Save the Deli

Save the Rascal House!

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Save A Deli Now.


An urgent call to the Save the Deli faithful. The time has come to put down your sandwich and take up action! A treasured deli is on its last legs, and our support is needed to save it. I am talking about the Rascal House of Sunny Isles, Florida…a southern migratory pilgrimage for any wintering deli devotee.


Many of you were brought there by bubbies, zaidies or parents, though some could have gone as grownups. My family was never one for Florida, I went when I was six and then just last month. But I never forgot the place, with its towering baskets of danish, worn rec room wood panelling, and devilish little rascals scattered throughout. Nowhere in Florida equals this place, though sadly the writing is on the wall.


A few years ago Rascal House was sold to Jerry’s Famous Deli, a chain in California that began in Beverly Hills. Jerry’s owner, Ike Starkman, and his son Jason, also purchased several other delicatessens in Florida and California, though Rascal House was the meat in the knish. After a failed attempt to open a second location in Boca Raton, Jerry’s concentrated on its other businesses, including the massive Jerry’s Famous Deli in South Beach, Miami, and the gourmet shop Epicure.

In December the word was out that Rascal House will be torn down to make way for (you know it’s coming…) condos. Sunny Isles is rife with massive condo towers stretching as far as the eye can see. They are huge, extravagant, and generally hideous. The place looks like Dubai. Once the bulldozers tear through the deli counters and rubble strewn little rascals, a fifteen story building will go in its place, to have a Jerry’s Famous Deli and Epicure downstairs.


A Shonda! That’s what this is! A complete and utter shame. Rascal House is the last of its kind in Florida. Most other delis there are bagel shops. And while the management has let the place slide considerably (the bread baskets aren’t as overflowing, the breakfast danish has been cut back, the soup is watered down…) it is not impossible to salvage. A little love and kitchen talent and the Rascal House could get back on top. Sadly, I think this isn’t in the interest of Jerry’s, who have slowly choked it to death. The lineups that once snaked around the block are long gone. Even though it won’t close for a year or so, the death will be neither swift, nor painless.

But all is not lost. We can try to save the Rascal House from destruction. Here’s why:
-the name carries weight and history, far more than Jerry’s does. If the condos go up (which is a legitimate and understandable business deal on the part of Mr. Starkman), why not rebuild the rascal house, booth by booth, downstairs, instead of Jerry’s?
-the Miami condo market is emitting very loud popping sounds, and overdevelopment looks to be leading towards a down-cycle. Perhaps Mr. Starkman can hold off on the project until the market is certain, while reworking a model for how the Rascal House and their development can survive and coexist.

Below is a petition demanding these things. Sign it. Send it. Pass it to every corned beef loving deli fiend you know. We aren’t beat yet. May we all meet in ten years for some danish, coffee, and salami n’ eggs at the Rascal House!


NY this Sunday: The Battle of the Briskets

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

My friend Gail Simmons (the beautiful judge from Top Chef), sent me this announcement for a brisket competition she’s judging this Sunday in New York. Finally, a $100 a plate Jewish fundraiser and the food will actually be worth the money. If you’re in New York and want to support a cool shul, I suggest you pony up and put your brisket eating pants on.



A Beefy Banquet to Benefit The New Shul
Sunday, April 22nd.

Who makes the best brisket?
Your bubbe?
Your Aunt Gussie?
Maybe not!
Join The New Shul community for an evening of brisket, brisket, and more
brisket (there’ll be side dishes too!) skillfully prepared by some of our
finest brisket-meisters. Your votes, along with a panel of surprise
celebrity judges, will decide who’ll take home the coveted
Golden Schmaltz Award.

The briskets will be judged by three amazing guest judges:
Gail Simmons, Top Chef Extraordinaire
Joel Siegel, ABC News
Ed Levine,

Bring friends, an appetite and wear pants with an elastic waistband.

Space is limited. Send in your reservations by Wednesday, April 18th, and
invite your friends!

Sunday, April 22nd
Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 519 Hudson Street
$100 Tax-deductible Donation for Admission.
All proceeds go to benefit The New Shul
Send your check to The New Shul, 111 8th Avenue, 11th Floor, NYC 10011

The New Shul

Save the Deli in Toronto Life

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Many thanks to my part-time boss and full time hoss, Chris Nuttall-Smith, who wrote some very kind words about the site and Pancer’s deli today in his blog at

“Iíve always thought of deli cooking as winter food. Peppery, extra-fatty pastrami, heavy dark rye bread, vinegary cabbage, kosher pickles and cherry cola strike me more as things to eat in Januaryónot April. Maybe itís that lately it feels like January, but as I was reading Toronto Life contributor David Saxís blog, Save the Deli, this morning, I found myself fighting the urge to head north to Moe Pancerís Deli.

Though Torontoís got no shortage of ďinstitutions,Ē Pancerís is one of a dying breed: a true Jewish deli thatís still thriving. Sax says Pancerís is a great place, up there with the best Jewish delis in North America. And if anybody knows, he does. He just returned from a two-month, 16,000-kilometre continental odyssey to research the state of North Americaís Jewish delicatessens, for a book heís sold to McClelland & Stewart. (Itís due out in fall 2008.) He went to New York, of course, even working behind the counter cutting meat for a spell at Katzís, the iconic Lower East Side room. In L.A., he spoke with Mel Brooks about the director-comedianís favourite place (which also happens to be Mr. Tís favourite Sax told meóheís working on lining up an interview). He ate a bit of great deli food and a lot that was good. In between, along a deli-less stretch of interstate in Richmond, Virginia, Sax says he also ate a salad that came covered in chicken strips. Heís trying to persuade meóunsuccessfully so faróthat this is a gastronomic innovation worthy of serious attention. Returning to Toronto, he was happy to see that Pancerís held its own against the best. And the worst deli he found on his whole trip? As he writes on Save the Deli, it was one just four blocks from his home.”

Thanks Chris, you’re a true mensch.


Happy 50th Moe Pancer’s

Sunday, April 15th, 2007


All this week Moe Pancer’s celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of Toronto’s most cherished delicatessens. A portion of all proceeds throughout the week will go to Sick Kids, plus there will be specials, baloons, and lots of mazel to go around.

In my lifetime as a Toronto deli eater, I got into Moe Pancer’s relatively late. My brother Daniel brought me there for the first time a few years ago, in the original location (just two blocks north of where it is now). Plastered with yellowing articles, photos, and memorabilia, it exudes the old time deli feel more than any other Toronto deli. It also smells…well reeks…of deli. The heavenly aroma of pickled meats blasts you as you walk into the door, leaving you anticipating until the moment that spicy pastrami sandwich lands in front of you. Daniel always goes for the salami, though I think their pastrami is by far the best in the city, and the corned beef is cooked in house.

These days I hit up Pancer’s with regularity whenever I’m back home. Lorne Pancer, the grandson of late founder Moe, and son of late owner Stan, is a deli man to the core and a hell of a mensch. My first interview for the book was with Lorne, and he and counterman Wilf were also the first to take me behind the counter and let me try my hand slicing briskets on the machine and smoked meat with a knife. Lorne’s an old fashioned guy, friends with the cops, firemen, and all manner of local characters…whom he regularly shtoops some karnatzel or a few extra pickles. In his books, everyone is “Bud” or “Sweetie” or “Da Boys”, and all are greeted with warmth and a big smile.


Daniel had the tremendous honour of Lorne’s confusion for a few years, because he supposedly looks exactly like one of Pancer’s nephews. “Hey Daniel! How’s your father?” Lorne would ask, refusing to let him pay the bill. Daniel protested but then just shut up and ate himself deeper into sin. Only when he came in with my mother did Pancer realize his mistake, though Dan figures he must have had a dozen free meals there until the ruse was up.

Fifty is no small feat for a deli these days, and Pancer’s is among the longest continuosly family owned delicatessens in Canada. I’ll be stopping by on monday for congrats and a sandwich, and I suggest all Toronto Save the Deli fans do the same sometime this week. Give Lorne, Wilf, and Lori big hugs, get a spicy pastrami combo with a Vernors, and soak in one of Canada’s best delis.

Moe Pancer’s
“World Famous Pastrami”
3856 Bathurst St.
Downsview, Ont


The worst deli I’ve had is four blocks away.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Pesach ended on Monday for my reform self, and as we sat contemplating where to break it, my roomate confessed to me that he’d never eaten at a Jewish delicatessen in his life. He’s Jewish, but not from a deli family, and so the sheer urgency of the mission had me frantically calling my Toronto favorites. I rang Yitz’s, Pancer’s and Centre Street, but all were closed (observing the full 8 days of passover).

“I suppose we could try Mel’s,” I said, very hesitantly. Mel’s Montreal Diner is a 24 hour restaurant in my neighborhood of the Annex, which claims to serve authentic Montreal style deli. I’ve eaten there a few times, though never deli food (always a club or breakfast). Mel’s also happens to be four blocks from my apartment, so between that and the lack of other options Adam and I set out.

Over the years I had read reviews of Mel’s claiming it as “The Real Deal”, or “Authentic Montreal Deli”, but I always remained skeptical. With its yellow walls and shoddy frescoes it never struck me as anything near haymish. In fact, it reminded me more of Greek diners in Montreal, where you could get anything with smoked meat on it (smoked meat pizza or smoked meat poutine). Plus, there were Chowhound posts claiming it was fantastic. Some even put it in the same league as the big Toronto three.

Tuqueboy wrote:
“i’d agree with the centre street deli, but i’d also cast a vote for the smoked meat at mel’s on bloor near spadina. it’s the original dunn’s recipe from montreal (in fact i’m pretty sure they get it shipped in several times a week). hand cut, nice and thick and as fatty or lean as you like it. and 24 hours. mmmm, 3 a.m. heartburn, mmmmmm.”

So we went, sat down, and with great anticipation from our bread starved selves, ordered a medium fat old fashioned smoked meat sandwich (hand cut, the menu said) and two bowls of matzo ball soup. After the order was taken I gazed at the menu, which included kreplach stuffed with smoked meat and other bastardized deli dishes. When the food arrived my suspicions were sadly astute. Before Adam and I stood a sandwich stacked with watery underheated smoked meat, the rubbery slices resting between two pieces of flavorless/crustless rye. The taste wasn’t awful, their product was clearly Lester’s…who runs the Canadian smoked meat market, but you could tell the person making the sandwich had no knowledge of the brisket’s inner workings. I took three bites and moved on to the soup.

It looked promising…a fat m-ball in a nice amber bowl of broth. No veggies or chicken could be seen, but some people like it that way. I sliced off a chunk with my spoon, got some soup in the trough and put it in my mouth and tasted nothing. I looked at Adam and he looked back with the same stunned gaze of shock and disbelief. Mel’s had somehow turned Matzo Ball Soup, the most fragrant, flavourful, and simple of Jewish dishes, into the blandest concoction we’d ever tasted. When I say nothing, I literally mean that it was unseasoned water in the shape of matzo ball soup. There was no taste; not salt, not fat, and definitely not chicken.

We quickly got the check, walked down the street and had a second lunch…trying desperately to wash the memory from our tongues. I apologized profusely to Adam though I was most sorry for myself. Here I was back home and the worst deli I’d eaten in 16,000 kms of road tripping, plus a month in New York, was right in my backyard. A shonda.

The final blow for the LES delis? Katz’s sale rumors.

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Toronto, On

Finally…pesach is over and the taste of rye can once again grace my tongue. Lots of great brisket and matzo balls consumed though…and why can’t we have charroset on the menu more often?

I’ve heard from several sources in the deli industry that Katz’s Delicatessen in New York, the oldest deli in the country and likely the world, and the deli to which all others are compared is potentially up for sale. It’s been reported that they are asking in the neighborhood of $30 million for the restaurant and property at the corner of Houston and Ludlow, the heart of the Lower East Side. Considering the place is surrounded by cranes and condos this should come as no surprise, though keep in mind that this is just a rumor and has yet to be confirmed. There’s also the high probability that whoever buys the business will keep it running, just as current owner Fred Austin did when he bought the place in the 1980′s.

Still, if true, and if the sale is to make way for development, than the deli world could receive a blow unparalelled thus far and it would be a shonda in the truest sense of the word.

If you have any information, please email me, and if not than start your prayers deli lovers. We’re in the fight of our lives. Unless of course anyone wants to plop down $30 mil…


Blessed Pesach: Schtick and Recipes for Eight Days of Bloating

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Toronto…home at last

Fifteen thousand kilometers (that’s approx ten thousand miles) of driving and deli have brought me from home to coast to coast to coast and back again. Dozens of delis, hours of interviews, countless hours of car and motel time and more goodwill than I could have asked for. It feels great to be back, great to not have to drive anywhere, great to just sit in one place for more than a day and see the same people, eat what I cook, and nosh at the local deli.

But alas, the annual dietary gauntlet begins Monday night, when the angel of constipation descends upon the houses of Israel with all manner of dry goods and mock breads to trick the mind. Some delis stay open with pesadic menus, though I challenge anyone to enjoy pastrami on egg matzo and come away with anything but grease smeared hands. Stay home, stick to mom’s chopped liver and keep the chametz out of your system. Do as I do and live on leftovers, steak, and salad for the next week.

As such, Savethedeli will be taking a pesach break, because while I have some terrific and delicious tidbits from my research in Florida, Atlanta, Charlotte and DC, I won’t dare tempt you with all those descriptions of highly un-kosher for pesach goods. To keep you happy, here are a few recipes that several of you contributed, as well as schtick from the interweb to break them up. Enjoy.

from Lauren Malach, Toronto

1 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 cups walnuts (about 8 ounces) plus walnut halves for decoration
1/3 cup matzo meal
4 large eggs
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Whipped nondairy topping (optional)*

For syrup:
Bring all ingredients to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup thickens slightly and is reduced to 1 generous cup, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For torte:
Preheat oven to 325?F. Lightly oil inside of 8-inch springform pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Blend 2 cups walnuts and matzo meal in processor until nuts are finely ground. Using electric mixer, beat eggs, maple syrup, sugar, and salt in large bowl at high speed 5 minutes. Add espresso, lemon peel, and cardamom and beat until beginning to thicken, about 5 minutes longer. Gently fold in nut mixture in 4 additions. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake torte until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer torte to rack. Spoon 4 tablespoons syrup over hot torte. Decorate top with walnut halves. Cool completely in pan on rack. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover remaining syrup and torte separately and let stand at room temperature.)

Cut around pan sides to loosen torte. Remove pan sides. Cut torte into wedges. Serve with remaining syrup and whipped topping, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Matzo Balls
by Caryn Hastings, Kansas City, MO

makes 8
2 TLB shortening
2 eggs slightly beaten
1/2 C Matzo Meal
1 tsp salt
2 TBLS soup stock
1/4 C walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 tsp ground ginger
Mix shortening and eggs together. Add matzo meal and salt which was
first mixed together.
When well blended, add soup stock.
Add ground ginger and walnuts.
Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 20 min or so.
Bring salted water to a brisk boil, reduce heat and into slightly
bubbling watet, drop balls, formed from above mixture.
Cover pot and cook 30-40 min. When ready to serve, allow your soup
to simmer for about 5 minutes and add matzo balls to soup in bowl
before serving.

My mom sends in her best friend Ellenís Passover Mandelbread recipe, all the way from India.

2 Tbsp. Potato starch
3/4 C. cake meal (scant)
2 Tbsp. matzoh meal
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs
3/4 C. Sugar
3/4 C. Oil
3/4C. finely chopped almonds or walnuts
1/2 C. or more chocolate chips if desired
Sift together potato starch, cake meal, matzoh meal, salt & cinnamon. Beat eggs. Add sugar gradually and beat well. Add oil, beating well. Add sifted dry ingredients and blend well. Add nuts and chocolate chips.
Allow dough to rest for 20 minutes. Shape into rolls, placed on greased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes or until done. Cool.
Slice and dry in low oven (275 – 300 degrees) for about 15 minutes. Leave on sheets to cool.
Suggestion: Double the recipe. Freezes well.
Chag Sameach!

Matzo Brie (aka Fried Matzo)…my own concoction

Take your matzos, I prefer the egg variety (for maximum intestinal destruction), and about 1 large egg per 2 matzos.
Beat eggs with a bissel of milk and a generous helping of cinnamon, plus a dash of maple syrup.
Recipes usually call for soaking the matzo in water before, but that generally produces a wet matzo. What I prefer is either a milk soak or soaking them in the egg for a while.
Heat some butter on medium in the skillet and toss that mazto meal in, mixing it around so it cooks, but do it real slow.
Serve with applesauce, maple syrup (Canadian style) and mountains of cinnamon/sugar.

Chag Sameyach!

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