Royal Palms Shuffleboard is quiet and immaculately clean on a recent weekday afternoon.
When I walk in, an employee is whirring around the place on a scooter. After spotting me on the other side of the popular Gowanus shuffleboard club and bar — which is celebrating its third anniversary — he leads me over to a table where co-owner Ashley Albert has spread out some of her newest goodies for a taste test.
Almost exactly a year ago, Albert and I spoke about the launch of The Matzo Project — a partnership she created with Kevin Rodriguez, her long-time friend who she met back during their Jewish summer camp days in North Carolina.
5776 Was A Good Year
The duo began testing out their unleavened product back in 5775 (ok, late 2015 if you don’t follow the Jewish calendar) to ready it for Passover last year.
So how’d it go in 5776? In brief, finding the afikomen at the Passover Seder was … surprisingly delicious. Their matzo — and other matzo creations — were a hit. And if you didn’t dig into a pint of the “Land of Milk and Honey” — The Matzo Project-Ample Hills Creamery ice cream collaboration — you’re lucky that you’ll be able to have some this Passover when they release it once again during this fine year 5777 (2017). “We’re dropping off our batch at Ample Hills soon,” says Albert.
Not being ones to rest on their unleavened laurels, Albert and Rodriguez have a lot of new surprises for this Passover. In 5777, The Matzo Project has been about perfecting their already tasty matzo, and offering up some new items.
Secret Kosher Kitchen
After their successful Pesach last year, The Matzo Project became quite a hit after they held court at last summer’s Fancy Food Show. “We started getting orders from all over the country,” Albert says.
And with more orders came the need to produce more matzo. “We baked our first recipe in an oven at home. But we knew it was time to ramp up,” she adds.
In order to do so, they had to find a place with a large kosher kitchen. They finally discovered the right place in Brooklyn, however, Albert says that their headquarters are under wraps. “We’re not supposed to say,” she says. “They guard these places with a lot of secrecy.”
Finding the right space wasn’t their only endeavor. “We did a zillion trials. We had our salter shipped across the country.” The trial and error took them so much time because they didn’t want to use a convection oven. “Those ovens even out the matzo a little too much. It comes out too smooth,” Albert explains. “We wanted it more crackly.”
Albert sent me home with a box of their new recipe. Let’s just say that their salter works like a gem, and the matzo texture is indeed crackly delicious. “Kevin cried when he realized it was going to work,” Albert says.
This year, The Matzoh Project has released a series of other items, including a matzo ball soup kit, matzo ball mix, and matzo chips.
The team wanted to make a matzo ball mix that reminded them of the old school mixes they remember from childhood while keeping it all natural and vegan. “I wanted it to still look like that ‘boily’ yellow soup, but without the MSG.”
Albert shows the new packaging. “It’s hard to make a matzo ball look nice,” she says.
Matzo Chips (Not Snakes) On A Plane!
And then there are the chips, which come in plain, everything, and cinnamon sugared. What became of the samples I took home? Let’s just say they didn’t last too long.
On a recent plane flight, the matzo chips became a rather hot commodity. After striking up a conversation with a passenger sitting next to her, Albert gave a few samples to the woman and her children.
“I didn’t expect to see the kids fighting over the chips,” she says. The kids left with plans to buy more as soon as they could.
Albert often catches employees at Royal Palms snacking on the matzo chips she keeps at the club. “My staff makes me feel good,” she says. “It’s interesting to see what people do with them without indication.” Folks eat them on their own or with dips.
Apparently, Oprah agrees; The Matzo Project is set to be featured as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things.
How Sweet It Is
Soon enough, Ample Hills Creamery will be rolling out their “Land of Milk and Honey” flavor — a collaboration with The Matzo Project they tried out last year. The flavor is a salt honey iced cream with pieces of cinnamon bun buttercrunch matzo. The two Ample Hill stores will be carrying it — however, supplies will be limited.
When we spoke with Ample Hills co-owner Jackie Cuscuna last year, she explained that working with her Royal Palms next door neighbor on the project was an easy decision.
“Ashley said to me, ‘What do you think of this?’ and I said ‘Yeah!’,” Cuscuna said.
And yes, you may just fall on your tush when you taste it. (I did last year.)
You can also expect a chocolate-dipped matzo, which will be a collaboration between The Matzo Project and a well-established chocolatier in Brooklyn. Albert wouldn’t tell us who. “It’s a trade secret,” she said with a smile.
Expect some other sweet mashups, which are coming soon.
Matzo isn’t the only project on Albert’s mind and Seder plate.
She and her Royal Palms partner Jonathan Schnapp plan to open their second shuffleboard club later this year. Albert has been traveling back and forth to Chicago, aiming to be in business by holiday time in the Wicker Park / Bucktown section of the city. “It’s an amazing area,” she says. “We’re surrounded by great neighbors that we hope will be part of our league.”
Albert continues to improve her own shuffleboard moves. She’s currently ranked the 42nd best female shuffleboard player in the world. She heads to the 36th World Championship in July, which will take place in Brazil.
And if that isn’t enough, she’ll continue her voiceover work on Nella, The Princess Knight, a new Nick Jr. show.
However, it’s Passover season, and Albert and Rodriguez have their eyes on the oven. “We’ve worked so hard to make it into stores,” she says. And to great success. You can find Matzo Project products locally at Eataly, Shelsky’s, Green Grape, Murray’s Cheese — and all over the country. “We’re even in Wyoming,” she says.
How’s that for an unleavened fantasy?
You can find a store directory and order online at The Matzo Project website. For those observing Passover: Keep in mind that the matzo is super delicious and Kosher, but not Kosher for Passover.