Save the Deli

Leo’s and Gleiberman’s in Charlotte

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Leo’s
1421 Elizabeth Ave
Charlotte, NC 28204
(704) 375-2400

Glieiberman’s
www.gleibermans.com
5668-D International Drive, Charlotte, NC 28270.
(704) 563-8288 Toll Free (800) 849-8288

8 Responses to “Leo’s and Gleiberman’s in Charlotte”

  1. Warren Says:

    Deli and Jews that scare good ole boys in Charlotte. Who knew! Awesome. Great read. Love the pics. These are now on my list of places to visit.

  2. Sweeper Says:

    I am in Greenville, SC and have been looking for a decent Jewish deli. It may be a 100 mile drive, but I am going. My friend a fellow Schwartz’s Smoked Meat lover sent me this blog and I am Qvelling!!!

  3. Anthony Silverbrow Says:

    Shouldn’t that be ‘minyans’?

  4. Fred Says:

    When in Charlotte you should go to Katz’s deli in the Arboretum. I have moved back to NY and I miss his outstanding matzoh ball soup and the best whitefish salad anywhere.

  5. Ed Finman Says:

    So I’m the son of the original owner of Leo’s Delicatessen, Leo Finman which he opened in 1948 with my great Uncle, Leo Gottheimer. After his fourth heart attack i sold it in 1968. Lot’s of stories of early Jewish and non-Jewish history between the walls of the store that opened in 1950 on Elizabeth Ave. Not too many memories from the 1948 store located next to the demolished Center Theater on Morehead St at little sugar creek~now part of our greenway that being developed, since i was only four in 1948. One story my Dad told me was that there was no walk-in cooler so he had to make daily trips to the ice house downtown where he stored most of the items in bulk. All products were Kosher, mostly from New York, Chicago, Baltimore & Jersey. He even flew bread in daily even after he finally found a local baker that would bake to his specs. His Mother MInnie was from Lithuania and she started Finman’s Kosher Delicatssen with her husband Alexander in Ybor City, and she taught the bakers how to make the best bread and sweets. Somewhere i have a photo of her holding a six foot challah with heaven knows how many braids in it, but it looked big next to her, and she was a big woman that had eleven kids. I mean somebody had to work the shade grown tobacco farm they had first when they landed in Hartford, Ct in the 1920′s–but that’s another story. My Dad ran the farm where they raised all the cattle & chickens for that deli. No farming in Charlotte, just cooked the corned beef and tonque’s daily; and made lots of chopped chicken liver and schmaltz. Recieved a 55gallon of pickles monthly and tons of other delicacies from around the world~not an exaggeration. My Mother Helen, or as many customer’s called her, MaMa Leo, was in charge of creating the largest wine & cheese selection in the Carolina’s. When i sold it, there were about 2,000 different wine labels, and remember back then California wine was in its infancy. That’s all for now, except it was a fantastic place to be raised~based on the number of sandwiches sold weekly the little place with 52 seats it averaged 400 people a day with Saturday & Sunday being the biggest days by far. People had to wait in line at the door to get their chance to smell the deli aroma’s that soared through the air! Ah,the good ole days!!!

  6. Doug Michael Says:

    Thank you Ed Finman for your interesting recollections. I knew your father, as my father worked next door at Sterling Drug Store. Leo would always give me a cream puff or some other pastry whenever I came in. He was a wonderful, warm, kind person who our family got to know and love over the years. Its too bad they tore down that building. My doctor was upstairs. You could go to the doctor, get your prescription filled downstairs, and then go have a pastry.
    Doug Michael

  7. Ed Finman Says:

    I think I remember your father, he was a pharmacist right? Seems like i saw of photo of him and my dad at Sterling from the old days? My father and mother were always attracted to people that were warm and nice, so apparently your father met that criteria too.

  8. Lisa Chow Says:

    Katz’s needs to hire a better cleaning staff, bathrooms and filthy.

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