DONNA E. NATALE PLANAS / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
The historic Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, an institution in what is now Sunny Isles Beach since 1954, is closing its doors. Pictured here is waitress Lorraine Willow wiping tears from her eye thinking about leaving her job of 22 years.
What I found most disheartening about last weekend’s death of Miami’s famous Rascal House was what little public outcry there was in the area before it happened. I searched in vain for articles or editorials lambasting Jerry’s Famous Deli’s decision to first turn the Rascal House into condos, and then into a luxury supermarket…all to no avail. I think using the words “death” to describe the end of a deli’s life is appropriate. To us lovers of deli, they are more than simply food service businesses. Because they contain the warmth of family, with a vibrant, organic feel, they are more like living creatures than buildings. We feel their hot, garlicky breath, we kiss their meaty lips, and we feel their pains. A business closing is sad, but death we feel in the heart. (more…)
If you can’t tell already, I really love Jewish deli. But I don’t love huuuuuge sandwiches, a la Carnegie or Stage heights. To me it’s simply a waste, and unless you’re participating in some sort of competitive eating binge, I just don’t see the sense in devouring a massive column of pastrami. If I had the ability to dislocate my jaw like a snake and digest it over the course of months…well, maybe I’d love it. But I’d rather just have one or two Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwiches, which, though just a 1/3 of a Carnegie sandwich, taste infinitely better.
But still, I have to respect someone who will ingest this sandwich that appeared in the New York Times today:
Photo: Sylwia Kapuscinski for The New York Times
It comes from a New Jersey deli called Harold’s, and it is a veritable temple of deli excess. This hefty baby is 26 ounces of meat, which is almost two goddamn pounds. It’s sick, obscene, and utterly coma inducing, but if someone is going to pony up and eat that, my hat goes off to them.
Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House 1954-2008
And so this sunday it will come to be.
The Rascal House, arguably the most famous of all Florida’s numerous Jewish delicatessens, will go into the sunset after one final brunch. Friends who have been in the past weeks have said it’s deserted, and many thought it was already closed. I just called and spoke with the cashier, who, in her wisecracking, war-weary voice, told me that Sunday would be the final day of business. Then the sticky buns and buttery rugelach would go away, as would the towering corned beef sandwiches and platters of lox. In a few months a new Epicure market will open in its place, serving overpriced Jewish goods and exotic fruits from all over the world. Gone will be the soul, the taste, the schmaltz and the Tam, and I don’t think it will ever return to Miami Beach again. Wolfie Cohen’s empire, once encompassing Wolfie’s, Pumpernik’s, and Rascal House, is done.
It’s the end of an era, but at least I had the chance to taste it. Sad to see one of the great American delis dying, though it should renew us all with a sense of purpose as to what we’re here to save.
Alef Hasholem Rascal House.
Rest in Peace
Two gorgeous specimen from Max & Benny’s in Northbrook, Il
Today is Purim, literally the sweetest of the Jewish holidays. To those who don’t know, it’s basically a celebration of an averted Holocaust when the Jews were living in the Persian empire during the Babylonian exile, around 6 BCE. The short story is that the Persian King Ahasuerus / Xerxes (yes, the villain from “300″ all painted in gold) had an advisor called Haman, who didn’t like a guy called Mordechai, who was a Jew. And like all good anti-Semities, his best solution was to plot the death of all Jews, and get the king to support it. But Mordechai, who was the palace guard, had a secret weapon: a stunning Jewess called Esther, who he’d adopted as an orphan. The king falls in love with Esther, and like all good Jewish women, she gives him sound advice in his business affairs, averting a genocide, resulting in Haman’s hanging, and the salvation of the Jews…Amen.
Believe me friends, it gives me no joy to report this, but news is news and Jews love nothing more than a sanitary toilet. The New York Times is reporting today that 7th Ave’s famous Stage Delicatessen has been closed by New York’s health department for violation including vermin (that’s rats and roaches folks), since last weekend.
Last year when I was in San Francisco, I saw traces of an emerging gourmet deli scene. The city has long been a central player in high end American gastronomy. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, and the recently opened Ferry Building Marketplace. It is arguably the starting point of Asian food in America, and remains the best place in the country to live on a 100 mile diet (what with Napa and Sonoma so close by). Northern California is blessed with ingredients, culinary talent, and a willingness to step it up in the kitchen.
“I’ll fight ya for dat last knish laddie”
Yes, St. Paddy’s is almost upon us, but please don’t expect me to color the site green and eat emerald colored matzo balls. It just ain’t happenin’. I did go to an Irish pub last night and consumed some great whisky, which is about as shamrock shaking as this Yid gets.
But over the next few days, Jewish delis around North America, and especially cities like New York, Chicago, and Philly are going to be selling more corned beef than they’ve likely done all year. While the lore has it that the Irish brought corned beef to America, the truth is decidedly more deli-centric. Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American/Jewish-American fusion, made famous by the Irish in New York, who adopted the Jewish corned beef so common there in the late 19th century (as a substitute for bacon), spiced it to their liking, added cabbage, and made it the patron saint of Saint Patrick’s Day foods. (more…)
In the whole world of Ashkenazi cuisine and deli foods there’s nothing I love more than matzo ball soup. Last year, as I drove around the United States, eating at delis coast to coast, I ate a lot of things. Usually I took several bites and moved on, careful not to fill up on pastrami, corned beef, knishes, Reubens, brisket, cabbage rolls, etc… But I always had time for matzo ball soup. It was the one thing I never tired of, and often the most enjoyable part of any deli meal. This must go back to childhood memories, or simply feelings of comfort, but at the end of it, matzo balls are just great in my opinion, and I feel like I could eat them endlessly.
Back in December, when I was attending the opening of the 2nd Ave Deli, I met a reporter from the New York Times named Jennifer 8 Lee. She was putting together the story on the deli’s return to Manhattan, and we soon got to talking about my book and her passion for Chinese food. As I talked about the format of the upcoming Save the Deli book, she told me excitedly about her own upcoming work, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. It turns out that Ms. Lee and I were in many ways kindred spirits. In many ways she is my Chinese counterpart: more studious, more accomplished, and more inclined to each chicken feet than to have matzo balls. But still, her blog www.fortunecookiechronicles.com amazingly paralells this site, and her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is in many ways the Sunday night version of Save the Deli.