Save the Deli

The First Nosh of Many…

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Ann Arbor, Michigan – Day 3 of USA road trip
The First Nosh of Many…

Welcome to Save the Deli, a space dedicated to the preservation of the finest salted, cured, fatty Jewish treats to grace the world’s tongues.

photo by Christopher Farber

I write with an urgency in my first post, because we are living in desperate times. The Jewish delicatessen, that treasured temple of scuffed formica, sawdust floors, and nose ticking garlic aroma, is dying. Where once Jewish delis numbered in the thousands, today there are scarcely a hundred scattered around the Diaspora. Just look to New York, the once teeming capital of deli. Barely a dozen remain in Manhattan. A handful in Brooklyn. A mere pair in the Bronx.

From Paris to Montreal, Chicago to Antwerp, London to Miami…the deli is dying. Recent casualties have included Ben’s in Montreal, the 2nd Ave Deli in New York’s East Village, and soon Rascal House in Miami Beach. Restaurants which were anchors of stability in cities have been uprooted and expelled, paved over by the bulldozer of history. They have been felled by increased rent, slim margins, a health conscious (and slightly maniacal) eating culture, and assimilation. Delis now serve sushi and spring rolls, while items like rolled beef, braised ribs, and schmaltz herring have fled from menus.

At the current rate, the Jewish deli as an institution is facing the very real possibility of extinction. In ten, twenty, or fifty years, how many delis will your city have? Where do you think you’ll go for a pastrami sandwich, a bowl of matzo ball soup, and a few full sour kosher dills? Friday’s? Sizzler? Wal-Mart? Forget it.

And so, the arduous march begins…a grassroots campaign of love and preservation with the aim of saving the Jewish delicatessen from extinction.

This is a site for all deli lovers, whether those who are born Jewish or those who discovered their Semitic leanings the first time their tongue was blessed with the feeling of tangy mustard meeting a pile of glistening corned beef on soft rye. Here is a place where flunken fanatics can kibbitz with lox lunatics, where devoted fans of New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen can compare, contrast, and argue with followers of LA’s Langer’s, or Montreal’s Schwartz’s. It will be a community of like minded fressers, craving those flavors so sacred and salty, that the mere mention of the word knish tugs at the heartstrings.

Over the coming weeks, months, and years, this site will touch upon all aspects of Jewish delicatessens, delving into everything from listings of chopped liver temples to poems over pastrami. There will be essays on deli culture, a growing database of Jewish delis around the world, podcasts, video, photos, and even Save the Deli merchandise to buy (wholesale price…of course).

So stay tuned, tell a friend, and above all else…go eat some deli.

David Sax

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