Save the Deli

Knishes in the Gravy Belt: two deli men in middle America

Boulder, Colorado

When I pulled into Denver a few nights ago I felt blessed. The drive from Kansas City had been a brutal 9 hour ordeal through the centre of the United States. At first it drizzled, and then poured sheets of rain. I passed time listening to right wing talk radio “…the homosexual agenda in the public schools wants to expose our children to…”, counted the anti-abortion bilboards, and weighed them against the equally numbered sex shop bilboards. By the time I was halfway the freezing rain kicked in, which soon turned to slush, which then turned to snow, and then just mixed back and forth. Accidents were everywhere, the road was a skating rink, but I finally arrived in Denver with my car encased in a cocoon of ice. Amen.

During those days between Chicago and here I met two deli men who operate in areas where owning a Jewish delicatessen is a lonely business. Middle America is the gravy belt. Aside from some outstanding Bar-B-Q it is the home of white bread, white folks, and spiceless meat. Hardly a place where deli can thrive. And yet….

Protzel’s Delicatessen – St. Louis, Missouri

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In the chic suburb of Clayton lies the finest deli in the city of rivers, arches, and Blues. Protzel’s is less a restaurant than a chaotic store, with a small counter and tables tossed in among the boxes and shelves of packaged foods. In business for nearly half a century, and now on it’s third generation of Protzel ownership, the place exudes old school, beaten up, unpolished charm. 27 year old Max has recently taken over from his father, Alan, who once took over from his father Bob. Alan still hangs around, and being the big, gregarious guy he is, his presence never goes unnoticed.

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It’s a neighborhood place, where familiar faces drop in to shoot the shit, grab some lox and bagels for brunch, or have a reuben with their terrific corned beef (which they cure themselves with a very secret recipee). It’s a family affair, and when I was there old men were calling Alan names, while kids still in their hockey gear (with pads) came in for a post game meal with their parents of hot dogs and half sandwiches.

The food’s great, especially the corned beef, which is always served cold (“St. Louis is a cold corned beef town”, said Alan). They sell about 600 pounds of it a week, and considering that the average sandwich holds five to six ounces, that’s a boatload of briskets.

They also sell an outstanding cool and creamy chopped liver, wonderful roast turkey, and a nice deep red tongue.
Their sweet coleslaw needs to be tried…it really whacks the mouth with a bomb of acid and sugars in the right mix.
Alan says their potato salad is a huge hit though “I don’t have the faintest clue why”.

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Other delis have come and gone in St. Louis over the years, and there’s even one five blocks away called Posh Nosh, but I checked it out and it is pretty much a solidly goyish operation…very little of the love and homey feel that Protzel’s exudes.

Protzel’s Delicatessen
7608 Wydown Blvd
St Louis, MO 63105
(314) 721-4445

New York Bakery and Delicatessen – Kansas City, Missouri

I’d found New York Bakery and Delicatessen via google search, but when I asked people in other cities about it they either shrugged or said it wasn’t a real deli. I expected some suburbanized wannabe bagel store where the bagels tasted of doughnuts…once again I was more than pleasantly surprised.

New York Bakery and Delicatessen happens to be the oldest such establishment in Kansas City, having opened in 1905. This makes it one of the oldest in the Midwest, and puts it up there amongst the oldest delicatessens worldwide (younger than Katz’s…tied with Shapiro’s). Yet, due to its location in the dead centre of America, with a very small Jewish population, it has remained unknown and relatively forgotten.

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Jim Holzmark has been running the place for years, after the previous owner got nabbed for art theft. The mainstay of the business is the bakery, which supplies Jewish breads, cakes, and pastry to the region. They make a cakey bagel (more like round challah), outsanding cinamon raisin bread, splendid ryes, gorgeous challah, but the kicker isn’t baked goods or pickled and steamed deli meats…it’s the smoked brisket.

Kansas City is a Bar-B-Q town, where the soul food of the Black community is synonymous with mesquite, slow cooking, and well spiced rubs on fatty cuts of meat.

Deli is all about slow cooking fatty cuts of meat rubbed with spicy rubs…and so the connection was made by a man named Sonny Taborn, an African-American baker and fan of the grill “Yep, I done some Bar-B-Q in my day”. The briskets are smoked in a small metal box, and the vapor rises through a greasy pipe into the ceiling (it used to just go into the air, infusing everything in the bakery with the heavenly smell of this concoction).

The result…a smoky, meaty, taste of KC heaven which fuses the best elements of the two cultures into one heavenly product. This is a prime example of what to do right when tinkering or experimenting with Jewish delicatessen fare. Dressing it up with chipotle oil and fancy focaccia only dulls the product, distracting from the taste of the pure meat. But creations like Sonny’s smoked brisket are the real deal: authentically Jewish with the help of another food culture’s best. Bless you Sonny, Jim, and New York Bakery and Delicatessen. May you see another century and more of good eats in Kansas City.

7016 Troost Ave
Kansas City, MO 64131
(816) 523-0432

24 Responses to “Knishes in the Gravy Belt: two deli men in middle America”

  1. Barbara Holzmark Says:

    I am Jim’s wife and loved your article about our Bakery and Deli! The only missing part is our “awesome reuben” which we have been making since before we bought the deli in 1981. Ask anyone where to get an “awesome reuben” and they will always say at the New York Bakery and Delicatessen in Kansas City!

    “New York Bakery & Delicatessen”
    “A Tradition in Kansas City since 1905″

    “The Home of the Awesome Reuben”

    Remember: We import our Corned Beef in brine from Chicago and cook it fresh daily, just in time for lunch!

  2. Lisa Whalen Says:

    I live in Iowa, with a tiny Jewish population and zero delis! Whenever we are in Kansas City, we always go to the New York Bakery & Deli to get our favorite corned beef brisket on rye! It is the absolute best sandwich you’ve ever had! It is stacked high with warm corned beef on delicious rye, mmmm! We can’t get anything close here in Iowa. I always bring a cooler so that I can take home a couple of extra pounds of the greatest corned beef in the world and a few loaves of that fantastic marble rye bread.

  3. Caryn Hastings Says:

    The New York Bakery & Deli has the absolute BEST and Awesome Reuben you have ever put into your mouth. I remember back in my youth having a fantastic one at Woofies in Miami Beach, but these are THE BEST I have ever had.

  4. Bob Hill Says:

    Having lived in KC since 1986 and visited NY, the west coast and numerous “Deli’s”, I have to say that New York Bakery and Delicatessen has to be one of the best palces I have ever visited. It stands up to Kat’s as being my favorite Delicatessen…never a Deli, I can find one of those in a gas station. A true Delicatessen is a great find and if you are in the midwest, you cannot do better than New Your Bakery and Delicatessen. If you are from either coast and are homesick for the flavor, get over to New Your Bakery and Delicatessen and get your fix, you won’t be disapointed.

  5. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » Deli Man! Says:

    [...] found this comic pinned up in Protzel’s Deli in Clayton, MO. If anyone finds any other comics or cartoons, please send them [...]

  6. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » NY Bakery and Delicatessen in Kansas City is Closed Says:

    [...] You may recall that when I was traveling across the US two years ago, at the very start of this blog, I visited the New York Bakery and Delicatessen in Kansas City, MO. [...]

  7. Joel Says:

    May wish to post a review/shout out to Irving’s Delicatessen in Livingston, NJ. Great pastrami, desserts and atmosphere but owner gives impression that they may go under if business does not pickup given the recession.

  8. Judy H Says:

    PLEASE HELP me find a recipe for the Jewish nut bread they sold at the NY Jwish bakery and deli in KC so sad they closed it was the first on my list when I came back to visit in KC what a loss. I used to get it in Raytown at the Triftway store.

  9. Jennifer-N-KC Says:

    Please, someone open up a Jewish Deli again!! We have nothing here since NY Deli closed. The company I work for (Certified Safety Mfg.) would have it brought in all the time. I can’t believe we had only (1) Jewish Deli here in Kansas City. If I had the money I would open up a Jewish Deli, even if I’m not Jewish. COME ON PEOPLE IN KC!!!!!

  10. Sammie Kisiel Says:

    A roommate recommended me to check out this post, nice post, interesting read… keep up the nice work!

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    These kind of post are always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content so I happy to find many good point here in the post, writing is simply great, thank you for the post.

  12. lois yampolsky Says:

    I tried calling and they said the number was disconnected. Are you still opened? If you are, do you make knishes. I am coming to visit my son and daughter-in-law in a couple of weeks and would love to stop by and eat a good sandwich.

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  17. Debbie Says:

    I went to the NEW YORK DELI when I was little, and it was truly the reason why we went to Kansas City. I’ll never forget the bagels or the smoked white fish! I miss you, New York Deli!

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