Save the Deli

Escaping to the Cleve

Me Luv Deli

Sorry I’ve been woefully absent as of late. Last week I found myself hunting for new digs in New York, and am proud to say that Save the Deli HQ will soon be moving to Brooklyn, the historic home of Jewish delicatessen in America (current recommendations welcome). And while I have a juicy tidbit from the 2nd Ave Deli in the wings, I must write about my Labor Day trip to the Cleve.

Yes Cleveland…say what you will about the much mocked “Mistake by the Lake”, but anyone who has seen the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon visits cannot resist its charms. And on Labor Day weekend, myself, the Ms. and select friends went to go visit the Ponsky Pickle clan in the Cleve.

Which brings me, as always, to deli. Like Detroit, Cleveland is one of those deli towns that hits above its weight class. A large Jewish community has instilled in this city a reverential love of corned beef, which is advertised and served all over the city and the burbs. This is legendary deli man country, including Hot Dog King Bob Schwartz (a Cleveland native).


The first stop we hit was the Vienna Beef store, which is sort of a small factory/shop/delicatessen, although there are no seats. We were greeted by Reagan, the owner, and Steve, the counterman, who proceeded to show off the dizzying selection of deli mustards, wrap some of Chicago’s best hot dogs, and lay out scalding slices of Sy Ginsberg’s legendary corned beef. It’s been nearly a year and a half since I’d last tasted Sy’s corned beef in Motown, and within a bite I was transported back to the cold of a February day in Michigan. That flavor signature–perfectly salted, hitting with garlic, subtly spiced–remains, in my opinion, the finest corned beef in America.


From there we forged on to the grandaddy of Cleveland delis, Corky & Lenny’s. Around for half a century, Corky’s is the biggest, best known, and most expansive of Cleveland’s delicatessens, found in a big shopping plaza. After walking in, you’re greeted by a massive display case packed with every imaginable deli meat and treat, from Wilno salamis drying to spreads and salads.

Who Needs Paris?

After we sat, I had a quick chat with current owners Kenny and Earl (what perfect deli names!), who are the most picturesque deli owning duo I’ve ever seen. Kenny’s the tall, lean, sarcastic one with grey hair, and Earl’s the bubbly stout guy with a massive grin.


The immense menu is a wonder of suburban Americana. They’ve got hundreds of items including corned beef on salads, roast kishke, smoked fish up the ying yang, sandwiches galore, and combinations that stretch the bounds of the jaw. I opted for a wonderfully salty bowl of matzo ball soup, with a dense, firm, schmaltz heavy m-ball, and a trio of mini-sandwiches…creamy chopped liver, a sweetly spiced Romanian style NY pastrami (my first in ages), and Sy’s gorgeous corned beef, all served on little challah rolls. Kenny came by after and passed out warm raspberry rugelach…purely sensational. We waddled out of there.




Later that weekend we grilled a salami from the deli in a backyard, fired up the Vienna dogs, and had a second round of deli by the pool. Then we made pickles chez Ponsky as Air Force jets from the air show flew overhead.



All in all, a great weekend, and for deli lovers, I’d highly reccomend a pilgrimage to Cleveland. Next time I’ll be checking out Jack’s and Slyman’s.

12 Responses to “Escaping to the Cleve”

  1. NancyH Says:

    Oy – you missed the most awesome purveyor of Deli here in the Cleve- Mister Brisket!

    With the able assistance of his step son Hank, Sanford Hershkovitz is turning out some of the most amazing pastrami this former NY-er has ever eaten! Their turkey breast takes me back to my childhood, and the corned beef is also delicious. Make sure you stop by on your next trip.

    Also – forget the meats at Jack’s – their best items are the smoked fishes – the meats are good, but the fishes are excellent.

    And Slyman’s remains Slymans – hard to find a better corned beef sandwich anywhere!

  2. oldsalt Says:

    David, thanks for that tasty essay on Cleveland deli’s. I had an aunt who hailed from there, but she never mentioned those fabulous deli’s. Here in Southern California we have a small gourmet (high priced) super market chain by the name of Bristol Farms. They carry Sy Ginsberg’s corned beef and pastrami in their deli section. Never tried either, but I plan to get some of that corned beef without fail, based on your recommendation. Thanks,

  3. Sharon Says:

    Best deli in Brooklyn is Jay & Lloyd’s on Avenue U. Hands down.

  4. nanci Says:

    who ever posted the note that earl is the short one and kenny the tall one at corky and lenny’s is wrong. earl is the tall one and not a bit sarcastic, you have them confused.

  5. jeff Says:

    I’ve been going to Jack’s since I was a little child. I prefer them over Corky and Lenny’s any day.
    Going to Vienna with my dad is always a treat. You can not leave there without a sample. I remember their old store when I was a kid.

  6. Cappy Says:

    Corky & Lennys is #1, with Jacks a close #2. A lot of times it’s easier to get a seat at Jacks.

  7. jeff moss Says:

    I just got your book courtesy of my mom who is the librarian at my temple in Cleveland. I read most of the book last night and could not sleep because it made me so hungry!
    I went to Jack’s this morning at 7:15 and had my fill of delicious food! The book is great!

  8. Dave Says:


  9. kenny herman Says:

    After living in texas for over 25 years, reading “escaping to the cleve” brought back more tastey memories than you could imagine. I think I’ll go out now and get a corned beef. mmmmmmm!

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    Betty White is Good I actually hope she decides to do a lot more than 10 episodes. I can’t wait until the calendar comes out in Sept it is going to be awesome.

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