Ask Tova du Plessis, and she'll tell you all about South Philly's role in this city's Jewish history. Escaping conflict overseas, many Jewish immigrants found refuge in New York during the 19th and early 20th century. Some, however, went further south, resettling primarily in the Pennsport neighborhood — an interesting juxtaposition considering South Philly's Italian and Irish Catholic reputation. Next Thursday, April 7, marks the opening of Essen Bakery, du Plessis's East Passyunk Jewish bakery, where she'll infuse her Jewish roots into an area that hasn't seen something of its kind for quite some time.
The tiny bakeshop at 1437 East Passyunk Avenue, once Fond's owner/pastry chef Jesse Prawluckie's Belle Cakery, has gone through just a bit of transformation adding a colorful mural by Tennyson Tippy, new chairs and tables, a chalkboard menu for food, and a butcher paper menu for daily specials. Local specialty roaster Elixr is du Plessis's choice of brew, offered in all of its many styles: pour-over, drip, french press, and cold brew. Also on the menu, hot and iced tea, including a rooibos latte, harking back to du Plessis's South African roots.
The chalkboard menu is very simply a choice between homemade breads (seeded or za'atar-spiced challah and traditional rye) or cakes and pastries, starting with the babka. Du Plessis will start with two varieties of babkas, both laced with chocolate, one enriched by halvah, that sweet sesame confection found in Jewish and Middle Eastern markets around the world. And if there's one thing that's certain about sesame-based anything, it's that it goes beautifully with chocolate. Other items include cakes, cheesecakes, and rugelach, a rolled strudel-like pastry often spiked with chocolate or fruit.
A rotating menu of daily-prepped sandwiches will complement Essen's selection of baked goodies, and from the looks of it, she'll be launching with a vegetarian reuben on traditional rye, substituting pastrami-spiced avocado in place of meat.
Hours will go from early morning to late afternoon, Wednesdays through Sundays. For a bit more about du Plessis's journey to her small Jewish bakery in South Philly, check out Eater's primer here.