Save the Deli

Going to the Chuppah…

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Hey Everyone. Just a note to let you know that I’m getting married this weekend and then I’m off on the honeymoon for a few weeks, so don’t expect any updates here until mid-June. Don’t worry, we’re doing the out of towner dinner at Caplansky’s, and there will be grilled Chicago 58 salami sandwiches at the reception. I lost out on the stuffed gefilte carp though. That one didn’t fly.

Celebrate Shavuos with Blintzes, Dawn, and Rolled Beef

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Shavuot is coming next week, and there’s a lot to celebrate this weekend.

Traditionally, this is when Jews, those of the lactose intolerance, go wild on dairy. What better way to get down with it all than some delicious blintzes. Tablet has an article all about the search for perfect blintzdom, like these beauties above. Here’s a taste:

In time, a few broad categories of blintz emerged. One common variety—large as a jumbo hotdog and amply stuffed—is represented at Junior’s in Los Angeles. Burrito-shaped, these blintzes have a well-seared, browned exterior, which plays nicely off the thick, sweet but not cloying, farmer-cheese filling. Similar in shape, but even bigger are the blintzes at the classic kosher lunch counter in New York’s East Village, B&H Dairy. They are incredibly crisp, almost crunchy, with a particularly savory exterior counterbalanced by an especially sweet cheese interior. I also found equally large, but far less crispy blintzes, like those served up at Zaidy’s in Denver. With a paler, chewy pancake, this school of blintz is more like a steamed bun than a fried eggroll. At each restaurant, an order of blintzes makes a meal, especially if you consider they’re topped with berry preserves or sour cream, since nothing goes better with a cheesy filling than a heaping spoonful of more dairy.

Finally, there are the incredibly light, feathery blintzes, which most closely resemble crepes and approached the fabled translucence of Grandma Anna’s bletlach. The finest I sampled of this ilk were at Veselka, the stalwart Ukrainian diner in New York City, where the blintzes are folded into a simple triangle lest they crumble in more intricate preparation.

If you’re in the Bay Area this weekend, you should definitely pick up tickets to Dawn, the late night Shavuot party put on by Reboot, featuring Sandra Bernhard in conversation; Russian Debutante’s Handbook author Gary Shteyngart; a live performance by the inspirational band Fool’s Gold; local author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) slinging Jewish cocktails and more… 7:30 PM California Academy of Sciences

And if dairy ain’t your thing, head out to Rego Park, Queen’s, to kosher delicatessen Ben’s Best. They were recently hailed as having the best pastrami sandwich in the city, and Jay Parker, the owner, just emailed to tell me that the elusive rolled beef has just arrived and is going fast!

Jewish Star: Kosher Subways hit roadblocks

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

A few months back, someone interviewed me about the significance of Subway opening a kosher store. Now, someone interviewed me on the significance of Subway closing a kosher store in Queens (different location). I personally could care less about Subway, one way or another, but some of you have strong opinions on it. Is kosher Subway a force for good? Or evil? Or meh?

In a story from the Jewish Star, of Long Island:

Kosher Subways hit roadblock
By Michael Orbach

Some latter-day Biblical critics have suggested that Jews and deli may have been the 11th Commandment. Broad generalities aside, given the Jewish fondness for pastrami on club and its sandwich siblings, who would think that a kosher Subway franchise in a heavily Jewish neighborhood could be a bad idea?

Alas, reality is bitter. Two kosher versions of the national restaurant chain have failed in this region. A Subway on Ave. J in Midwood, blocks from the real subway, closed months ago; the other, on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, shut last month.

“A lot of that is related to our inability to take advantage of the economies of scale,” explained Les Winograd, a spokesman for Subway. Each restaurant is individually owned but franchisees tap into the collective buying power of 23,000 stores in the U.S., said Winograd. That is of limited value to kosher stores.

“With kosher locations we have to source kosher products from suppliers that are in the region, and so they only might be providing food for a very small number of locations,” he said. “Also, for a kosher store to be operating, it has to follow local rabbinical supervision and go to a different supplier than one in another area.”

The store’s owner then goes on to blame the local kosher authorities for ruining his business, and the Vaad tosses the blame back his way. But there’s more interesting stuff further down, about the failure of kosher fast food outlets worldwide:

“I think it was a fad,” Krevat said of a kosher Subway. “When we landed in Israel the first place my daughter wanted to go was Burger King. It’s a forbidden fruit. That will get you trial but unless you can deliver a fair product at a fair price, it isn’t going to last.”

As it happens, Orgad Holdings, which owns the Burger King franchise rights in Israel, announced this week that its 55 locations would become Burger Ranch restaurants this summer.

My own opinion? I really don’t think the fate of Subways make any difference in the greater Jewish food story. It has nothing to do with our traditions, our flavors, or our communities. It’s just business. Brought in, made kosher, and then just trying to survive like everyone else. There’s a lot of people in the kosher world who think that fast food style service, operations, and franchises will save kosher delicatessens. They all realize that there’s no magic answer. At the end of the day, people will go to a kosher Subway (or McDonalds, Burger King, etc…) the first time out of curiosity. But to get them to come back, you have to serve good food for a price that people are willing to pay.

Deli Street Food Meets San Francisco

Friday, May 7th, 2010

(credit: stacey palevsky and nina lau)

San Francisco’s time is at hand. You heard it here folks.
The city is on the fringes of deli greatness. Saul’s in Berkeley is leading the sustainable deli movement nationwide, while local stalwarts like Miller’s and Moishe’s Pippic are keeping the city stocked with corned beef. Down in San Carlos, the Refuge is boasting world class pastrami. So far, these are the green shoots of something. We’re flirting with wonder here. The city, which boasts deli lovers, great ingredients, and serious foodies, has just lacked that kick to bring the great Northern California deli movement to the forefront.

Well, it’s here. And it’s right on the streets. Reports J Weekly:

(credit: Emily Savage)

Takin’ it to the streets: Jewish vendors add deli favorites to S.F. mobile food scene
by emily savage, staff writer

San Francisco’s Madame Bubbles was on her way to teach Hebrew school a few weeks ago when a small crowd of curious bystanders gathered around her.

Riding her 1950s-style adult tricycle, Madame Bubbles, aka Amelia Nahman, had a large basketful of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer — for making egg creams, the classic East Coast deli beverage.

Nahman typically serves her nine-ounce egg creams at bar or bat mitzvahs, in municipal parks or on the sidewalk in front of bakeries. But on that particular day she was shlepping her ingredients to Congregation Sha’ar Zahav to whip up some samples for her students.

It seems that the inquisitive passersby had a different idea.
In fact, she ended up selling so many egg creams — made with homemade seltzer and served in compostable potato-starch cups — that she didn’t have enough left for her students. But don’t feel too bad for the kids; they’ll get to taste a real New York egg cream soon enough, at a Sha’ar Zahav picnic in Dolores Park on Saturday, May 8. Nahman has been invited to pedal over and serve up her treats.

Nahman’s egg cream business, named simply “Egg Cream Cart,” is part of an ever-expanding group of specialty food-cart vendors popping up across the nation, primarily in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and New York. Call it a movement if you will, and it’s growing at a “gastronomical” rate thanks to a perfect storm of social networking and an active foodie community. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST

The story goes on to detail other Jewish street food vendors in San Francisco, like Pearl’s Kitchen:

(credit: Nina Lau)

The menu for Pearl’s Kitchen consists of corned beef hash and egg salad sandwiches on homemade dill bread during brunch hours; and sweet noodle kugel and carved corned beef sandwiches on rye with mustard slurry at evening gatherings. The Bownes charge between $5 and $7 per item, and some of the food is cooked on-site, such as fried eggs in the mornings, made to order on a portable burner.

When Lauren and Jon arrive at street-food gatherings, they set up a large table, a propane gas burner and a variety of chafing dishes, along with a board listing that day’s menu. People amble by and typically have one of two reactions: “What is noodle kugel?” or “Oh my God, I haven’t seen kugel like that since my grandma made it.”

And this is just the start folks. When I was in San Francisco, I heard from several young foodsters who were interested in starting trucks, carts, and stands that will feature Jewish foods. A revolution is brewing in America’s most beautiful city. Get out there and taste it!

Forward asks “Can Pastrami Conquer the Palate in the Land of Hummus and Falafel?”

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

(there’s a deli on those shores)

From today’s Forward, a look at the new Jewish deli that’s become a bit of a sensation in Tel Aviv:

Can Pastrami Conquer the Palate in the Land of Hummus and Falafel?
by Gil Shefler

At Ruben, a new restaurant with a distinctly American Jewish flavor, there’s almost no need for a menu; the thick smell of pastrami is like a business card for the eatery’s unabashed focus on smoked meats. Patrons can choose among freshly sliced heaps of pastrami, turkey or a mix, placed between two thin slices of rye with sauerkraut and a schmear of mustard, horseradish or harrisa — a Tunisian hot sauce that is one of the few concessions made to suit the local palate.

Since it opened several months ago, Ruben has carved out a following for pastrami on rye in the land of pita and falafel. While American-themed restaurants have been around for a while, Ruben is the first to devote itself entirely to cold cut sandwiches and has won the distinction of being called Israel’s first authentic Jewish deli by the local press. This month, in fact, Ruben will become a chain when a new branch opens at another Tel Aviv location, with one more new opening planned soon after.

“Ruben’s success has exceeded our expectations,” bragged Gavriel Zilber, 31, one of the restaurant’s owners. “I think we’re successful because Israelis recognize the quality of our product. But also, it reminds them of visits to New York and Montreal.”

It may come as a surprise to some that it took 61 years for Israel to be able to boast its first deli. But it shouldn’t. Despite impressions, this is not quite Ashkenazi food from “the Old Country.” Delis serving hallmark fare like oversized sandwiches and matzo balls larger than baseballs are a distinctly American creation. Eastern European Jews invented them only after their arrival in the New World, around the turn of the 20th century, and combined Old Country staples with local favorites and ingredients. Similar variants developed among Jewish communities in places like France and the United Kingdom but not in Israel, where local cuisine evolved in a different direction.

David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” which tells the story of the increasingly endangered Jewish delicatessen, says there are a number of reasons that the deli never made it to the Holy Land.

“The climate made it very difficult for people to grow the produce, especially raise cattle for such a meat-based food,” Sax said in a telephone interview from New York. “Also, the food itself doesn’t suit the climate as much. Then there was the clear philosophical break Israel’s founding fathers made with the Diaspora, and [the indigenous] falafel became the official food of Israel.” CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

Hebrew National discontinues Mustard

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

(Adios amigo)

This just in. Word from the deli world that Hebrew National is discontinuing their branded deli mustard, due to declining sales.

A letter from Hebrew National’s corporate owners ConAgra stated the following to delis on April 30th:

Due to declining sales, we will be discontinuing production of our Hebrew National branded mustard. The following three SKUs will no longer be available for sale as of May 1st, 2010:
• 74956-18512 HBN 4/1GAL DELI MUSTARD
• 74956-18507 HBN 12/12OZ SQZ BTL. DELI MUSTARD
• 74956-18517 HBN 12/24OZ DELI MUSTARD

This is just one more move away from traditional deli for Hebrew National. Since its purchase by food industry giant ConAgra in 1993, traditional deli products have disappeared on a regular basis. ConAgra wants to sell hot dogs to Cosco and Sam’s Club, not pastramis to small delis. Deli industry insiders say its only a matter of time before Hebrew National moves out of the deli business entirely.

Such a shame.

Food Bank Fundraiser at Ben’s

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

And now, let’s talk about a really good cause. On Thursday night I’ll return to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Manhattan (scene of the great deli book launch), for a special fundraiser on behalf of the Food Bank for New York City. There will be the usual Ben’s treats, and I’ll be talking about deli for the first time since the James Beard Award, and the last time before my wedding. So come out and support a great cause, eat some great food, and wish me well in the married life. I’ll need it.

You can buy tickets here. $50 each. All proceeds go to the Food Bank.

Save the Deli Wins A James Beard Award!

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

(Yes, that’s a Hawaiian tie)

Well deli lovers, we did it. Last night Save the Deli won a James Beard award in the category of Writing and Literature!

It was a wild night. I haven’t shvitzed that intensely since I was at a Russian banya. There was every kind of treyf you could imagine, great friends from the food world, and enough mixed alcohol to give me a hangover for the rest of today (hence, the late entry).

Thanks to everyone who made this happen. That means you.

E-mail It