Charlotte, North Carolina
It’s been a while since my last area roundup, due partly to the fact that I have driven across the entire country in a week, and largely to the fact that the following week I spent by the beach in Florida. So sue me.
Now I’m in for my final night in the south, before heading north to DC and then back home to Toronto in time for pesach. It’s been a hell of a trip, but at this point I can barely keep my eyes open.
This dispatch covers what I found once I left Las Vegas and before I arrived in Miami. As the crow flies that is about 2500 miles, though I took the longer route, which had me driving most days for about 5-10 hours at a time.
There aren’t a lot of delicatessens along the southern US border, packed as it is with sagebrush, vast tracts of inhospitable desert, drug smugglers and illegal aliens. But in the enclaves of Phoenix, Austin, Houston, and New Orleans there was haymish tastes to be found.
1. Goldman’s Best – Scottsdale, Arizona
6929 N Hayden Rd Ste C2
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
Remember way back when I wrote about Herb Fingerhut, Bette Dworkin and the great folks at Kaufman’s Deli and Bakery outside of Chicago? That was well over a month ago and about 60 degrees colder. Goldman’s is what happens when two of the top staff from that deli flee the frigid shores of Lake Michigan for the sweltering sun of the Arizona desert, taking their kids along and opening a genuine outpost of Chitown deli goodness in the sunbelt.
When I stopped in the Goldman parents were out, but children Sam and Anat (who is one of the cutest deli owners you could meet) were running the packed house with gusto and charm. Fox News blares as loud as the opinions as suntanned yids in golf gear line up for piping hot bowls of soup that they’ll eat in the sweltering sun. Only Jews…I know.
Didn’t have any sandwiches (it was breakfast time), but their cooking is what they claim sets them apart. Wonderful freshly baked potato knishes were dense and almost creamy inside with a beautiful golden crust. Their mushroom/barley soup (I know…soup in the desert) was thick, rich, and amazingly satisfying. The kicker was the cheese blintz though…light as anything, super thin, and quite eggy…almost like a french crepe.
2. Katz’s Deli and Bar, Austin, Texas
?618 W. 6th Street?Austin, TX 78701
It’s 1:30 am in Austin and the South by Southwest music festival is kicking off. You’ve somehow managed to find a party where the Crown Royal is flowing gratis, and are now stumbling around downtown Austin looking for a bowl of matzo ball soup to quench the hunger within while keeping the libations flowing.
Katz’s Deli and Bar “Never Kloses”, because owner Marc Katz, an imposing figure with a barrel chest, huge hands, a shiny top, and the type of laugh that both scares you and makes you chuckle demands it. Going strong since the late 1970′s, this bastion of New York deli culture has been feeding everyone from Austin hipsters to Kinky Friedman to Jew-hating rednecks 24 hours a day.
There’s something magical about delis late at night…when the bar crowd seeks comfort and the normally casual and joke laden atmosphere gets amped up six notches. I ended up sharing a table with a couple from Seattle, and we dined on deep fried pickles (a unique, greasy, oh so Texan take on Jewish food), salami and egg burritos (heaven), and some Dr. Brown’s.
The next morning I stumbled in to interview Katz himself, holding court over the bar regulars like Sam Malone, and kibbitzing with clients with an energy and volume I’ve yet to see match. One second he’d be berating a fellow New Yorker about Cel-Ray, the next he’d be sweet talking a five year old girl…all punctuated by that dizzying belly chuckle. He insisted I try his potroast sandwich (not traditional deli, but tasty nonetheless) and his Cheesecake Shake.
This is what it sounds like: a milkshake with a slice of cheesecake tossed in the blender. Katz calls it a “heart attack in a glass”, his waiter called it “diabetes”. Either way it was so decadently thick that I sucked out my molars trying to coax it from the straw. Then I passed out in the car. Killer.
Have a look at Katz’s in the video below which also includes the next deli. That brisket is Texas BBQ style at the Houston Rodeo. Jews aren’t the only brisket fans out there…
3. Kenny and Ziggy’s, Houston, Texas
2327 Post Oak @ Westheimer
Houston, TX 77056
If you were to tell me weeks ago that one of the best delicatessens I would visit in the country would be in an upscale Houston stripmall, I’d simply call you meshuggeneh and leave it at that. But now I can’t! Because I’ve seen it with my own eyes and feasted upon it with my own tongue.
Ziggy Gruber was described to me by Sy Ginsberg as “As old school a deli man as you’ll find even though he’s a young guy.” Ziggy is not even 40 but he wields Yiddish, shtick and haymish food as though he just arrived in steerage class from a shtetl in Galicia. With a cherub face and sweet New York accent he begs you to try “a gehakte chopped liver” or “a bissel of kugel” all of which, like almost everything he serves, is made in the store.
I’m talking corned beef pickled on the premesis, which is tender, juicy, and simply mouth melting. I’m talking about big flat vegetable latkes which burst with flavor, crispy blintzes that could be doughnuts they are so good, a whopping cabbage roll that is filled with meat so fresh and juicy, yet light, I thought it was veal. The matzo ball soup is teeming with flavor and fresh chicken, the egg barley and kasha varnishkes are cooked to pure perfection, so that no kernel sticks to another, the chopped liver is a sublime blend of chunky, sweet, dense and smooth, and the nova is sliced the length of the fish and so thin you can actually see through it.
Top marks go for the noodle kugel. I thought I’d tasted them all until Ziggy put forth a big square that resembled no other kugel I’d seen. It was twice the size of a normal kugel, but when i bit in the only word that came to mind was “souflee”. This is the airiest kugel I’ve ever tasted, a wonderful mixture of soft egg noodles and whipped eggs which delicately dances in the mouth through a million little bubbles of happiness.
Here is a delicatessen of the highest order, where quality is the defining factor above all else. Forget comparisons saying “Great for Texas” or “Great for the South”, this is one of the best in the country and I implore any of you who might be in Houston for any manner of Rodeo, Tycoon convention, or otherwise to pay Mr. Ziggy Gruber a visit. Priceless.
4. Kosher Cajun New York Deli & Grocery
Kosher Cajun New York Deli & Grocery?3519 Severn Avenue ?Metairie, LA 70002
Natalie and Joel Brown’s deli is more than just a restaurant…it is the Kosher food supply for thousands living in and around the Gulf Coast. When the waters of hurricane Katrina destroyed the store a year and a half ago, Joel commuted for months from Memphis to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible. It is a testament to the spirit of these people that their devotion to the community overrode any temptation to just pack up and leave town.
The city is still a wreck in most places. I saw whole neighborhoods that looked as though they’d been stamped upon by the foot of mother nature herself. Don’t underestimate what you’ve heard…TV and photos cannot do the damage justice. It is simply appauling.
Today Kosher Cajun stands strong, serving the only deli in the city that is rebuilding, whether to local Jewish residents who have returned, FEMA officials, police, or volunteer groups from Hillel who come down to help New Orleans. Joel is a sweet man with a great Gulf drawl, and even though his family continues through difficult times, the spirit and faith in his people and store are steadfast.
Now the place is expanding and business is better than ever. The sandwiches (all the food is glatt kosher) are great, and the Rachel I tried (pastrami, coleslaw and russian dressing on rye) was tender, well trimmed and capped with a sweet aftertaste. Joel also does some kosher Cajun dishes (as the name suggests) including heavenly sweet potato chips and chicken sausage jambalaya.
If only someone would mix Creole with Yiddish…