So as one old friend and Save the Deli fan recently wrote in an email “Sax, your less than once a week posts to the blog are just not working for me. It’s almost as demoralizing as putting butter on a smoked meat sandwich.”
Ha. I slave away for you my minions, and this is the thanks I get!
Truth be told I’ve been a bit lazy lately, first because of Passover (it’s allowed), and then just due to a lack of anything to write. But with the book coming out six months from this week, rest assured, shit is going to get crazy.
One thing I’ve been procrastinating is catching up on delis I visited, but never got around to writing about. I’m specifically interested in those that didn’t ultimately make it into the book, due to space constraints.
So today let’s head down to Tarheel country and visit Charlotte. It’s been two years since I was there, but the taste is fresh in my mind.
Charlotte isn’t a huge Jewish mecca, but it’s a growing one, and it has history. The stalwart of Charlotte’s deli scene downtown is the small but charming Leo’s, a classic place owned by a Greek family (the finest non-Jewish deli owners, along with Egyptians). Leo’s serves great corned beef and Reuben’s, with a classic menu that’s minimal, inexpensive, and loved by locals. What’s great about the place is you can wash it all down with the sweet iced tea they serve there. This stuff will rot your teeth and make you hyper as a small dog in a smaller crate, but that shocking sweetness perfectly offsets the salt and mustard tinge of their respectable sandwiches. They also have an awesome painting hanging, which is of one of the countermen that no longer works there. I think it sums up everything that’s great about deli countermen better than any sentence of mine ever could.
In the suburbs, where most of the Jews live, there’s a large kosher supermarket and restaurant by the name of Glieberman’s. In the glatt kosher world, where access to food is a matter of life, large multi-purpose places like Glieberman’s serve all the community needs. They are places for lunch, catering, nice dinners, takeout, groceries, and any other edible service. When I was eating in their linen-covered dining room, the great dichotomy of southern deli came to play out before me.
I had just eaten a wonderfully juicy brisket sandwich with a side of jus, like a French dip. It was packed with such a clear distillation of beef flavor I could have poured it over ice and drank it like sweet tea, and I have to say it was the most moist, tender, and delicious brisket sandwich I’ve ever eaten. I was in the midst of devouring their sweet and sour, cabbage roll, –packed so loosely that it felt like a delicate pilaf– when two men walked in. Well, they were less men and more Good Ole’ Boys, hardworking Southern men in dust caked construction gear, worn baseball caps, and mouths filled with dipping tobacco. They’d been working nearby and wanted lunch, though the look of bewilderment on their face betrayed their apprehension.
“Y’all got a special here?” the older one asked. They sat next to me and studied the menu, whispering to each other and pointing around, casting fearful glances. At the table across from them, a large family of larger Jews from Long Island were doing their utmost to reinforce every Jewish stereotype they could. They complained to the waitress loudly, at one point saying that the soup was so much better than the other day, which she made sure to mention was terrible (the waitress told me it was the exact same batch of soup). They yelled at their kids to “sit and eat”, and laughed so loud the silverware shook. The Good Ole’ Boys ordered tuna sandwiches and stayed completely silent. They might as well have walked into a café in Baghdad.
My point (if there is one) is that deli in a place like Charlotte, NC can be a real adventure. These places are on the deli frontier. This ain’t New York or Montreal or LA. This is where deli requires an explanation, and I’ll tell you folks, the best way to explain it is the corned beef at Leo’s and the brisket at Gleiberman’s.
Go on down and check it out for yourself.
1421 Elizabeth Ave
Charlotte, NC 28204
5668-D International Drive, Charlotte, NC 28270.
(704) 563-8288 Toll Free (800) 849-8288