A lot of you have probably been wondering where I’ve been for the past month and a half. Unfortunately, my father in law was quite sick and passed away just over a week ago. Now that I’ve emerged from the mountain of babka and bagels we call “shiva week”, I wanted to pay tribute to him briefly here.
Howard Malach was a deli lover to the core. He grew up with Moe Pancer’s and others in north Toronto, and spread his love to Center Street, Caplansky’s, 2nd Ave Deli, Schwartz’s, Ben’s, and many more. He loved to fress. I’ll always remember him, oohing and ahhing over the chopped liver at the 2nd Ave Deli a few years ago, as How and my brother in law and I feasted one shabbat.
My relationship with Howard really blossomed at the end, but before that, we could always communicate through food and deli. He was there at the launch parties for Save the Deli in New York and Toronto, video camera in one hand, a sandwich or latke in the other.
In the past month of his life, as eating became a minor miracle, it broke my heart when he’d light up at something I brought him. In Florida, where he spent the winter, he was living on a very restricted diet, and had no appetite, when we went to a deli for a talk I was giving. “I’m just going to take a bit of coleslaw, for a shmeck,” he said, but as soon as he hit the buffet, his plate started filling with corned beef, pastrami, pickles, and potato salad. He tore into that sandwich, the last he’d ever devour, with a huge grin on his face (see pic above).
Less than two weeks later he was in the hospital, in much worse shape. After a week on fluids and pudding, he turned to me and asked for some real food “something to shmeck, to smell, even if I don’t eat it”. Over the next few days I ran out and got him everything he desired: cheeseburgers, milkshakes, Caplansky’s smoked meat poutine, whipped cream. One thing that remained constant was Vernor’s Ginger Ale, a deli staple to those in the Toronto-Detroit corridor. By his last two weeks, Vernor’s was all he ate. The bubbles felt good, it has a bracing, powerful flavor, but partially I think it also brought him back to the deli, to a place of love and safety and comfort, a taste of home.
Deli lovers, wherever you are, do How the honor, and pour out a Vernor’s for one of your own. We’ll miss you.