Eli Zabar debuts a chocolate matzah ice cream, just in time for Passover


(New York Jewish Week) — Move over, donut hamantaschen! Now that Purim has come and gone, it’s time to start thinking about Passover desserts. Famously tricky to get right, but with huge potential to steal the show, traditional Passover desserts include macaroons, flourless cakes and chocolate-covered matzah.

At Eli Zabar’s on the East Side, however, innovation is the name of the game this year. For Passover 2023, the eatery and grocery is beckoning customers to the freezer aisle and selling homemade chocolate-caramel matzah ice cream at three different locations: their flagship at 1411 Third Ave., Eli’s Essentials at 1270 Madison Ave., and at Grand Central Market at 89 East 42nd St.

The dessert, officially known as Chocolate Covered Caramel Matzoh Ice Cream, is made in-house, according to Sasha Zabar, the son of the chain’s eponymous founder. (Eli Zabar’s brothers run the famous Zabar’s delicatessen and grocery, located across the park on the Upper West Side.) The frozen delicacy is made with a rich vanilla base mixed with broken-up chunks of Eli’s signature chocolate matzah — a homemade sourdough matzah topped with a chewy salted butter caramel, a thin layer of chocolate and toasted almonds.

“Think cookies and cream but using chocolate covered matzah” instead of Oreos, Zabar told the New York Jewish Week. (The chocolate matzah used in the ice cream can also be purchased on its own, and costs $10 for one piece.) 

The seasonal ice cream flavor, which hit the stores’ coolers yesterday, will be available throughout Passover, which ends on April 13.

As for its price, well, there’s a reason why The New York Times called Eli Zabar a “pioneer in the field of eye-popping prices.The ice cream is sold by the pint for a steep $20 — nearly twice the price of other designer ice cream brands with funky novelty flavors like Jeni’s Everything Bagel ice cream ($12) and Van Leeuwen’s (also $12), which has sold Grey Poupon- and Hidden Valley Ranch-flavored ice cream. (Is it just me, or does chocolate matzah ice cream sound… a lot better?) 

In an email, Sasha Zabar said the high price was justified by the cost of the ingredients: “We make our own base using excellent milk/cream and use Tahitian or Madagascan vanilla pods for the vanilla base,” he wrote. “The Chocolate covered matzo sells for $10 a [piece], and each pint uses a whole piece.”

Eli Zabar is not under any rabbinical supervision, so the ice cream is not certified kosher or kosher for Passover. However, as Sasha Zabar explained, the chocolate matzah and other homemade Passover desserts sold at Eli’s, like macaroons, chocolate chip meringue kisses and various cakes, are unleavened and made with kosher-for-Passover ingredients.

Eli Zabar (the store) was founded by Eli Zabar (the man) as a gourmet food shop and café on the Upper East Side in 1973. Zabar had grown up at Zabar’s, the Upper West Side institution founded by his parents, Louis and Lillian Zabar, in 1934.

According to the Eli Zabar store website, the shop’s founder wanted to pursue a different vision for his own grocery chain, inspired by the food halls and gourmet products of Europe. Today, there are eight Eli Zabar locations on the East Side, which include gourmet groceries, bakeries, a flower shop, a wine shop and a recently reopened farm-to-table restaurant.

Eli’s sons, Sasha Zabar and his twin brother Oliver, both 31, have helped expand the business. They opened cocktail bar Devon on the Lower East Side in 2018, which closed after three years, and now operate Eli’s Night Shift, a bar and restaurant at 189 East 79th St.

Eli Zabar is also selling made-to-order seder plates and Passover meals from its catering side — but they aren’t shipping the ice cream quite yet because of the logistics involved with using dry ice, Sasha Zabar said. “Hopefully that pushes people to come to the store and grab a pint,” he added. “It’s really good.”