Growing up, Graeme and Caitlin Miller say, knishes never took center stage. Graeme was raised in a Jewish family, and Caitlin’s mother’s side of the family is Jewish, and both recall eating knishes as snacks, not main courses. Last year, the Millers, veterans of the Portland restaurant scene, decided to give the knish its due by opening their South Portland lunch takeout, BenReuben’s Knishery.
Knishes are Jewish cooking’s hand pies, although the shells are soft and bready rather than flaky. Potato is the classic filling, but the Millers had other ideas. Their Reuben, for instance, fits all the sandwich fixings — Swiss cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut. Another knish is stuffed with whitefish salad and another with tzimmes, a dish of mashed sweet potatoes and dried fruit.
Some fillings, like curry chicken salad or harissa-spiced cauliflower, aren’t connected to Jewish culinary tradition — the versatility of knishes was all the more reason to build a whole business around them, Graeme says. “I didn’t know how many people around here were going to know what a knish was,” he admits, “but I knew we had a community of curious eaters.”
BenReuben’s also offers family-style Friday dinners, plus pastries made from old family recipes, like Great-Aunt Pearl’s rugelach and Great-Grandma Fannie’s mandel bread. 145 Ocean St., South Portland. 207-808-8067.