Each December, I look forward to enjoying one particular ethnic food served once a year at a local restaurant: latkes.  For the last seven years, Doug Kreinik has cooked latkes at the Crystal Café one Saturday around the holidays, which has become a much anticipated annual tradition in the community.  This year Kreinik, along with his sous-chef Jeremy Bungard, will make latkes at the Crystal restaurant on Market Street in downtown Parkersburg on Saturday, December 16th between 9-11am.  I recently interviewed Mr. Kreinik about the event and these popular holiday Jewish treats.

Beth: How did this tradition start at the Crystal Cafe?

Doug: Latke Saturday began after I heard that Jennifer, one of the owners of the Crystal Café, was trying to make latkes from a mix.  I volunteered to come to the restaurant and teach her how to make latkes from scratch.  The first few years I used frying pans full of hot oil, but I have now graduated to the deep fryer.  The fryers are faster and a lot more fun to use.

What are latkes, and what’s the secret to making good ones?   

A latke (pronounced Lot-key or Lot-Kah) is a potato pancake.  It is made of potato and onion shredded in a food processor.   Before adding the other ingredients, it is important to place the mixture in cheese cloth and wring out all of the liquid into a bowl in order to collect the potato starch.  After the liquid settles out, the liquid is poured off as waste.  The solid potato starch is then scooped out and mixed into the potato onion mixture with eggs, matzah meal, salt and pepper.  This is the secret for better than average latkes.  Next, the mixture is shaped and dropped into a hot fryer until crispy.  Finally, the latkes are drained.  Latkes are often eaten with sour cream, applesauce, cinnamon, or other condiments but never ketchup!  That would be a sin!

Why are latkes especially eaten around Hanukkah?

It’s a Jewish tradition to eat greasy foods during Hanukkah in recognition of the oil left after the destruction to the second Temple in Jerusalem.  The oil was supposedly only enough to keep the sanctuary lamp lit for one day but tradition says, the lamp stayed lit for eight days.  Thus, we have the eight days of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights.

Are your latkes made from a special recipe?

The latke recipe I use was handed down to me by my mother who learned it from her mother’s mother.  It is an ancient recipe.  I will remind you though that the potato was brought to the new world by the Spanish from the New World.  The original latkes were made from various root vegetables such as carrots, rutabagas, or turnips.

What has been the reception from the community for Latke Saturday?

It has now become a yearly tradition.  People who have enjoyed them in the past have actually stopped me on the street to ask when Latke Saturday will take place.  We’ve filled every seat the last few years multiple times.  It has become a fun downtown PKB secret holiday event.

What’s different about this year’s proceeds?

This year a portion of the profits from each latke sold will go to a charity created to educate people on drug addiction, suicide prevention and, most importantly, grief counseling.  This fund, the Charles Kreinik Fund, is managed through the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation.  It was established by my wife Myla and me after our son’s passing to help survivors who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Is there anything else you would like the community to know about this event?

Latke Saturday is a unique opportunity to try something new.  Latkes are fun to eat especially when they are fresh and crispy.  They are addictive, but a good addiction.  That first crunch of oniony potato flavor will get you hooked and give you great memories.  It’s best to come earlier because seats fill up quickly.  Take outs are also available and a great option.  Come and join your friends for this other Taste of Parkersburg.