“This is a site for all deli lovers, whether those who are born Jewish or those who discovered their Semitic leanings the first time their tongue was blessed with the feeling of tangy mustard meeting a pile of glistening corned beef on soft rye. Here is a place where flunken fanatics can kibbitz with lox lunatics, where devoted fans of New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen can compare, contrast, and argue with followers of LA’s Langer’s, or Montreal’s Schwartz’s. It will be a community of like minded fressers, craving those flavors so sacred and salty, that the mere mention of the word knish tugs at the heartstrings.” (more…)
Photo Credit: viewfromaloft/edfuentes
Back in June I wrote about the 60th anniversary of one of America’s best delicatessens, Langer’s, in Los Angeles. At the time, Al Langer sat and received citations from the city, along with his son Norm. As a special honor to the 94 year old Al Langer, the city announced that they would name the intersection of 7th and Alvarado “Langer’s Square”. Unfortunately, Al Langer passed away weeks later, though his legacy is assured.
And so, yesterday city officials and the Langer’s braved dark skies along to officially unveil Langer’s Square. Now the temple of hot pastrami will be enshrined on the streets of LA for generations to come. Read more about it here.
I wish I could get to every single deli in the world, I truly do, but geography, time, and sweet moolah prevent me from doing so. Yet, in the past year, since launching Save the Deli, I’ve heard from hundreds of deli fans around the world, who share with me their recommendations, tips, images, and stories (plus the occasional kvetch), about the deli world. I have to say that without your help, I’d know a hell of a lot less.
And so it was with David Cowles, a Washington state deli fan who has an obvious passion for this food, but for years has been bemoaning the lack of true deli in the Pacific Northwest. After all, the wet, cool climate is salmon country, and is almost as far from LA as it is from Chicago. It’s the last deli frontier in America, and the last place many would go looking for anything on rye…let alone rye!
There’s one deli here in Toronto that I constantly drove by, but never ventured into. Wolfie’s is in the North end of the city, at the core of the aging Jewish community, just down the street from the ravine where I learned to ski (which now has a holocaust memorial atop the ski hill). Every time I passed it, I looked at the satelite dishes arrayed outside, at the neon in the window, and the mischievous Wolf licking his chops, and knew that I really needed to get there.
Welcome back! After a year and a half of research, eating, and writing, I’m now done with the first draft of the Save the Deli book, which got handed in last Friday. Phew. My fingers ache.
So now that I’m back into a more normal cycle, I can post a little more often. Thus, welcome to my first post-book-submission posting.
As the book neared completion, a lot of great posts I had in the works got delayed. Delis opened and I wrote nothing, so I’ll do my best to catch up over the next few months, plus put out the rest of my tales from the cross-America journey last winter.
But first to just north of home. Last summer I was contacted by a man named Marty Marks, who was opening up a Jewish deli in the city of Barrie, an hour outside of Toronto. Barrie is a very goyish place, sort of the gateway to the north of Ontario, though a hell of a lot of Jews have cottages (or mansions on lakes) there, and many more drive through Barrie to get to their ski chalets and other second homes. Marty claimed to have perfected a unique pastrami recipe, and in the late fall I finally had a chance to swing by and check out the goods at Pastrami King.
When I got there, Marty took me into the back and showed me his pastramis curing in the refrigerator. Well, I should be truthful, I’m not sure if I can call these pastramis. What Marty Marks does is start with a cured Montreal Smoked meat (from Montreal’s venerable Lester’s), steams them to open up the meat’s pores, rubs them in his special spices, then bakes them and then puts them back into the fridge for a number of days to impart the flavor. So no, it’s not really pastrami…it’s something much more intricate, involved, and inventive. It’s a cross between smoked meat, pastrami, and Marty’s own imagination…which we’ll call Smoked Martystrami for argument’s sake.
Anyway, once those briskets have been steamed and sliced, what emerges on the Bagel World rye is a wonder for the tongue. Soft, supple, and spiced with an almost honeyed aftertaste, it is unlike any other smoked/cured deli product I’ve tried.
He also makes a spread he calls “spek”, which is basically the leftover scraps of pastrami, mixed with Marty’s stellar homemade barbecue sauces. It’s spicy, sweet, and altogether a shot of edible heroin on top of his sandwiches.
It’s most definitely worth checking out, so if you are from Toronto and heading up north, stop off the highway 400 and check out the Pastrami King.
I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything until after the book was in, but my friend Brad Rubin at Chicago’s 11 City Diner emailed me the most wonderful article by journalist Ron Rosenbaum, which appeared on Slate.com just before the year’s end. Yes it concerns the 2nd Ave Deli, but read about the wider implications, especially near the end. This piece goes beyond the realm of simple nostalgia, into the very heart of why we love and need to save the deli.
When I first heard about the rebirth of the Second Avenue Deli, I had a feeling the place was stalking me. For years when I lived downtown, this pastrami palace—one of New York City’s last iconic, non-tourist-attraction temples of schmaltz (not the metaphoric kind but the liquid chicken fat that infuses so many of its dishes)—was a siren song.
For this nonobservant Jew it was perhaps the most tangible aspect of my Jewish identity, a Proustian connection to the vision of shtetl life one finds in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work. Not just the food but the whole aura of the place, the locale in the heart of the former Yiddish theater district where you could find gold stars with the names of the one-time luminaries of that once thriving, now virtually vanished world, embedded—in imitation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame—in the gritty sidewalk of lower Second Avenue in front of the deli.
Happy New Year Save the Deli fans. It’s almost the site’s 1 yr anniversary, which we’ll all celebrate on Jan 30th. But until the middle of the month you won’t hear much from me. The draft of my book is due in less than two weeks, so it’s crunch time.
Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side.