Max & David's
"Serious" kosher foods and other international delights inspire and satisfy guests of Max & David's
by Brian Freedman

In the great pantheon of misunderstood foods and food styles of the world, kosher has a special place. Sweetbreads, for example, are often thought to be brains of some sort, though they’re not. Mole is not the Mexican equivalent of Hershey’s syrup draped over a piece of meat. But Kosher food—well, if you asked most people, they’d say it has something to do with matzo balls or kasha or, like Elaine said in the famous episode of “Seinfeld,” that it has something to do with how they kill the pig. 

Common misperceptions may lead to all kinds of ridiculous ideas of what a place such as Max & David’s serves—which, in turn, is likely to lead to a serious surprise when uninitiated guests open the menu for the first time at this Elkins Park stalwart, now more than five years old and still going strong.


The expected Jewish and Israeli standards are there, of course—a mezze plate with grilled pita, matzo ball soup, etc.—but they make up a decidedly minor part of the menu as a whole. This, after all, isn’t a deli in the Katz’s or Famous 4th Street mold; rather, it’s a restaurant that offers a thoughtful selection of international foods that kosher-keeping guests can eat with confidence and impunity. (It’s also a changing menu; the new chef will be rolling out re-imagined brunch, lunch and dinner menus in the coming months.)


This, then, is how Asian BBQ ribs and red snapper tacos come to share menu space with a so-called Shanghai salad and pistachio-crusted sweetbreads. I ordinarily get nervous when I see a United Nations-worthy collection of international foods on a menu; it typically is the first indication that the chef couldn’t make a decision and opted instead to throw everything against the proverbial wall. But here, it’s all in the service of providing range for observant guests. And the kitchen here generally does a very good job of presenting and preparing these dishes, especially given the limitations of Jewish law.


Potato-crusted salmon, for example, was a striking success—the fish moist-hearted and beautifully cooked, the cocoon of shredded potato thin and shattering. Set atop a bright lemon-tarragon sauce, it was a balanced, generous dish. So, too, was the vegetable soup, which, like the salmon, over-delivered on its premise. This was a winter-perfect bowlful, the bright peppers and carrots flashing through the thick umber-toned broth.


Penang chicken curry—certainly one of the gustiest dishes here—was one of the greater successes I experienced, a clever twist on the standard with its base of couscous and its deeply developed, wonderfully complex curry paste, made, as is everything here, in house. And although you’ll likely only be able to eat half of this exceptionally rich preparation (I eat and drink professionally, and began flagging halfway through), it’s a challenge worth undertaking, with the sweetness of the coconut milk a gorgeous frame for the tender chicken.


Kosher restrictions or not, however, there were some dishes that could have been better. Latkes, for example, special for Hanukkah, would have been stellar had they been fried fresh as opposed to reheated, losing some of their crucial snappiness. (This, however, was a necessity, given the volume of latkes they sell requiring pre-cooking; and the flavor was great.) And while one of the two appetizer sliders was excellent (house-ground beef and a smart topping of olive tapenade and tomato chutney), the other was simply confusing: Why crown a perfectly delicious beef burger with also excellent duck confit and cherries? This seemed like an attempt at richness for richness’ sake, and diminished both proteins. A beef slider alongside a duck confit patty would have shown off each entry better.


In general, however, the successes far outweighed the shortcomings, and I give Max & David’s all the credit in the world for being one of the few local restaurants to take serious kosher food ... well, seriously. The wine list is thoughtful and populated with glasses and bottles that, though kosher, are actual wines, as far removed from Manischewitz as I am from LeBron James. (I’m 5’7” and have never dunked a ball.) And the desserts could be found in any upscale restaurant in the region, kosher or not: Lime meringue tart was delicate and punched up with a thoughtful coconut cashew crust; the mousse tower, poking into the sky with its tri-color layers of dark and white chocolate and coffee mousse atop a flourless chocolate cake, proved addictive.


Of course, there’s one aspect of the restaurant that is inimitably—or, perhaps, stereotypically—kosher, or associated with the bounty of the traditional Jewish table: the portion sizes. As I sat at my table, working my way through a meal and watching others parade through the clean, casual dining room, I couldn’t shake the thought that these were portions any Jewish mother or grandmother would be happy to see, each large enough for dinner and a very nice lunch the next day. Kosher or not, that’s a universally satisfying thing.


Max & David’s

Yorktown Plaza

8120 Old York Road, Elkins Park



Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer based in Philadelphia.

Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.