When Ursula Siker was a high-schooler growing up in Los Angeles, she would sneak out of her house on nights when she couldn’t sleep to go to the legendary 24-hour Jewish deli Canter’s. “I’d always bring a hamantaschen home for my dad, so if I got in trouble he couldn’t get mad at me,” she recalls. “I’d get a half grapefruit and a potato knish and a cup of coffee and I would just sit there. And my favorite memories of that were always sitting in a booth, kind of eavesdropping on people next to you and just all the walks of life that you’ll find in a Jewish deli. That’s something that I really wanted to carry on when I came here.”
Jeff & Jude’s, her “Jew-ish” deli in Ukrainian Village, is her attempt to create a space for that kind of experience in Chicago. “A Jewish deli in Los Angeles is going to be a lot more restaurant diner/deli versus counter service or cafeteria-style,” she explains. “When I moved to Chicago in 2016, at the time there wasn’t much of a Jewish deli presence in the city itself—in the suburbs there’s so much to offer—but within the city it seemed to be more cafeteria-style and less of a sit-down diner.”
She also wanted to embrace the Jewish deli tradition of making everything in-house, from the corned beef to the lox to the bread. “I’m a baker by trade, so the whole concept of really intense method behind execution has always been in my blood, so it only made sense to make everything here,” she says.
That includes classics such as pastrami, rye bread, and potato knishes, but it also encompasses more inventive twists on standards such as a savory everything rye hamantaschen, matzo grits, a challah donut, and a vegan deep-fried seasonal handpie—hence, in part, the “Jew-ish” label. “There is a lot of playfulness in what we do at the restaurant,” she explains.
“Jew-ish” also references Siker’s background: her dad’s family is Jewish, but he converted to Christianity and became a minister. (Jeff & Jude’s is named after her parents.) “We would go to Seders growing up, but then we would also do Easter Sunday,” she says.
Those Seders often had macaroons, since observant Jews typically don’t consume grains or leavened bread during Passover, and the coconut-based cookies honor that restriction. “I always hated macaroons growing up,” Siker remembers. “But it turns out it was because I was eating stale ones, not fresh-baked ones.” Now Jeff & Jude's sells both plain and chocolate-dipped macaroons for Passover, along with other staples such as the sweet condiment charoseth, brisket, and potato kugel. Try Siker’s recipe for macaroons below.
This is the second year that Jeff & Jude’s is offering Passover meals. Siker opened the deli in phases in 2020 after hosting pop-ups while working as the general manager and head baker of Hoosier Mama Pie Company. She’s now planning to expand to dinner service on weekends, starting in May. Dinner will feature some of Jeff & Jude’s current favorites as well as some evening-only specials such as a seasonal kasha varnishkes, a dish of bowtie pasta with the hearty grain kasha.
It’s another example of Siker updating a Jewish staple—and slowly nearing the always-available comfort of her childhood stalwart, the 24-hour Canter’s. “I think there’s a resurgence of Jewish delis recently”—take Steingold’s, Rye Deli, and of course Jeff & Jude’s in Chicago, for example—“because we’re trying to bring back something that is very ingrained in our childhood and family history that we’re missing having around,” Siker says.
“There’s so much craft in what a Jewish deli is, and there are a lot of chefs out there that really want to pay homage to that because it is really hard and really complicated to bake all your bread, smoke all your meat, all in-house. There’s a lot of pride that goes along with that. So I think there’s a huge area for this next generation of food folks who want to pay tribute to something that means a lot to them and give it the practice and method that it deserves.”
Jeff & Jude’s Macaroons
2 cups unsweetened coconut shreds
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 egg whites
1/2 cup coconut flour
3/4 tsp salt
8 ozs. semisweet chocolate chips, melted (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325. In a mixer with a paddle attachment, add coconut shreds, sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, coconut flour, and salt. Mix on low speed until well combined with no dry spots. (You can also mix this by hand.)
2. Divide into 8-10 evenly sized balls. (We use a small ice cream scoop to portion them at the deli.)
3. Place balls on a lined baking sheet, leaving 1-2 inches between the cookies.
4. Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.
5. If using chocolate: Once the cookies are cooled, dip the bottoms in melted chocolate chips. Drizzle additional melted chocolate over the top.