Save the Deli

Rye oh Rye: A visit to Silverstein’s Bakery in Toronto

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


As any construction worker worth his hardhat will tell you, you can build the greatest, most lavish mansion in the world, with all the turrets and shark infested moats you want. You can make the faucets pour foie gras, and the shower rain down chocolate, but if that house isn’t on a rock solid foundation, you’re living in a very expensive dump.

Why do I harp on like I’m on some home improvement show? Becuase today I want to talk about the foundation layer of any good deli sandwich: Rye.

Two slices of rye bread are more than just the bookmarks of a delicatessen sandwich, be it corned beef, tongue, pastrami, smoked meat, Reuben, Rachel or some sort of Carnegie-esque gut busting combination. When your teeth first make contact with the sandwich, followed by your tongue, the first thing to grace your taste buds, to tickle your sense of texture, will be the surface of that thin slice of rye bread. It is the front lines in the battle for your mouth, and possibly the most important element of the sandwich besides the meat.

Good rye, whether with caraway seeks (aka ‘kimmel”), or not, whether cornmeal rolled, or not, is essential to the enjoyment of deli. The crust should crackle slightly, requiring a bit of effort to break through. It should smell somewhat sour, but in a pleasing way that offsets the sugars in the meat. Overall, it should be soft, and pillowy, yet firm enough to withstand up to a pound of hot meat and mustard. It must be real bread, the kind not found in supermarkets, but in bakeries and yes, delicatessens.

Good rye can liven up a mediocre sandwich. It can provide a bright note when the meat is less than perfectly tender, masking somewhat understeamed or poorly sliced briskets. Good rye has the above characteristics: the golden crust, the light blond centre with specs of brown, and a smell of breweries.

Bad rye is an atrocity. It can ruin the greatest sandwich, because your first impression will be stale bread, or one that is too airy and has no bite to it, no character. I’ve seen people take out Schwartz’s smoked meat and serve it on store bought rye, and let me tell you, there was nothing to write home about. Bad rye is a deli killer.

The best ryes I’ve ever had were in Michigan area. There, they double bake the ryes, which are larger loafs that are warmed in the oven before serving to give them an extra-thick crust, and a warm, steamy centre. Rather than cut them in an automatic machine (which does thin, even little slices), they will slice them by hand, or on a meat slicer, diagonally, to give you more crust. The result is incredible: big, meaty pieces of freshly baked bread to compliment the heft of a Sy Ginsberg corned beef sandwich. Magique. Some of the best are found at the Stage Deli, in West Bloomfield, where the late Jack Goldberg supposedly invented the double baked rye, and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, where fresh rye is baked on site from the best possible ingredients, using methods unchanged for centuries.

Los Angeles has some great ryes too, especially at Langer’s or Brent’s, where the Detroit method is applied. There are also shitty rye cities, usually in smaller markets, where the bakers have never gotten it right. Sometimes they look like ryes and taste like white bread, othertimes they taste like white bread and look like rye. People say it has to do with the amount of dense rye flour in the mix (usually around 25%). Some say it’s the water. Others disagree.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Silverstein’s bakery, right here in downtown Toronto, to see some rye in action. Silverstein’s has been around since 1918, is one of the last Jewish businesses downtown, and is still run by the third generation of Silverstein men. Their ryes supply all the great delis of Toronto without fail: Yitz’s, Pancer’s, Coleman’s, Steeles Deli, Centre Street, Wolfie’s, Switzer’s, and the New Yorker. They are gorgeously colored and textured palates for the artisans behind counters, wielding meats and mustard while assembling their masterpieces. Here’s a little video, to show you how it’s done.

1. Dough is mixed with a sour starter, that is live yeast which has been constantly going since day one of the business (90 yr old yeast!).
2. Dough is formed into balls, which warm and rise
3. Dough is formed into loaves, then warms again and rises
4. Dough is loaded into the conveyor oven, and travels 150 plus feet over 40 minutes at 420 degrees
5. Ryes emerge (yay), spin up and down a giant conveyor swirl that looks like a parking garage ramp, and emerge, ready to eat.

Brian Silverstein always recommends waiting to slice your rye at the last minute. Presliced, in a bag, will soak up moisture and lose its bite.

If you’re in Toronto, and downtown, head over to Silverstein’s and pick up a loaf right from the oven.

Silverstein’s Bakery Ltd.
195 McCaul St
Toronto ON, M5T 1W6
Phone: 416-598-3478
Fax: 416-598-5459

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***Note*** The above movie was edited in the new iMovie 08, which is a stale industrial grade hot dog bun compared to the previous version (a Motown double rye). Read here for more anti-iMovie kvetching.

The Maven does Baltimore: Arthur Schwartz on Attman’s

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

One of my loyal readers just sent me a great link from the blog of Arthur Schwartz’s, aka the Food Maven. Schwartz is known in New York and Jewish food circles as the man who knows how to munch. He is a folklorist of New York foods, posessing an encyclopedic knowledge of things like hot dogs, knishes, and pizza slices. Schwartz is a big guy. He can pound the food away with the best of them, and he has a fond spot for deli. His chapter on delicatessen in New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes is a must read for deli fans.

Recently, Schwartz was in Baltimore, and had a chance to stop in and eat at Attman’s, the delicatessen on Corned Beef Row.

“I also tried Attman’s pastrami, corned beef, and chopped liver. The menu says it sells “authentic New York delicatessen (only better).” I hate to admit it, because I am such a New York chauvinist, but Attman’s is right. Their meats are better than almost any deli you can get in New York these days. In fact, I can’t think of better pastrami, except at Katz’s and Junior’s. Attman’s is well-spiced, lightly smoked, and incredibly succulent and tender without being too fatty. You’ve gotta have some streaks of fat. I have to laugh when people complain that pastrami is too fatty. It’s made from plate beef, also called navel, which is equivalent to bacon. Fat is part of the attraction, a good part. The corned beef, of course brisket, was equally succulent, not terribly salty, great flavor, sliced paper thin. And since the Second Avenue Deli closed, I haven’t had such good chopped liver – well, except for my own homemade, if I say so myself.”

To read the rest of the Food Maven’s blog entry on Attman’s, CLICK HERE.

Deli Song, Oh My

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Oh the random tidbits one finds when Googling deli words all day.

Ed Levine wants to know, “What’s Your Favorite Deli?”

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Gail Simmons (Food and Wine/ Top Chef) and Ed Levine at Artie’s in New York

New York Times food writer, meta foodie blogger, and cosumate fresser Ed Levine wants to know what your favorite deli is. The head honcho over at his website Serious Eats, who knows his way around a spiced, smoked navel, is all aflutter over the reopening of the 2nd Ave Deli, and his passion for deli is rising once again.

It started yesterday with his comment on the New York Times article on the 2nd Ave Deli.

The city has been a lesser place without the Second Avenue Deli. I for one can’t wait to have a bowl of that incomparable mushroom-barley soup. a corned beef sandwich, and an order of french fries. Welcome back, Second Avenue Deli.

In that article, he lay out the challenge for young Jeremy Lebewohl as clearly as he could. Many delis have declined in quality in New York. Levine believes the 2nd Ave Deli was never the same after Abe Lebewohl died in 1996, and his brother Jack, a real estate lawyer, took over. Ed’s words are those of a seasoned critic…direct, insightful, brimming with opinion, and often pointed.

Click to read “The Second Avenue Deli: Reopening to Close an Old Wound”

Today he’s back on the deli train. Levine wants to know your thoughts on where the best delis rest. He is a firm defender of New York’s, and though he acknowledges Langer’s and Schwartz’s, he remains focused on the five boroughs.

Here’s a selection of his tops:

Artie’s –The pastrami is excellent (ask for it well-steamed), the hot dogs are just about as good, the chicken soup has gotten better over the years, and the skin-on french fries are solid if not spectacular.

Ben’s Best– Ben’s Best owner Jay Parker is an old-fashioned deli man, a chip off Abe Lebewohl’s block.

Carnegie Deli — Yes, the Carnegie Deli’s portions are obscene, and it is indeed a haven for tourists in search of the deli experience they can’t get at home, but the Carnegie still makes a terrific if gargantuan pastrami sandwich, fine matzo ball soup, the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had (ask for it extra crispy), and an overly large, extremely greasy, but utterly delicious potato knish.

Katz’s — The soups are ordinary, the french fries a pale, frozen shadow of their former selves, but a hand-cut pastrami sandwich from Katz’s is a gift from the deli gods.

Liebman’s — The Bronx has a long, proud tradition of Jewish delis, but in the last 20 years their numbers have dwindled precipitously. Liebman’s in Riverdale is doing its best to maintain the Bronx deli tradition.

Sarge’s– Sarge’s has everything a deli should have, bad florescent lighting, a wisecracking waitstaff, fine house-smoked pastrami, and terrific french fries. I don’t think I’ve ever had soup at Sarge’s.

I’ve responded at length in Ed’s comments, as should you. It’s due time for some serious deli discourse and Ed Levine is putting us up to the challenge.

Click here to read “The Best Jewish Delis: What’s Your Favorite?”

Click here to read “An Ageless Pleasure Between the Rye” from the New York Times in 2003

Click here to see the audio slideshow from the Times article

Kenny and Zuke’s is Open!

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Pacific deli fans can finally rejoice, because the Oregon air is now filled with the scents of curing and smoking meats wafting out of Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen, which opens in Portland today. After living in a temporary home as a Sunday affair in a diner (dubbed Ken’s Place), the new deli is now housed in a permanent location at 1038 SW Stark Street, in the hipster heaven ACE Hotel.

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Kenny and Zuke’s shows tremendous promise. They are a new school deli that adheres to old school traditions of quality and cuisine, making as much as possible on the premesis. Just check out their menu. Their pastrami is cured and smoked in house. Their bagels and breads are baked in the basement. Eggs are free range and natural. It is as deli was meant to be…natural…pure…traditional…all with the freshest ingredients and minimal processing. They even ask patrons to turn off their cell phones at dinner! What heaven.

The menu looks trim and classic, with few dishes that veer too far from the canon of Ashkenazi cooking.
As I’m thousands of miles away, it’ll be some time before I can head over to Portland and check out the goods at Kenny and Zuke’s, so for now, you and I will have to discern what we can via secondhand sources.

A Flickr photoblogger, vj_pdx, took these great shots:


The Joint

Pastrami n’ Eggs

House cured, hand cut pastrami. photo courtesy of katez0r

There’s also a few early reviews, though they’ll trickle in shortly.

Willamette Week “Sweet Jesus guys. You’re killin’ me here.”

Neighborhood Notes “it is sooooooo worth it!”

Metro Blogging “…thick cut pastrami that tasted like it came from God’s kitchen.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more great reviews real soon. Good luck and mazel tov to Ken Gordon and Nick Zukin. What began as a hobby of making pastrami at a farmer’s market has blossomed into something great. Save the Deli wishes them many generations of success.
Ess Gezunt!

“Nosh in My Backyard!” from the New York Observer

Monday, October 22nd, 2007


With the reopening of the 2nd Ave Deli on everyone’s tongues, the articles are starting to appear fairly regularly. I missed this one from last week, which doesn’t make any sense, as I was actually quoted in it. The piece, called “Nosh in my Backyard!Veteran Deli Eyes Newcomer” was written by Chris Shott, and concerns the effect the new 2nd Ave Deli will have on longtime Murray Hill staple Sarge’s New York Delicatessen. Sarge’s is a beloved institution in its own right. They pickle and smoke their meats in store (something rarely found in New York these days), and have a strong local following.

Sarge’s was founded by another Abe…Sgt Abe Katz of the NYPD. It’s a family owned and operated place open all night, and its devotees swear by it. What effect the 2nd Ave Deli will have on its business remains unseen, but I personally think it could be positive for both of them (see my comments in the article).

Heirs of the hallowed Second Avenue Deli, which shuttered its original East Village location during a 2006 rent-hike dispute, are now encroaching upon Sarge’s turf, with construction well under way to reincarnate the fabled eatery in the space of a former tapas joint on 33rd Street, nearest the corner of Third Avenue. Once it opens, the new location threatens to set up a head-to-head scrum for bragging rights as the area’s knish capital, pitting against one another two of the city’s enduring delicatessen clans, both of whose founding patriarchs, it turns out, happened to be named Abe.


Sarge’s New York Delicatessen
548 3rd Avenue
New York, N. Y. 10016
(212) 679-0442
(877) SARGES1

“A Counter History” The New York Times Magazine on the new 2nd Ave Deli

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Can you feel the excitement start to build? It began as rumors, was confirmed briefly, descended into silence, and now prepares to rise anew. Yes, the Second Avenue Deli is ready for the most stupendous comeback in New York’s Jewish deli history, and the time is almost upon us.

I have been speaking with Jeremy Lebewohl for the past few weeks, who is ready to open, save a few regulatory roadblocks that we should all pray get settled real soon. The staff is in place, the meat is about to pickle, and the Berkel slicer is sharp as a sushi knife. Deli fans wait with bated breath.

So today, in the always on top of shit New York Times, there is a small preview in the Magazine by way of a wonderful article called “A Counter History“, written by staff writer Alex Witchel. The piece briefly profiles the Lebewohl family, with a focus on Jack, Jeremy, and the departed and beloved Abe, founder of the 2nd Ave Deli a half century ago. It’s a wonderful ode to a New York family dynasty, and a tempting forshpeis to what we all hope will be another legendary kosher delicatessen in a city that has lost so many.

From the article:

The Jews who immigrated here during the first half of the last century ate at delis — most of them kosher — regularly. Eventually they moved to the suburbs and traded salami for salad. In the 1960s there were 300 kosher delis in the city and suburbs and a Greater New York Delicatessen Dealers’ Association. That group is long defunct, and you can count the number of marquee delis left in Manhattan on one hand: Carnegie, Katz’s and Stage, none of them kosher. Assimilation is one reason; also, the need to separate dairy from meat limits menu choices (kosher meat is more expensive besides), and New Yorkers do not like limits. The staples of deli food, like matzoh-ball soup and corned beef, migrated in nonkosher form to diners and coffee shops decades ago; you need to be Jewish to eat deli the same way you need to be Italian to eat pizza. But for aficionados of the real thing, the high-quality, old-school kosher renditions of brisket or flanken or center-cut tongue like silk, the Second Avenue Deli was it.


Just Say Nu: A shmear of Yiddish

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I normally reserve this site strictly for deli or deli related subjects, but I’m going to diverge a bit today in order to promote a worthy friend’s work.

Deli is Yiddish cuisine, and the language of Yiddish is integral to the deli business. Those truly in the know are fluent in Yiddish or at least it’s related expressions and idioms. For most of us, kvetch, putz, gonif, and bissel will suffice. Until now.

Following up on his New York Times Bestseller “Born to Kvetch”, my friend and deli lunch companion Michael Wex, has just released the wonderful “Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do)”. The book is a guide to Yiddish you can whip out of your pocket, whether in traffic, bed, or from the receiving side of the deli counter.

Here’s the description from Wex’s own site:

Just Say Nu – a cross between Henry Beard’s Latin for All Occasions and Ben Schott’s Schott’s Original Miscellany, the book is a practical guide to using Yiddish words and expressions in day-to-day situations. Along with enough grammar to enable readers to put together a comprehensible sentence and avoid embarrassing mistakes, Wex also explains the five most useful Yiddish words – shoyn, nu, epes, takeh, and nebakh – what they mean, how and when to use them, and how they can be used to conduct an entire conversation without anybody ever suspecting that the reader doesn’t have the vaguest idea of what anyone is actually saying. Readers will learn how to shmooze their way through such activities as meeting and greeting; eating and drinking; praising and finding fault; maintaining personal hygiene; going to the doctor; driving; parenting; getting horoscopes; committing crimes; going to singles bars; having sex; talking politics and talking trash.

And from today’s review in the New York Times:

What’s Yiddish for double-dipping? With verve, élan and something only a non-Yiddish speaker would call chutzpah, Michael Wex returns to the linguistic mother lode that yielded “Born to Kvetch,” his brilliant cultural history of Yiddish. This time around, in “Just Say Nu,” he gets down to the everyday business of putting Yiddish to use. When a tipesh (moron) dawdles in front of you on the highway, selecting the right curse matters. Mr. Wex, like a Yiddish sommelier, knows just the expression for this or any other occasion.

Wex in his element. At Pancer’s. With meat.

Here’s an extract from the book itself:

Nakhes, often spelled “nachos” in English, is probably the best-known of all Yiddish words having to do with pleasure. If a phrase like

NAkhes FIN KINder

pleasure that you get from your children

hasn’t yet entered English, it isn’t for want of trying. Nakhes pops up often enough on T.V. and in movies to suggest that even people who keep Christmas are familiar with it. It means “delight, pleasure,” but it means so much more than “delight” or “pleasure.” Uriel Weinreich glosses it as “(spiritual) pleasure,” by which he means only that you can’t get any nakhes from a body rub (though the rub itself can be a mekheiyeh). The pleasure to which nakhes refers is intangible, unquantifiable; it takes place in the mind, rather than the body, and is entirely a matter of disposition or point of view: graduation ceremony means nothing to you until a child of yours is one of the graduates.

So, NU, what are you waiting for?

Just Say Nu on

Audio CD: for those who can’t or don’t want to read

Buy Born to Kvetch from

The Yiddish World of Michael Wex

Dinner at Manny’s anyone?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Saving the nation and the deli. Way to go Obama.

Well, it’s official. After months of rumors and me trying to keep it hush hush, Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen is finally open for dinner. Chicago’s hungry masses can finally rejoice in the knowledge that a hard day at the office or the meat processing plant holds the reward of a hot bowl of Manny’s mish mosh, their fantastic kishke, and a hot, pink tower of steaming corned beef with a scraggly, crisp latke on the side.

The deli celebrated with an opening dinner party the other night. Check out the photos here. Note the picture of Obama above. How can you not support him now? Congratulations to the Raskin family. One small step for Manny’s is one giant leap for Chicago.

For those of you not familiar with Manny’s, here’s a brief tour.

Manny’s is open now from 5 am to 8 pm 6 days a week.
It’s still closed on Sundays.
1141 S. Jefferson
Chicago, IL 60607

Deli night in Dhaka

Friday, October 12th, 2007


Being deprived of deli is a terrible thing, especially when geographic circumstances render it so distant as to be prohibitive. Once in a while I come accross people who go to great lengths to get deli to where they are. I’ve heard of people ordering Katz’s or Carnegie foods to random corners of Idaho, and I personally have shipped my brother over $100 of Lester’s smoked meat and Wilensky’s specials to Calgary by air.

So imagine my surprise in June when I received the following email from my good friend Ashley Wheaton, who works for an NGO in Dhaka, Bangledesh:


A friend of mine here in Bangladesh (Owen Lippert) recently travelled to North America and was inspired to address the lack of all things deli in Dhaka. He arrived back in the Bang with 40 lbs of smoked meat (in its own separate suitcase). He’s an Ottawa boy, so it’s from Dunns, a deli unknown to my palate but it beats dal bhat, and my parasite filled stomach is excited about whatever version of smoked meat it can get. Owen and I are currently drumming up schemes of what to do with his treasure (charity event? Canada Day party? or, just keep it to ourselves…hmmm… yes) but regardless of what fate the four slabs of heaven come to we need some serious advice on how to prepare them.


I’ve heard of deli sent to Israel, and salamis sent to Iraq, but this was a first. This was four big briskets smuggled into the heart of a Muslim country in the tropical heat of the Indian subcontinent. I consulted my sources and sent back a complete reply:


Four briskets is a shitload, and they may keep for a week or two, but the way to do this is a big event. Suffice to say there won’t be many Jews there, I’d do a fat smoked meat party and invite anyone you can.

The prep:

Bread: You’ll need to find rye bread or some form of equivalent. Can’t stress this enough. If that fails, I’d go kaiser or onion roll or pumpernickel. Something tart and fairly small. No white. No french. Nothing sweet. Source out the bakeries and hotels and procure some rye. I’d say about 2 loaves per brisket. Each brisket will yield roughly 10 sandwiches, depending on how big you make them.

2. Steam: This is the most crucial part. You need to steam these smoked meats for 1.5-2 hours. Not boil. No water should touch the meat. A steam box is ideal, which is a big metal steamer that hotels and restaurants may have. If that fails, you need a big pot with a rack and water on the bottom. You can stack the briskets on top of one another. Get a big two-prong carving fork (like they use for roast beef) to handle the meat. you will know when the meat is ready, when the fork slides effortlessly in and out of it. Feel it at the beginning, half an hour in,and then eveyr fifteen minutes. It’s all by touch, but you should be able to take your thumb and jab it into the flesh once it’s soft enough. Don’t worry about steaming too long, it’ll be soft and crumbly but good.

3. Slicing: The most important part. A smoked meat brisket has several parts, it’s not like cutting a meatloaf. You need to find the grain, and cut against it, or across it. Think about a plank of wood. You never cut next to the lines, you cut across them. This is the difference between rubbery smoked meat and tender. Most crucial. Practice on steak.
Start from the tip of the brisket (the smaller, narrow end) where the leanest meat is. Place the carving fork into the meat and rest the back of the blade against it at a 45 degree angle pointing down. Then, using the fork as a balance, you’ll slice off the meat, in reasonably thin slices, on an angle until you have enough for a sandwich. Slide the blade under the cut meat, lift it onto the bread, press down the second slice of bread and pull the knife away. Then make a bridge with your fingers over the sandwich, slide the knife underneath and slice it in half.
-keep working down the brisket, but remember to follow the grains. The fattier meat is toward the back end of the brisket, and the medium stuff is at the middle. Take the scraps that will fall with each cut, and toss them into the sandwich…that’s where a lot of the flavor is.

Use plain yellow mustard…no dijon, no flavored shit.


And then nothing. Months went by without word from Ashley. She returned to Canada for a visit, cured a few diseases, and watched riots take place in Bangledesh, but I heard no word on the deli. I suspected the meat went rancid in the humid air.

Then last week I got a flurry of emails in my inbox from Ashley, jammed with photos. Not much I can add to these. Just look at the happy faces. And I must say, the chefs did great work. I assume this was done in the Canadian embassy compound, but I’m not sure. Taken out of context those sure look like damn good deli sandwiches, better than I’ve had in many parts of North America. Considering the fact that these were in Bangledesh is just astounding.




My hat goes off to Owen, Ashley and the rest of the crew in Dhaka.

No craving for deli should ever go unsatisfied.

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