Save the Deli

We’ve Won a Canadian Jewish Book Award

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Exciting news! Save the Deli has just won the 2010 Canadian Jewish Book Award for Memoir/Biography.

Now, while I don’t quite get the memoir/biography thing, I’m really honored and quite blown away.

The awards ceremony takes place in just under a month, on May 27th, at the Al Green theatre in Toronto’s downtown JCC (great shvitz there). I will not be attending (I’ll be on my honeymoon), but my dapper Canadian publisher and editor Doug Pepper will be there to accept on my behalf. Tickets are free.

This is definitely some great news, and a thanks to those who nominated and voted for Save the Deli.

Next up, the James Beard Awards, which take place this sunday in NYC, and where Save the Deli is nominated in the category of Writing and Literature. Hopefully it’ll be another dose of naches.

Torontovore’s Smoked Meat Taste Test

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Some deli lovers are simply obsessed with rankings. Like the people who buy magazines with the title “100 places to visit” or “30 must-do pushups”, there’s just something about competition and listing that gets the pros fired up.

And so it is with smoked meat in Toronto, which has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years. First came Caplansky’s, then Stockyards, and Goldins…and let us pray for even more.

But which is best? That’s the question. (more…)

Siegelman waxes poetic on deli’s decline in Forward

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Stanley Siegelman, bard of all verse Jewish in the Forward’s Siegelmania column, weighs in on the death of the deli this weeks poem. Pretty cool:

Decline of the Jewish Deli

We face a cause that’s almost lost,
A gastronomic holocaust!
The deli, home of gourmandise,
Is tottering, upon its knees!
This sanctum of the epicure
No longer is a place secure!

Pastrami lovers everywhere
Are in the throes of deep despair.
They raise their voice in angst and fear
That deli-stores might disappear.

In delis, waiters lie in wait,
Prepared to argue and debate.
’Tis there, midst grease, do the obese
Fall prey to hardened arteries.
No outside activists intrude
In serving Jewish comfort-food.

As chicken soup the patron slurps,
And punctuates the deed with burps,
He contemplates a future dim:
If delis croak, who’ll care for him?

Who’ll serve him kishke, chicken neck,
And all that other kosher dreck?
Some day there could be hell to pay
If he can’t quaff Doc Brown’s Cel-Ray!

Those pickles let the man devour
Before the scene turns truly sour!
Bicarb-of-soda is routine,
A standby of the whole cuisine!

Where do the cognoscenti sup
When delis die, go belly up?
While asking questions such as these,
Let’s eat — and hold the mustard, please!


Deli hits the Food Wars on Travel Channel

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Tune in tonight to the Travel Channel, because it’s a New York pastrami battle on the new hit show Food Wars. The show takes a local food icon, and then weighs in on which local stalwart makes it best. For New York pastrami, it’s the hand slicing haven of Katz’s, vs. the haymish flavors of the 2nd Ave Deli. Oh man.

The beautiful, insightful, and ridiculously buff host Camille Ford interviews fans of both delis, their owners, and resident deli expert David Sax (that’s me!), about the art of pastrami and who does it best. Then there’s a blind taste test, and the winner is…

You’ll just have to tune in tonight at 10 pm EST to find out.

A deli saved in Calgary

Monday, April 19th, 2010

photo credit: Colleen De Neve, Calgary Herald

Sometimes it takes more to save a deli than just writing a book or blog post about it. Sometimes a deli’s salvation needs people to pitch it, help out, and take risks. Sometimes, just sometimes, it requires a community to step up to the plate and do what’s right.

That’s the story out of Calgary recently, when the owners of the Haifa Kosher Deli were hospitalized, and the deli threatened to shut down. In a small community like Calgary’s, where the kosher popoulation relies on a place like Haifa for much of their food, this would have been terrible. ShalomLife picks up the story:

In late December, co-owner Ivor Kavin underwent open heart surgery and his wife Denise was left all alone to run the deli. The job took a toll on her health and shortly after Ivor’s surgery, Denise came down with bronchial asthma and infected lungs. As soon as Ivor returned home from the operation, he took over the store but fell ill again and ended up in the hospital at the same time as his wife. That’s when the community stepped in.

“They are a group of angels,” Denise said about the volunteers to the Calgary Herald. “How do you thank them all?”

Sheila Martin led the pack after hearing about the couple’s misfortunes. She phoned the House of Jacob-Mikhev synagogue to recruit volunteers. Soon, about 20 volunteers signed up for rotating shifts.

There’s another story about the effort in the Calgary Herald as well.

This underscores more than anything I’ve heard, seen, or written about that the link between Jewish delicatessens and their communities are deeper than those of other businesses. It’s not just a restaurant, it’s a lifeline for kosher eating (if it’s kosher), lifecycle catering (bris’ to shivas), and love between patrons and owners.

Zay Gezunt to you all Calgary. Maybe my brother left your city too soon.

Haifa Deli

3109 Palliser Dr. SW
Calgary, Alberta

TE: (403) 238-0525
FAX: (403) 640-1977

The NYT tackles Roots Delis

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Back in NY, albeit just for a week. A big thanks to everyone in Albany and Boston who came out to support me, who listened on the radio, and who even bought a book. A special shout out to the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, who sent this awesome little token up to my room:

Yes, that’s a white chocolate cover of Save the Deli, filled with cookies, and a corned beef sandwich made out of shaved red velvet cake and cookies. So cool.

image courtesy of

Lots of deli news today. First, and most relevant, is a serious feature in the New York Times dining section by Julia Moskin, on what I called the Roots Delis, in Gourmet last year; the back to the farm, DIY, keeping it real deli movement that’s slowly sweeping across the nation.

Says the Times, in Can the Jewish Deli be Reformed:

New delis, with small menus, passionate owners and excellent pickles and pastrami, are rising up and rewriting the menu of the traditional Jewish deli, saying that it must change, or die. For some of them, the main drawback is the food itself, not its ideological underpinnings.

So, places like the three-month-old Mile End in Brooklyn; Caplansky’s in Toronto; Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, Ore.; and Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, N.C., have responded to the low standard of most deli food — huge sandwiches of indifferent meat, watery chicken soup and menus thick with shtick — by moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.

The piece was inspired by Saul’s debate on sustainability. Arguably that’s the deli that’s gone the furthest to radically change themselves, with all the controversy it’s ensued:

Many deli die-hards were present, the kind of people who have found Saul’s matzo brei with green garlic and mission figs to be a poor substitute for salami and eggs.

The story is sure to stir up more heated conversation, and I welcome it. While I don’t have the harsh words for more “traditional” delis that many of the owners quoted in the piece do (note to those deli owners, please look up the Jewish meaning of Lashan Hara and don’t talk shit about your brethren), I do praise a movement emerging of new delis that area challenging the status quo, in a way that’s respectful to the flavors of the past. These are undoubtedly the most exciting delis opening in recent years, and their success is a testament to that.

But let’s put this in the greater context of the deli world. There’s nothing wrong with Katz’s, or any other neighborhood deli that doesn’t source their meat from cattle lovingly massaged by artesenal hippy farmers. The Langer’s pastrami sandwich, with meat that is made in a commercial facility, and rye bread brought in from outside, is still an unmatched masterpiece. The 2nd Ave Deli is a temple. A holy fucking temple.

Can these places learn a thing or two from the new upstart roots delis? Undoubtedly. If their success encourages old school places to make more food from scratch, or experiment with new dishes, that will move the culture and cuisine of the delicatessen forward. But let’s not forget the past, and begrudge a style of Jewish deli that many people love and hold dear. For every young convert that’s rediscovered deli at these young places, there’s the lifelong customer at the old school kosher deli. He’s been eating there for 70 years, and it’s a part of his life. We should love all Jewish delis and show them the respect they deserve. Diversity is strength.

*Also, tonight I’ll be speaking at an event in NYC called Culinary Microhistories, at Housing Works Bookstore.
Join Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi, David Sax, author of Save the Deli, Anne Mendelson, author of Milk, and Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar, for a discussion of food-writer obsessions, moderated by Publishers Weekly’s Mark Rotella.
7pm on Crosby, just south of Houston. Free.

On to Albany and Beantown

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Mmmm bread. Man did I enjoy that bagel this morning. Sweet carby goodness.

Hope you all had a nice Pesach. Now, back to the tour.

This weekend coming up is packed with events. On Saturday, I’ll be appearing at the Empire State Book Festival, in Albany, speaking on two panels. One on food history and the other on blogs to books (or in this case, books to blogs to books). Come on out if you’re in the area (I’ll be back there to speak at the JCC two weeks later).

Then, it’s on to the Boston area, for a trio of exciting events.

On Sunday, I’ll be talking at a brunch in Framingham, at Temple Beth Am. Call 508-561-0974 and speak to John if you want tickets.

That night, I’ll move to Newton, and talk during a dinner at Temple Shalom. Yes kids, there will be food. Contact the temple for tickets.

And finally, on Monday night, I will be at the Brookline Booksmith talking at 7pm. The event is free, and I’m told there’ll be some snacks from Zaftig’s on hand.

I haven’t been to Boston in years, and certainly never Jewish Boston, but I’m pretty psyched, because I’ve heard a lot about it from these two friends of mine, Ronna and Beverly, who also happen to be authors:

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