News out of New York last week. Ben’s Best, the popular Queens kosher delicatessen, which has been a local hotspot for political power brokers over the years, has been temporarily shut down due to a health code violation. Though I have never had the chance to visit, Ben’s Best is reputed to be one of the finest kosher delis in the New York area, with a reputation as having some of the best kosher pastrami in the country. This is the place where then Texas Gov. Bush won a bet against then NY Gov. Pataki (over the NBA finals), winning a feast of matzo balls, deli sandwiches, and cel-ray soda. For deli lovers, this is sad news.
At this point, most Jewish deli fans would take the news, and never visit Ben’s Best again. They might be wrong. The New York City health department is notoriously zealous when it comes to enforcing bylaws, often pinning violations on restaurants as though they were scarlet letters. This story in the New York Daily News shows that perhaps Ben’s Best was a victim of New York’s food Gestapo:
Popular Ben’s Best forced to close for 3 days
BY DONALD BERTRAND
Tuesday, September 4th 2007, 4:00 AM
Blame it on the salami – 11 hanging in the window, to be exact.
That was the major culprit that prompted the Health Department to shut down the popular Ben’s Best delicatessen on Queens Blvd. in Rego Park for three days recently.
Ben’s Best failed inspection on Aug. 23 with 44 points of violations. Twenty-eight points is a failed inspection.
“Our biggest problem was the hanging salami in the window, which we had hanging there for 60 years,” said deli owner Jay Parker. “Now the Board of Health says that it has to be confined to the temperatures of other meat products even though it is salted and smoked.”
Inspectors have been extra vigilant since the KFC/Taco Bell incident in Greenwich Village in February, when cameras captured images of rats brazenly romping through the store after-hours.
The salami in the window was 14 points on the inspection, he said. The deli was slapped with an additional seven because of the failure to clean a slicing machine after each use.
“We had sliced some pastrami, after which we were supposed to clean the machine before slicing some corned beef,” Parker said. “We were making a pastrami-and-corned beef sandwich, so I did not understand what cross-contamination [there] was.
So let me get this straight… the large fast food conglomerate of KFC (AKA the Dirty Bird) and Taco Bell (AKA the Dirty) have rats running around in their stores so the health department closes down a kosher deli because they have salamis hanging. Italian delis have salamis hanging on Arthur Ave. Chinese restaurants on Mott have ducks and stingrays hanging. Preserved meats can hang because they are PRESERVED! All the salt which makes kosher salami so delicious is what keeps it from spoiling. Pickled foods were specifically designed to endure the stress and strain of hanging in a window.
As for slicing meat on a machine, were delis to clean the blade after each use, we’d never get served. They clean it regularly, but if you want a combination sandwich, what is the problem? Cross contamination is an issue if raw chicken is used on a cutting board, but one type of pickled beef and another type of pickled beef mixing is like the porterhouse cooking on the same grill as the ribeye at Peter Luger’s. What ever happened to buyer beware? The worst part about this is that Ben’s Best will suffer greatly from reputation, while KFC/Taco Bell will just open up shop elsewhere, continuing to serve filth day in and day out, regardless of how clean the location is. It is time health department authorities wisened up and respected the traditions of food preparation. I don’t know anyone who has gotten sick from a salami before. The sterilized, chemical laden food at the fast food joints is so much worse for you than anything that can be found at a delicatssen. It’s time we stood up for our food heritage. Before long they’ll be forcing us to microwave tongues and boil pickles…in the name of public safety.
Ben’s Best is indeed open. Please show them your support by heading in.
Ben’s Best Kosher Deli
9640 Queens Blvd, Flushing, NY