioned with Bulleit Rye, honey syrup and rendered positively Instagram-worthy with a splash of Ruby Port.

Get your own party started with a selection of small plates – or meze – to share. These are the cornerstone of any restaurant meal in Israel, and they often arrive at your table automatically. Here, you’ll have to do the ordering, but it’s hardly a difficult task. You could make a whole meal out of the stellar selection, but for a group of three to four I’d recommend starting with three. Favorites include roasted cauliflower, featuring a mix of roasted and raw florets, scattered with briny capers and a sprinkling of Gruyere cheese, anchored by an anchovy paste-laced dressing – a seriously addictive combination. You’ll want to share a dip – in Israel you might order hummus, but here you’ll find Dean and Maya’s answer: a spiced beet dip that’s equally as fun to share and eat (served with warm pita bread triangles), and one that makes for a lively addition with its vibrant pink hue and luscious texture. Pureed beets are blended with tahini (a sesame-based sauce) and garlic and set off by a shower of crumbled feta cheese and za’atar, a spice blend commonly found throughout Israel and the Middle East, containing thyme, oregano, sumac, marjoram and sesame seeds. Round out the selection with the grilled haloumi, a stalwart from the Soho location, where thin, springy grilled pieces of haloumi cheese are garnished with plump, warm grapes and a drizzle of olive oil.

Brunch at Jack's Wife FredaBrunch menu options at Jack's Wife Freda. (Photo: Courtesy of Jack's Wife Freda)

Amidst the clamor and din, the dishes that shine brightest are those that exude an effortless simplicity, like the whole fish. On the night I dined, the grilled head to tail dorade was served with a tidy pile of couscous and Israeli salad (uniformly chopped cucumbers, tomato and onion), the latter of which is a permanent fixture at mealtimes – in Israel, it’s eaten at breakfast with eggs, at midday it might be stuffed into a pita for a grab and go lunch, and it’s a natural accompaniment to all manner of entrees. Along with those traditional accompaniments, the fish needs nothing more than a squeeze of a grilled lemon wedge, but there’s also a bright, herbaceous gremolata on the side for an added flavor boost. Round out your meal with the city’s best Greek salad, where kale, tomatoes and cucumbers get a serious flavor knockout with pickled red onions, salt-cured olives and square of feta. Finally, worth checking out is menu newbie piri piri duck wings – two meaty duck legs coated in piri piri, a chili-lemon-red pepper sauce of Portuguese origins but prevalent in South African cuisine. Be sure to ask for the housemade hot sauce on the side for dipping; don’t be fooled by its green coloring, as it packs serious heat with a blend of jalapeno and habanero chilies, cilantro and garlic, emulsified to a creamy consistency with olive oil (not avocado, contrary to popular belief).

Jack's Wife Freda exterior(Photo: Courtesy of Jack's Wife Freda)

In my book, every great party ends with cake. At Jack’s Wife Freda, that means homemade spiced cheesecake. It’s a classic New York cheese cake bolstered with pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but I swear it could pass for Israeli cheesecake with its rich-fluffy interior and buttery, crumbly crust. And don’t discount the flourless chocolate cake because you think it is passé – their version, spiked with chipotle and filled with a lush chocolate mousse, is absolutely delightful.

Like any good guest, be sure to graciously thank your hosts, especially the chic servers for their attentive-without-being-overbearing service and enthusiasm for the food. On your way out, if the gentleman hovering near the bar asks you how things were, answer enthusiastically and make sure you give him a hug. You see, on my way in, I greeted my girlfriends at the bar with hugs and did a double take when a stranger came to greet me with a hug of his own, not realizing it was Dean. I can’t wait to become a regular guest – best of all, you never need an invitation to return to the party at Jack’s Wife Freda.

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