Save the Deli

Schwartz’s Sold!

February 6th, 2012

Some days you wake up, turn on the computer, and the world has changed. 9/11, the Arab Spring, and now…this.

According to news reports out of Montreal, Schwartz’s has been sold. Reports the Huffington Post:

the transaction took place around Jan. 7, after which the now-former owner, businessman Hy Diamond, filed a request for dissolution of his business with the Registre des entreprises du Québec – the province’s business registry. The sale of the uber-popular deli was motivated by a desire simply to move on, sources told HuffPost Quebec.

It is reported, but unconfirmed that the new owner paid $10 million for the iconic temple of smoked meat, and that said owner could be none other than René Angélil, husband of Celine Dion, now the literal queen of schmaltz.

I think the term “holy shit” is appropriate in this situation.

This wouldn’t be Rene and Celine’s first venture into the deli business. When her career first took off in the 1990′s, she owned and expanded a chain of smoked meat focused diners called Nickels, known best for selling a second smoked meat sandwich for just a nickel, and putting smoked meat on every dish, like it were olive oil in an Italian restaurant. It was cheap, it was tacky, and the smoked meat was some over processed crap…basically Celine’s music, compressed into a sandwich.

I can only hope, and will pray for, a more preservationist streak with Schwartz’s in these hands. Time and time again I’ve seen investors scoop up beloved, traditional, golden Jewish delicatessens. Time and again they look at them, unleash their MBA trained children, with visions of multi-chain empires and expanded profit margins. Time and again those delis are diluted, sucked dry, and eventually destroyed.

Hy Diamond, the owner who just sold, was a great steward for Schwartz’s. He didn’t change a thing, except expanding the takeout section, recognizing that the value of Schwartz’s is it’s rarity. People line up there because it’s so small. They rave about it because it remains unchanged, undiluted, and true to its history. So to Rene, Celine, and the rest of the investors, I can only ask that they take a step back, and examine what they’ve bought. It’s not a gold mine, or a parking lot that can be built into condos. It’s not a burger chain, ready to be cut and pasted into every highway off ramp. It’s an institution, possibly the greatest Jewish delicatessen in the world, and if they fuck it up, the world will not forgive them.

The Deli Maven’s Cookbook

January 30th, 2012

Yes Yes, I know, it’s been too long. I never write, I never call, and here you are in Florida, alone…

Well, you shouldn’t have moved to Florida, what can I tell you.

I’ve come out of my semi-blog retirement to write about someone great today…one of you.

David W. Cowles has been an early and dedicated fan of Save the Deli, right from the get go. Way back in 2007, he was posting in the comments, sending me stories and recipes and photos, as he visited delis in the Seattle area, and smoked his own backyard pastrami. A deli lover born in LA, David Cowles now lives in Las Vegas, and he’s spent the past few years writing a Jewish delicatessen cookbook, which he has just published on

The book costs less than five bucks, and you can borrow it for free if you’re an Amazon Prime user, so really, there’s no excuse. It’s basically 1/3 the cost of a sandwich at Katz’s.

Mazel Tov to David. Hope you enjoy his recipes, stories, and adventures.

Marvin Saul: RIP an LA Deli Legend

December 15th, 2011

It always saddens me when a member of the Jewish deli passes, and today I feel it particularly strongly. Marvin Saul, the beloved owner of Junior’s Delicatessen, in Hollywood, CA, died last week.

Here’s from his obituary in the LA Times:

Marvin Saul was a uranium miner who had gone bust when he flipped a coin in the late 1950s to decide where to strike out next from Utah. Heads meant Los Angeles; tails Dallas.

Heads, and generations of future deli-goers on the Westside, won out.

With 35 cents in his pocket, Saul arrived in Los Angeles, did odd jobs and by 1957 had cobbled together $300 to open a small sandwich shop. Two years later, he established Junior’s, an eight-table delicatessen that grew “into a sort of IBM of the bagel and blintz world,” the Wall Street Journal reported in 1990.

At the time, Saul explained the restaurant’s success by saying, “I try to give people great food and a little schmaltz.”

Saul, who had continued to work three days a week at the Westwood eatery, died of a heart attack Dec. 8 at his home in Encino, said his son David. He was 82.

“He was really an incredible host. It’s a great big restaurant, but he’d treat it like his own dining room at home,” said filmmaker Mel Brooks, who has frequented Junior’s for decades. “He was so sweet and wonderful, albeit a little pushy on the soup. He’d always come to our table with a new soup, and we had to try it or we’d hurt his feelings.”

“Junior” was Saul’s childhood nickname, and he gave it to the restaurant he originally opened on Pico Boulevard. In 1967, he moved the deli several blocks to Westwood Boulevard near the 20th Century Fox studio, where it has long been considered a landmark — and a place to spot the occasional celebrity.

I met Marvin back in 2007, when I was out west, researching Save the Deli. He greeted me with open arms, proudly showing me around Junior’s, lifting the pot on every soup, and pulling up a ladle, to show me the flanken he’d made, or the navy beans he’d personally selected. He was a true host, a man who made his customers feel at home, whether they were old time deli hams like Mel Brooks (whom Marvin arranged an interview with, when I was there), or an unlikely figure like Mr. T, who met Saul when he came to film Rocky 3, and was treated like a son. “I always called him Father,” Mr. T told me a few years ago, out of respect and love.

Junior’s lives on with the Saul family, who have been running the place for several years, and in the hearts of his customers, who will never forget his smile, his firm handshake, and the first kibbitz of the day.

Alef Ha Sholem Marvin. We’ll miss you.

Herring and Deli Revival in DC (and apologies from me)

December 14th, 2011


It’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve written here. Scandalously, really. Hence the sad dog photo.

Two big reasons why:

1. I’ve been away the whole past month in South America. Yes, I had internet access, and yes I could have written something, but it was sunny, and lovely, and there was steak (Argentina), and beach (Brazil), and you can follow the conclusion from there.

2. I’ve become admittedly lazy about the blog. I’ve been writing this for close to five years, based around the research, writing, and promotion of the book, and since then, as my life has moved away from the book, I’ve moved away from the blog. That’s just me, but it doesn’t mean that the community built here is any less passionate. If you want daily updates, conversation, photos, and debate, head over to the Save the Deli facebook page, which is a 1400+ strong group of deli lovers who are keeping the flame alive. This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing here anymore, but I’ll certainly be doing it less than regularly.

Still…some things to discuss today.

First off, the always excellent Joan Nathan writes today about a bit of a herring revival in the Times.

“What used to be food for Jewish grandfathers, particularly on holidays like Hanukkah, which starts next Tuesday night, is showing up on the menus of restaurants both hip and elegant.

Herring with wasabi and yuzu kosho paste is one of the haute Jewish dishes at Kutsher’s Tribeca. Benoit and Brasserie Julien both serve French smoked herring with potatoes. A notable dish at the dearly departed M. Wells in Queens was smoked herring Caesar salad.”

Hells yes! Who doesn’t love herring (a few people, but really they haven’t had the good stuff).

Now, speaking of Mrs. Nathan, she’s consulted on a new deli that’s going to open in DC, which falls into the roots deli movement that’s slowly, sustainably, sweeping across the nation. From DC’s Washingtonian magazine:

Barry Koslow, who was the chef at Mendocino Grille and, more recently, at Tallula, is set to open DGS Delicatessen next summer, just south of Dupont Circle (1317 Connecticut Ave., NW) with his partners, Nick and David Wiseman of Roadside Food Projects. (The name DGS is meant to honor the District Grocery Stores cooperative—a band of Jewish-owned mom ’n’ pops—that thrived in the city at the turn of the 20th century.)

The trio—DC natives all—describes the forthcoming venture in terms that allow for a good bit of wiggle room, lest the culinarily orthodox (and the other kind, as well) accuse them of taking too many liberties.

“We want to evoke nostalgia for the classic delicatessen while bringing technique into the mix to elevate these dishes and take things to another level,” says Koslow.

Technique is a word almost synonymous with Koslow’s name. The classically trained chef worked in a French vein for many years, and his pistachio-studded rabbit pâté, a dish he reprised at Tallula after leaving Mendocino Grille, was among the glories of the area’s food scene.

At DGS, the corned beef and pastrami will be made on the premises, “brined for a week in aromatics and steamed properly,” Koslow says.

Good for DC. Washington may have problems beyond repair (like, the whole stewardship of the nation gambit), but at least it’s likely to get some great deli in the meanwhile.

I’ll be back for Channukah…I promise.

Opening Soon: London’s Deli West One

October 19th, 2011

If you happen to be in London in one week’s time, you’re well placed to catch the most exciting thing to happen to delicatessen in the UK in many years. That’s the day when Deli West One is set to open, ushering in the artesenal delicatessen movement to our brothers across the pond. Trafficking in Ashkenazi staples, like salt beef and smoked salmon, as well as newer interpretations (developed with former Mile End chef Aaron Israel), it’s a pretty bold and ambitious take on deli for a city that knows its deli well.

Check it out.

Shana Tova

September 27th, 2011

New Year’s is almost upon us folks. Many of you are heading out to the deli to stock up on tsimmes, brisket, or apple cake. Either way, here’s to the book of life, and you all getting in it this year!

Some close, Some Open, Some Are Reborn

September 7th, 2011

Hope everyone had a great summer. Here’s a few news items to kick off fall.

The New York Times reports today that Kutsher’s, the legendary Catskills resort, is opening a high end restaurant version of itself in tony Tribeca. Promising “hand-cut pastrami, and matzoh-crusted fried chicken, and a Romanian tenderloin cooked with prime skirt steak and served with a roasted garlic and wild mushroom knish,” along with gefilte fish, it could give Sammy’s Romanian steakhouse a run for its schmaltz. Here’s hoping they hire Freddy Roman as head tummeler.

As if this month wasn’t bad enough for Vermont, Burlington’s Sadie Katz deli has just closed. Oy.

And finally, I didn’t write about this a month back, out of sheer laziness, but Lorne Pancer is back in the deli business north of Toronto at Pancer’s Deli Emporium, up in Maple. Or Vaughan. Let’s just call it Yucchuputz and go for some corned beef. The original Moe Pancer’s Deli is still in business, so it’s basically a booming market for Pancers’.

The Second 2nd Ave Deli opens today

August 16th, 2011

Now here’s a reason to celebrate. Some five years after the original 2nd Ave Deli closed and four after it reopened on 33rd, the second version of the 2nd Ave Deli is opening today on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Don’t expect too much to be different about the UES 2nd Ave. Many long time staff will be manning the place, under the eyes of Josh and Jeremy and Jack Lebewohl. The chopped liver and heart attack sandwiches will all be there, but perhaps there’ll be more well off debutantes with facelifts in the crowd.

The Forward did a great interview with Jeremy yesterday. I think it’s worth reading:

Lucy Cohen Blatter: At the Upper East Side location, can we expect the same type of colorful characters we’ve gotten to know downtown?

Jeremy Lebewohl: Definitely a few. We’re training people now, and I try to explain to staff that it’s a very unique type of service that we offer. There’s fine dining and fast food. We don’t fall into either category. It’s not a slow-paced meal, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get top service — it just has to be appropriate for the deli. Of course, kibbitzing and jokes are allowed. It can be difficult to find the right personalities to match what we need.

Are there any menu items that will be unique to the UES location?

First off, there’s nothing we offer on 33rd Street that won’t be offered here. We have a few dishes that we’re thinking about introducing. One thing that’s new at both locations is a pastrami skirt steak. Also, I’m working on getting a gizzard stew on the menu. I love gizzards.

Do you ultimately hope to open more locations?

Right now, our immediate goal is to open this location and show New York that the 2nd Avenue Deli on 75th Street can provide the same quality food, and feeling as 33rd Street. Once we can do that, who knows what the future might hold? What makes us unique is the ambiance and the food. You can tell it’s a family business. It’s not a generic chain — it’s not McDonalds.

What do you think about all the new string of delis opening around the U.S.? Seems like deli is becoming kind of cool.

I don’t know, I always thought delis were pretty cool. The trends are now are less about calorie count, and more about the quality of the food. People are not so scared to eat something that’s high in fat as long as it’s good quality. They want to eat food with just a handful of ingredients, and that’s deli. You know what you’re eating, and a scientist didn’t manufacture it. That’s something that’s becoming more appealing to people.

Read more:

2nd Avenue Deli 1442 First Ave. (on the corner of 75th Street and 1st Ave)

Deli Birth in the Twin Cities

August 8th, 2011

Hi there. Don’t get too excited, I’m just coming up from my summer hibernation to spread some good news out of the Twin Cities deli front (courtesy of the well named Matt Saxe, check out his Fringe show).

A new deli is coming to the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area soon. It’s called Rye Delicatessen and Bar, and it’s slated to be open in October sometime by chef Tobie Nidetz and restaurateur David Weinstein. I don’t know much about it, but considering the area’s much loved Fishman’s Kosher Market and Deli closed this past winter, it’s a good sign for the economy of deli lovers, for sure.

Here’s some interviews with the owners. Fingers crossed on this one.

Restaurant team kvells over upcoming Rye Deli in Minneapolis

Welcome Rye

The Deal With Caplansky’s Food Trucks (Corey Mintz reports)

July 18th, 2011

Great story today in the Toronto Star about the future of Caplansky’s (and its transformation from its roots), centered on the soon to emerge food trucks. Written by none other than Fed maven Corey Mintz, an early Caplansky’s convert.

The thriving deli business of Zane Caplansky, who originally intended to sell his smoked meat from a street cart, has come full circle.

Three years ago, he applied to participate in the Toronto À La Carte program so he could sell his Montreal-style sandwiches on the street. Near broke, he couldn’t afford one of the City’s expensive carts, one of the many mandates that made the street food initiative a disaster.

“I had to make a choice,” he says. “Do I spend $30,000 on buying a cart, only having $5,000 to my name? Or do I go into the Monarch and do this for nothing?”

He rescinded his application. Starting with a Cookshack smoker that could hold eight briskets, operating out of a tiny kitchen at the Monarch Tavern where he paid $300 a month rent, he launched Caplansky’s Deli.

Three years later, that little business has grown into a proper, thriving restaurant, and he is refurbishing two food trucks for private events and lunch-hour service in downtown Toronto. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST