Food | Post-Its

Local Entrepreneurs Bring Classic Jewish Flavors to Farmers Markets

Soup has always been Jake Alpert’s favorite food — especially matzo ball soup, which he believes in eating year-round, not just on Jewish holidays.

And when it comes to floaters vs. sinkers, Alpert is 100% a floaters fan. The fluffier the better, he says.

Born in Tucson, Alpert is the chef behind Dry River Deli, a local farmers market-based soup business. He can be found most Saturdays at the Oro Valley Farmers Market and Sundays at the Rillito Park Farmers Market, doling out samples and selling frozen containers of soup.

Alpert started his culinary career in Boulder, Colorado, while getting his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He’s been a chef for 14 years in Tucson, working at venues such as Seis Kitchen; the Coronet, where his cousin Sally Kane is the owner; Maynard’s Kitchen; and Time Market.

But when the pandemic hit in 2020 and restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, he sought a safe way to get food to people.

He started with an email offering a quart of matzo ball soup and four coconut macaroons “for a ridiculously low price” and got a great response. Most of the email addresses came from his parents, Donn Alpert and Patti Behr, who also helped him with deliveries. His wife helps with the business, too, but she prefers to remain anonymous.

Alpert says it took a while to develop his quintessential recipe, which includes organic chicken for the broth and secret spices in his matzo balls.

This winter, he began selling at farmers markets. Most of the local markets close for the summer, which works perfectly for Alpert, who has a summer gig as a fly-fishing instructor in Colorado.

Dry River Deli’s customers range from Jewish Tucsonans who chat with Alpert about schmaltz to people who’ve never heard of matzo balls.

Not one to skimp on the details, Alpert makes tiny matzo balls for his samples. He tried cutting the larger ones, he explains, but they are so light they fall apart.

Currently, along with matzo ball soup, Alpert is selling rustic tomato soup and chicken bone broth. His soups come frozen in resealable plastic pouches, which, he notes, use less plastic than traditional containers.

In Boulder, Alpert fell in love with the farm-to-table scene, and he’s carried that over to Dry River Deli, working with local farms, including Elizabeth’s Garden in Oro Valley and L&B Farm in Willcox.

“I’ve seen these farms personally and they are wonderful, small-scale poultry farms,” he says.

Alpert is developing a Hungarian mushroom soup and a vegan lentil, and planning some cold soups for the warm spring weather.

“I’m just starting small and seeing where it goes,” he says.

Dry River Deli isn’t the only new purveyor of traditionally Jewish delicacies at local farmers’ markets.

Ryan Homsy and his wife, Reagan, are the team behind MTL Bagels, selling Montreal-style bagels at the Udall Park Farmers Market on Fridays.

Homsy grew up in Montreal and for 10 years lived across the street from one of the city’s iconic bagel shops, St-Viateur, started by a Polish Holocaust survivor, Myer Lewkowicz, in 1953.

Homsy isn’t Jewish, but for him, bagels are the taste of home.

Montreal bagels are denser than their New York counterparts, slightly sweet because they are boiled in honey water, and baked in a wood-fired oven.

A taste test convinced his wife, a New York bagel devotee, that Montreal bagels are delicious. They settled the “which is better” question by agreeing the two bagel styles are “both magnificent and too unique to compare,” according to MTL Bagels’ “about us” page.

The couple moved from New York to Tucson, Reagan’s hometown, when they decided to start a family. But whenever Homsy’s relatives visited from Montreal, he’d beg them to bring fresh bagels.

Now MTL Bagels bakes up three flavors: sesame, everything, and cinnamon raisin.

Homsy experimented with recipes and baking methods, but it was investing in a wood-fired oven that made the most difference, he says.

Since he and his wife have other jobs – she’s a UX designer and he’s a project manager for a technology company – Homsy only makes bagels once a week.

He does the rolling, boiling, and baking on Thursday nights. Bagels can be ordered online and picked up at the farmers market by 11 a.m. on Friday. His daughter, who is five, loves to explain the different flavors to customers, and recently switched her allegiance from cinnamon raisin to sesame – the classic, he says.

Homsy credits Startup Tucson’s Food Forward program with getting MTL Bagels off to a good start.

“Without their help, to be honest, I’d probably just be baking bagels by myself and not selling them anywhere,“ he says. “They were a great help and a great intro into the Tucson food community.”