When I was in Chicago last winter, researching the book, I met the most perfect baker known to man. His name was Herb Fingerhut, and from his loafy frame, to his butter soaked cheeks, the man oozed the warmth of an oven and the sweetness of the pastries he so deftly worked up.
Well the news is in and it ain’t good. After hopes were raised that a plunging condo market would stop the closure of Miami’s famous Rascal House, it appears that the grand deli of Sunny Isles has run out of lives. According to the South Florida Business Journal, it will remain open until the start of April, and then the doors will be shuttered forever.
The restaurant, at 17190 Collins Ave., notified the state that it would lay off 97 employees between April 4 and April 16.
A spokeswoman for Jerry’s Famous Deli, the Studio City, Calif.-based company that owns Rascal House, Epicure Market and Bakery and its namesake restaurant, said the company has notified employees and would absorb as many into its other restaurants as it could.
Sad Sad Times. We tried with our petition, and I appreciate all your efforts. Now all that’s left to do is head down there for one last taste of Florida’s grandest deli, and the last outlet of Wolfie Cohen’s beachfront empire. This was one deli that we couldn’t save. Jerry’s Famous Deli had it in for the Rascal House for some years now, and it seems that little was going to prevent its ultimate demise.
As my friend Ziggy would say, it’s a real shonda.
Here’s a video from my visit over a year ago. It was undoubtedly my last.
I got back from vacation last night (it was great, thank you), to an email from Jeff Weinstein, the former Village Voice restaurant critic and New York eating legend. Like most great Jewish foodies in New York, the rebirth of the 2nd Ave Deli got him thinking and writing. His story, “Why Pastrami Is Always More than Pastrami“, in Arts Journal is a witty and wicket writeup that’s less of a review and more of an essay:
I may have had better pastrami in my life, but sitting there I knew that I had crossed the snowy Himalayas and entered a serene, changeless realm where rating didn’t matter. The breastlike softness of the bread as it chews into luxurious fat and the smoky, peppery, irreducible tang of transformed flesh … and then the whole awakened, Mahler-like, by a clarion mustard …
The pleasures of one’s life are supposed to vary, to reflect and refine the protean person you are at each peak, significant time. But the pleasure of pastrami does exactly the opposite, forcing the older you, the older me, to acknowledge we are exactly the same ravenous, curious, sensuous beings we were at our first restaurant table, and will be until the final flecks of yellow and red are wiped from our lips.
Earlier this week I posted New York Times critic Frank Bruni’s review of the 2nd Ave Deli, which he gave one solid star. Now, as happens with popular restaurants, there was feedback and commentary, but I think even Bruni is astonished at how much this story has generated. So over the past few days, he has been tackling the questions and criticism on his blog.
A few months back, as I was in the depths of book writing, my friend Jake called me up to tell me that Esquire was putting together an article on sandwiches. “Cool”, I thought, “a small piece on that most manly of meals. Hopefully they’ll put in some deli.”
Yesterday I clicked on esquire.com and beheld a veritable trove of sandwichocity. Not simply a mere article, the sandwich package was a series of essays, stories, ingredients, and lists, all devoted to the sandwich. And while there was a lot of subs, po’ boys, and other gentile incarnations, there’s a good amount of Jewish deli representation in there. (more…)
Image courtesy of G. Paul Burnett/ New York Times.
It was bound to happen.
They waited for the rush of opening and of Christmas to die down, for the computer system and kitchen to work out the kinks, for Jeremy Lebewohl to get a sense of his new life. But in New York, every deli gets their day, and today, the New York Times came calling to the 2nd Ave Deli. Frank Bruni, the paper’s head reviewer, who is known to be a deli fan, has rolled out a positive (though critical) review of the reopened, and relocated legend.
“IN time, we’d get to the pastrami sandwich, and we’d quibble over its height and quarrel about condiments. Condiments are personal.
The new Second Avenue Deli still has matzo ball soup and pastrami.
But first came the matzo ball soup and the chopped liver.
Already, consensus eluded us.
Ed deemed the entire soup good, while Nora reserved her praise for the perfectly round, snowy matzo ball itself.”
Bruni is referring to Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, and a lifelong deli fanatic (look for him in my book). Nora is Nora Ephron, the comedic writer who is also a true deli maven, and whose article on Langer’s pastrami is one of the finest odes to deli I’ve read. Bruni brought them, along with food writer Laura Shapiro, to the deli at 33rd and 3rd for a taste of chopped liver, matzo ball soup, pastrami, latkes and rugelach. Like Bruni’s review of Katz’s, it was less a direct read and more of a critical love letter, which split the opinions of the panel depending on their preferences. Such is the problem with reviewing a well known deli in New York: everyone is an expert, and no two mouths can agree.
Meanwhile, it’s earned a full star, which is a fine achievement for a deli.
But wait…that’s not all.
A deli of this magnitude draws the finest food critics in the land…and in the land of New York, they tend to be Jewish and deli lovers. So over at GQ.com, we see Alan Richman weighing in on the reincarnated 2nd Ave Deli as well. His article is dead on.
“Real delicatessens, and 2nd Avenue Deli is one of them, sell homemade meat products with an Eastern European accent. The new 2nd Avenue Deli (it’s on East 33rd Street in Manhattan) fulfills that mandate exquisitely, and, unlike the old place, has added smoked fish. Traditionally, delicatessens never sold fish, but this is a modern delicatessen where the meats sleep with the fishes.”
“The pastrami at the new place is terrific: fattier, spicier, more tender and more beautiful than before. It isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s close. In case you like tongue (and who doesn’t?), the tongue might be the best I’ve ever had. In rounding out the sandwich experience, let me add this: The rye bread isn’t good. You can barely taste the rye flour—pretty much a universal problem today. Everybody wants delicatessen sandwiches on rye bread as long as it bread doesn’t actually taste like rye. The mustard is superb. The sour pickles are very good, the half-sours less so. Skip the corned beef and the brisket sandwiches: boring.”
Smoked Meat at Nate’s in Ottawa.
To those of us deli lovers in Canada, the great lopsided debate of Montreal vs. Toronto, of smoked meat vs. corned beef, is an amusing, and infuriating exercise in local pride. And while most readily admit that Montreal is both numerically and traditionally superior in its deli offerings, the passion shows a love for deli in both of Canada’s major cities. This is important. Unlike the United States to the south, Canada is not a deli rich nation. Yes, there’s a great history in Montreal, and a good concentration in Toronto, but there are but a handful of delis left in Winnipeg, and one or two on the edge in Calgary and Vancouver. This wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, there were delis in Saskatchewan and Edmonton, in Maritime coal towns and northern cities in Ontario. But time has drawn Canada’s Jewish youth to its major centers, and as the communities have shrunk, their delis have disappeared. This is unfortunately the case with Winnipeg, which was once a deli haven, and now only Oscar’s is left in the city. These places need their delis saved in the most dire fashion possible.
A wee bit of randomness for this monday. I just got an email from my delectable friend Sara Wilson, who is working for Los Angeles Magazine, and was recently sent on assignment to Culver City, to check out Johnny’s Pastrami. Here she is in all her adorability…”pigging out”, as she put it, on one of Johnny’s famous pastrami dip sandwiches. Said Wilson: “I’d never enjoyed a meat sandwich by the warm glow of an open firepit. Only in L.A.”
Some quick tidbits out of New York to report.
Just you wait…
Friedman’s Deli, a new kosher delicatessen in Chelsea Market, was supposed to open last week, but now it seems the opening has been delayed until later in the month. We’ll eagerly await this for several reasons:
I’ve cited the impending closure of Miami’s Rascal House as one of the prime examples of why we need to Save the Deli. For over fifty years the Rascal House has been the premiere Jewish delicatessen in all of Florida, a watering hole for the migratory populations of elderly Jews who swoop down each winter in search of warmth and an early dinner. If you don’t know about the Rascal House, or what is happening to it, have a look at this post from last April, which I wrote shortly after visiting Miami.