The epitome of Old World Lower East Side Manhattan—particularly the nearly-200-year-old tradition of Jewish and Irish immigrant coexistence—can be found not only in New York, but also in DC’s Atlas District, on the reinvigorated H Street, NE, at Star and Shamrock, a Jewish-deli-meets-Irish-tavern, which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary.
Jason “Jay” Feldman is the visionary behind the Star and Shamrock concept. Feldman, the grandson of Holocaust survivors and son of a mother who was born in a displaced persons camp in Munich, grew up in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood in New Jersey. His merriment must come from both the luck of the Irish with whom he grew up and the Jewish spirit.
While Feldman’s upbringing was the seed that inspired Star and Shamrock, the restaurant’s essence wouldn’t be complete without his longtime colleagues and friends, Mark Menard and Mike Schuster, who became his partners in this endeavor. Menard is a self-proclaimed Southie from Boston’s once-gritty South End and a proud Irishman from a “blue-collar” family of mostly “cops and firemen,” as he puts it. As we chatted, Menard pointed out a little-known fact: that quite a few of Dublin’s and Belfast’s mayors were, in fact, Jewish. Schuster, also a partner at Compass Rose, was raised in Northern Virginia, the son of doctors who worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; his mother grew up Jewish in Long Island.
Fostering partnerships with likeminded businesses is important to Schuster and the other partners. Bullfrog Bagels currently occupies the in-house deli counter area and shares Star and Shamrock’s kitchen. Bullfrog’s bagels are served with Star and Shamrock’s house-cured salmon on the eat-in menu.
Star and Shamrock is kicking off its five-year jubilee with a carefully curated and revamped Jewish-Irish hybrid menu. Who is going to claim the brisket as its own is anyone’s guess. At Star and Shamrock it belongs to both the Irish and the Jewish people. The new menu offers a particularly seasonal variation: rhubarb-braised brisket with honey and golden raisins served with asparagus and wilted spinach.
One special highlight, Ellie’s knishes (top photo), named for one of Feldman’s daughters, are made fish-and-chips style: fluffy pucks of homemade, melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes that are dipped in light batter, fried and then served with tart cherry ketchup and spicy deli mustard. It’s a Riverdance and Hora mash-up for your palate.
The meats and fish are brined, cured and smoked in house. On Wednesdays, the Reuben, with its pinkish corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, is half price. Wash it down with a pint of He’Brew: The Chosen Beer from Schmaltz Brewing Company or Green Spot Irish whiskey.
Trying the pastrami feels conflicting, as who can possibly measure up to the Lower East Side institution Katz’s Deli? Rumor has it, from a reliable source (ahem, a certain husband) that it’s very good.
Star and Shamrock Tavern and Deli, 202-388-3833, 1341 H Street, NE, Washington, DC; Everyday 11 am–close. Not kosher.
The legacy of Jewish ownership of H Street businesses in the early and mid-twentieth century was recently documented in Washington Jewish Week’s “Boys of H St: Second acts in Washington’s changing Atlas District.”