Though the Bronx was once a hotbed of delicatessens, today there is but a small slice left of its illustrious past. Sadly, there are only two delis that remain, in the upscale enclave of Riverdale, just north of Manhattan on the Harlem river.
One of these is Leibman’s, a half century old joint on West 235th Street, where elderly Jewish clientelle shlepp in and out laden down with huge bags of takeout. Though the Liebman family is long gone, the quality here is almost unsurpassed in the five boroughs, thanks to the watchful eye of young owner Yuval Dekel.
The Israeli born Dekel is a bit different from your standard New York deli owner.
First off, he’s young…not yet thirty, though to be fair, I’m not either.
Second of all, his real passion is drumming and writing music, which he does in the New York heavy metal band IRATE. It’s a far cry from knishes to death rock, but the proof is in the kishke, and Liebman’s is probably the best kosher spot in New York.
When I visited last November I was surprised by the quiet, soothing atmosphere. It wasn’t a gritty New York place, competing to be the loudest or rudest. Young staff (many of whom were Yuval’s relatives from Israel and his wife’s from Georgia) served dedicated old customers classic dishes. There was incredible sweet and sour cabbage rolls, the matzo ball soup is packed with chickeny flavor, and because Dekel was a baker before his father passed away and left him the store, the bread is outstanding…moist…dense…crisp…the perfect palate for the corned beef and pastrami that is cured IN THE STORE. The chopped liver is creamy and splendid, while the tongue is cut so thin and cooked so perfectly it melts like foie gras.
One of the best things Liebman’s makes is a hush puppy…tiny knishes stuffed with hot dogs. Liebman’s dogs alone are outstanding, not salty, extremely juicy, but the hush puppy treatment just raises the woof into another league. This is the type of place where you could just sit and eat for days and never get tired. Top tier, though entirely local because it’s far from Manhattan’s centre.
Well worth the visit. And there’s good news…Dekel says he plans to write a crazy death metal song about kvetching deli clients. Should be a classic.
Kosher Restaurant and Catering
552 West 235 Street – Bronx (Riverdale) New York