Save the Deli

Pancer’s Deli Sold

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

(Photo courtesy of

I’ve heard rumours of this for a while, but now it seems to be confirmed. This is not how I wanted to end my year.

Toronto’s Moe Pancer’s Delicatessen has been sold. Lorne Pancer (grandson of Moe) and his sister have sold the deli, the recipes, and the name to longtime customer Jerry Gould, and his son, Lenny, reports the National Post:

“I feel great,” says Lorne Pancer, co-owner since 1999. “I’m going to take a long vacation.”

Jerry Gould, who missed our appointed meeting time Tuesday, tells me later over the telephone that he has big plans for the place.

“My dad hooked me up and bought me this business,” he says. “I’m absolutely not changing anything with the pastrami or corned beef. I spent a good amount of money for the recipes.” (A story on the wall notes that, for the pastrami, the beef briskets are pickled 5-7 days in a brine that contains pickling spices, garlic and salt, then washed off and cooked two hours in a huge kettle in water, onions and garlic, then baked on a tray with “specific spices.”)

Then Mr. Gould starts listing plans for change.

“I want to feed the next generation,” he says. (The crowd around me includes seniors and young families). “I am going to change a little bit of the décor. I am going to do a weekend breakfast. Do a sports night there. Maybe chicken wings. Put a couple of flat screen TVs and get a bit of a sports thing there.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of old school ways there. The cash area is going to be ripped out and a whole new counter put in for efficiency. The smoked meat could be better. Maybe I can go to Montreal and find a proper smoked meat distributor.”

Lorne Pancer was the first deli man to let me see into the business, and I love him dearly. To him I have nothing but congratulations. Lorne, you’ll be missed bud. Not just by me and my family, but by all Toronto deli lovers.

And to Mr Gould, I say this: You’ve inherited more than a property, you’ve bought a legacy. With that comes responsibility to uphold the traditions. Traditions that go beyond the recipes for corned beef and pastrami. It’s the staff (Wilf, Mario, Lori, etc…), the feel, the sound, the smell, and the atmosphere. It’s the way you treat customers and the way you cultivate those traditions. Toronto’s filled with places to get chicken wings and watch shitty hockey on LCD TVs. What it lacks are tested and loved Jewish delis like Moe Pancer’s. Lost sight of that and we’ll all lose. Keep it in mind, and keep it preserved, and the future will be bright indeed.

Katz’s in Austin is Closing

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Just when I thought I was going on vacation…

I just got sent a story from Austin that the Texan capital’s venerable Jewish deli, Katz’s, is closing down. Says the city’s American-Statesman newspaper:

Marc Katz’s delicatessen, a West Sixth Street institution, is closing, after 31 years in business and two bankruptcies.

Katz, whose company, M&M Katz Inc., has been mired in U.S. Bankruptcy Court since July, said the deli will shut down Jan. 2.

“I have to go,” Katz said. “It has been 31 years. I want to leave while I am happy and suppliers and employees are taken care of. I just think it is time.”

Katz informed workers at the restaurant a few weeks ago that it would soon shut down.

“We rode so high for so many years. I just don’t want to do it anymore,” he said.

That gives the restaurant one more Christmas Day in operation. For many years of its operation, Katz’s was known for being one of the few prominent restaurants in Austin that was open on Christmas Day. The all-night deli’s well-known slogan was “Katz’s Never Kloses.”

The parent company to the deli first filed for bankruptcy in 2004, citing heavy debt payments to lender Amresco Commercial Finance and Katz’s son, Barry, who runs a separate restaurant in Houston. That case was closed in 2006, after Katz sold three properties to raise cash.

The second bankruptcy case was filed in July, listing debts including $161,637 to the Internal Revenue Service and $52,635 to the Texas comptroller’s office for unpaid state sales taxes.

According to court records, Katz’s revenue was $582,548.44 from July 21 through Oct. 31, but it had a cumulative loss during that period of $60,030.

This is really too bad. Marc Katz helped establish downtown Austin’s late night scene, and though he was a brash and often controversial character, he was part of Austin’s Keep it Weird soul. Katz’s boasted that it never closed. I guess it will forever. Katz’s…you’ll be missed.

Merry Christmas: Get Ready for Chinese Food (and Deli)

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I was listening to an epic radio documentary about the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by jazz great Vince Guraldi, and I realized we’re in the thick of the Christmas season. Because Hannukah fell so early this year, the smell of latke grease is long gone now, as the egg nog flows through our radios and televisions. I happen to dig this time of year: the lights, the free candy canes at the bank, the never ending stream of Christmas songs written by Jews.

So here’s a Christmas greeting to all Christian deli lovers out there. If you’re heading home with the family, enjoy the tree and the carols and the sweet gifts. And to all the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christians out there, we’ll see you at the deli or, more likely, at Lee Garden. Or in the case of Mile End, both.

See you all in 2011. A happy new year to everyone.

Another deli song (Mexico specific)

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

In keeping with the deli song theme, here’s a little number from David Kamenir, called There are no Delis in Ensenada. It’s a zippy type of thing, and I honestly feel that if we keep listening to these, we’ll basically be on a cruise. Which is a good thing if you’re staring out at the snow right now.

I Own A Deli, I Am Jew

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Wow, Wow, Wow.


A Save the Deli Inspired Odyssey

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

What’s your inspiration for eating deli? In many cases it’s a deep hunger, or a nostalgic need that can only be sated by Jewish delicatessen.

I realize that Save the Deli (the site, the book, the 3D movie) has fueled many of those cravings over the past several years, and why not, that’s the essence of our mission here. Occasionally one of you will write to me about your visits to delis. Sometimes, you even chronicle those journeys (I’m thinking of you Teddy).

Today I got an email from Richard Blackman, who, along with childhood friends Gary, Malcolm, and Larry, left the pastures of suburban DC recently and drove up to the wilds of New York city to eat as much deli as possible in 48 hours.

Here’s their dispatch:

CBS recently aired a broadcast about three of New York City’s finest delis. I dare you to watch without your mouth watering! But my friends and I did CBS one better – actually five better. We did a taste test of 8 delis in 36 hours.

It’s Saturday 9 AM and three of my elementary school friends, Larry, Malcolm and Gary, and I (all in our 50s now) jam into Gary’s 1994 Corolla on the way to New York City in search of the best deli sandwiches, side orders, and pickles. Five minutes into the trip we began an animated conversation – how will we rate the delis? How many total points would we use? How many points per sandwich, what about pickles, what about salads? We also discussed other criteria beside food. Do we add points for atmosphere, or cleanliness? And what about staff – do we add or subtract points for surliness? After an hour of lively discussion, we agreed that we would place the same order at each deli: three sandwiches (hot corned beef, brisket and pastrami), coleslaw, potato salad, and pickles. We also agreed that the taste of the food would be the only item evaluated, and that we would use 100 points total per person per deli — a maximum of 24 points for each sandwich, 14 for pickles, and 14 for side orders. With 4 raters, each deli could score a maximum 400 points.

Even before we set out, I had already won the first argument: we knew that we could not eat everything we ordered, and we would need to take two coolers rather than one for leftovers.

We’d been planning this trip for a year, inspired by David Saks’ book, Save the Deli, which gets a mention in the CBS video above. We chose the eight delis based on internet reviews, a poll of “deli-savvy” friends, and my own personal experiences.

Our first stop was Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Newark, NJ. Salivating with pent-up anticipation after 200 miles on the road, Hobby’s did not disappoint. Hobby’s is truly an original. After walking past the obligatory deli case, with all the tasty food morsels, the co-owner, Marc Brummer, seated us in the spacious dining room. Marc is a deli-owner who loves his work and has “deli” running through his veins. He and his brother started in the business when they were teenagers, and have now taken over the business from their dad, who, although he’s in his 80’s, still offers helpful advice. Marc schmoozed with us throughout the meal and it was a blast. We asked if he was a “Hobby.” It turns out the deli used to be called Hocky’s, but a previous owner had to change the name and could only afford to change two letters in the sign—hence Hobby’s. Marc is a Brandeis graduate, and Larry is too — a high-five moment. This is a fun place to go, and you must spend time talking with the owner.


Caplansky’s Latkapalooza

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I’ve managed to eat latkes every day so far this Hannukah. Some good, some great (mom’s), some awful.
I spent Saturday night at Caplansky’s, attending a latke competition like no other. Here’s a great recap from the Toronto Star:

(photo: Steve Russell, Toronto Star)

No bubbies, but lots of latkes

by Sarah Barmak

Think of it as Iron Chef: Hanukkah edition.

On Saturday night, Caplansky’s, the College St. deli, was packed with lovers of the latke — the famed potato and onion pancake traditionally served during the Jewish holiday. The crowd was there for Latkepalooza, a raucous competition at which five entrants vied for the title of most delicious latke maker in the land.

It was Round II of Caplansky’s Battle of the Bubbies, which kicked off in September with a matzo ball cook-off. With contestants mostly in their 20s and 30s, there were few grannies in sight.

Lindsay Springer, 28, who teaches Grade 7 and 8, was confident of her chances — her aunt, Renee Schachter, won the battle of the matzo balls in Round I. Springer was surrounded by her boisterous mishpacha — that’s “family” in Hebrew — who shouted prepared cheers praising her.

The fight wasn’t nearly as cutthroat this time. Latkes, explained deli proprietor Zane Caplansky, are “egalitarian.” Anyone can make them.

Indeed, at least one of the five contestants, professional barbeque chef Danielle Dimovski, was attempting latke-making for the first time.

Contestants’ latkes were brought from home and heated in the Caplansky oven. Then brown-sugar applesauce was passed around for dipping and the judging began.

Guest judges — there were about 100 — were asked to rate patties on the basis of appearance, flavour, texture and overall likeability.

CBS Sunday Morning (for real)

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Et voila…

Chappy Chanukah

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

It’s that glorious day folks. When the oil sizzles, the starches congeal, and the apple sauce comes out. Light the candles (at least two, tonight), spread the gelt, eat the foil on the chocolate, and give some gifts around.

One that would be good, of course, is a copy of the newly released Save the Deli paperback edition. It’s been out in the USA for two months, and will be hitting shelves in Canada next week. Here’s the new Canadian cover, including James Beard’s bald head stamped right on there.

And now, on to the latkes, courtesy of this adorable Jewish nerd, and his sweet Bubbie.

And if you haven’t had your nerd fill yet, suck on this beauty:

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