Save the Deli

Summer Hours

June 27th, 2011

Sorry everyone, but it’s summer, and I haven’t been posting too much. It’s sunny out, it’s nice, my family got a new dog, I’m traveling and just being lazy. I’ll be sure to post when there’s big news, but until then, get out and enjoy the weather kids.

Toronto Deli Duel Redux This Weekend

June 13th, 2011

This happened last summer (Caplansky’s won), and it’s happening again, this time with the added firepower of Wolfie’s, representing the old school North York delis. Let’s do this!

A Second 2nd Ave dawns, and the deli summit video

June 6th, 2011

Hot time, summer in the city! Which means it’s the perfect time for the soon to open Upper East Side 2nd Ave Deli to show its stuff. Here’s a pic courtesy of the blog Lost New York City

Also, here’s the video from that great Saul’s new school deli summit a few weeks back.

Friday Roundup

May 27th, 2011

First off, a hearty thank you to everyone who commented on the last post about Howard. In his honor, Caplansky’s Delicatessen here in Toronto is offering a weekend brunch special called a Howard Jack, which is chocolate babka french toast. Worth checking out.

Because I was basically off the grid for a month, there’s a lot I didn’t post. Apologies to those who sent me stories or ideas. Here’s a few recent ones in a quick end-of-week roundup.

Seattle’s ambitious new deli, Stopsky’s, had a soft opening last week, with lines reportedly out the door. After a small espresso fire (who knew that could even happen?), they’re prepping to reopen fully and finally on Monday. The menu is up online and the special on opening day is knish. Check it out, the menu looks sick.

One thing I missed out on was the second annual Deli Summit from the procative thinkers Karen and Peter at Saul’s in Berkely, who debated the future of the Jewish delicatessen once again with help from a who’s who of the new school deli world: Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff, Ken Gordon from Kenny and Zuke’s, and Evan Bloom from Wise Sons across the Bay…with everyone’s favorite cookbook maven, Joan Nathan, in the moderator’s chair. With any luck, video should be posted soon, but a big hand goes out to Saul’s, which is quickly becoming the Aspen Institute of delicatessen thought.

It’s Friday, and that means if you’re in the DC area, head down to Sixth and I synagogue, and get a kosher delicatessen sandwich from Spike Mendelssohn’s recently launched food truck.

And in legal news, a few weeks back the 2nd Ave Deli sued an establishment called the Heart Attack Grill over the naming of menu items. Reports the New York Post:

The Second Avenue Deli filed suit yesterday to beat back a chutzpah-laden challenge to sales of its “Instant Heart Attack Sandwich” and a planned “Triple Bypass Sandwich.”
The famed Jewish-style restaurant says it got an accusatory letter from lawyers for Arizona’s Heart Attack Grill, which specializes in fatty food with a “taste worth dying for.”
The March 29 missive alleged infringement of the medical-themed hamburger joint’s trademarks and “unequivocally threatened” legal action.

Tribute to a Deli Lover

May 24th, 2011


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.

London’s Getting a Posh New Deli

May 5th, 2011

Hey there. Remember me? Yeah, I know it’s been a long time, but with Passover, life, cars crashing into delis, and Bin Laden getting in the way, I’ve been a bit lazy on these pages. But what are you gonna do…pay me? Exactly.

Still, I come bearing good news. At least for those of you across the pond in the Ole Blighty. Yes, the comedown from the Royal Wedding is still happening, but rest assured Londoners, there is reason to hope, because The Deli West One is launching soon.

Owner Alan Lee is promising a top notch, all class, properly done kosher delicatessen in Marylebone, West London, featuring smoked salmon, salami, pickles, coleslaw, bagels, and of course, salt beef.
Construction is still in progress, but you can follow them on facebook or twitter.

Jay and Lloyd’s of Brooklyn get Chai on their Birthday

April 11th, 2011


These days, with just a handful of delicatessens left in Brooklyn, once the Jewish deli capital of the earth, it’s a joyous milestone to wish any of them a happy birthday. Today is an especially happy one for Jay and Lloyd’s Kosher Delicatessen, which celebrates 18 years in business, a significant number representing life in Jewish numerology. They’ll be honoring the birthday at 1pm with a little party, featuring Brooklyn food maven Arthur Schwartz, as well as various politicos, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a man who has never missed out on a deli related event as far as I’ve heard of him.

I’ve been to Jay and Lloyd’s before, and I really have a soft spot for the place. Lloyd is a consumate schtick-filled barrel of laughs (see pic below), and the food is damn tasty, particularly the vegetable latke. Plus, there’s a pastel kind of design that harkens back to the Rascal House and those grand old Florida delis. You can’t go wrong.

Mazel tov Jay and Lloyd. Well earned.


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Is Pork in Jewish Dishes Lazy?

April 7th, 2011

The bacon-wrapped matzo balls at Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals.

Yesterday, Tablet published a very thought provoking essay by writer, cook, and rabbinical student Benjamin Resnick, on why Jewish chefs tossing pork into Jewish dishes just ain’t cool. Here’s just some of what he wrote:

The Jewish culinary tradition is a hot trend in American dining. At Brooklyn’s Mile End Noah Bernamoff and Aaron Israel serve up cholent with veal shortribs and kasha varnishkes with confit gizzards. At the impishly named Traif, also in Brooklyn, Chef Jason Marcus—who describes himself as “Jewish, although obviously not great at it”—focuses on pork and shellfish. At his Los Angeles restaurant The Gorbals, Top Chef winner Ilan Hall gussies up matzo balls by wrapping them in bacon. “Pork fat does something magical to matzah meal,” Hall told the Jewish Journal in November.

Jewish food that actively thumbs its nose at the laws of kashrut clearly holds tremendous social allure for some. As Jeffrey Yoskowitz wrote in the Atlantic, Traif’s Marcus “is counting on other Jews to hear about his restaurant and think, ‘Cool, I’m a non-kosher Jew too.’ ” Indeed, most of the critical praise earned by establishments like Traif and Mile End has highlighted—knowingly or not—the clever disjuncture of embracing Jewishness while simultaneously rebelling against it. Thus when the New York Times fawned over Traif’s “seared foie gras, slumming it with fingerling potatoes, crisp shards of ham, and a fried egg, all dribbled with maple syrup and hot sauce,” the reviewer, Ligaya Mishan, had to add: “Now this is chutzpah.”

Before starting rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2009, I put in time behind the stoves at Telepan on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I smoked upward of 5,000 trout, and at Restaurant Saul, in Brooklyn, not far from Mile End, where I once cooked by candlelight when the block lost power in the middle of dinner service. At the time I was working in kitchens I was not observant—and I therefore ate just about every abomination in the book. I also learned all the tricks at chefs’ disposals. But now I know some of the rabbis’ tricks, too, and, with this dual knowledge, I can’t help but see the menus offered up by this new generation of trayf-worshippers as lazy—not religiously, necessarily, but culinarily. READ THE REST OF THE ESSAY HERE

As usual with anything kosher related, this set off a firestorm of debate, including a response in the comments by Noah Bernamoff from Mile End:

the notion that I’m being lazy is absurd: Mr. Resnick, clearly, has never visited the restaurant, because had he, he would discover that we cure and smoke all of our meats and fish, bake all of our breads, and pickle all of our vegetables. Show me one Kosher restaurant or delicatessen that is attempting to retain the methods of our Ashkenazi culinary tradition like Mile End, Saul’s, Kenny & Zuke’s and Caplansky’s?

While I have no problem with a restaurant like Mile End serving a breakfast sandwich with bacon in it, I do have some sympathy for Resnick’s point. Tossing bacon into a Jewish dish, like the matzo balls above, or the chopped liver at Joe Doe, sits poorly with me for two reasons. The first is that it really is a slap in the face to the tradition. It doesn’t honor it, or update it. It just takes it away. But the other reason is that it is a missed opportunity. When I was in Hungary last summer, or at Maison David in Paris years before, I tasted dishes that were firmly rooted in the Jewish tradition, and kosher, which held the culinary potential that Jewish cooks in North America have just begun to touch on (Mile End’s cholent is a prime example). Sure, you can wrap a matzo ball in bacon, but to make it out of goose fat, or air dry cured veal, or make salami with duck and hazelnuts…that pushes the culinary envelope out of the comfort zone while staying true to the one thing that made this food Jewish in the first place…that it was based around the rules of kashrut (whether it is certified or not). Chopped liver made with cream and butter isn’t chopped liver, it’s pate. Kreplach sauteed with bacon are just Polish pirogies. They’re not Jewish, they’re just Eastern European.

Montreal dispatch: Schwartz’s Musical opens tomorrow and Wilensky’s open Saturdays!

March 31st, 2011

Montreal, oh sweet Montreal, you never cease to bring a deli lover joy.

Two great things are going down this weekend. Some would even say monumental.

First, the hotly anticipated musical theatre adaptation of Bill Brownstein’s book on Schwartz’s is hitting the stage tomorrow at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. Here’s what they’re promising:

Inspired by Bill Brownstein’s popular book, “Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story”, comedy duo extraordinaire Bowser & Blue bring the colourful story to life on stage with a full cast of larger-than-life characters who call Schwartz’s “home,” and some of the many customers who pass through its doors. Schwartz’s: The Musical celebrates the eccentric side of Schwartz’s and what makes us Montrealers with lots of humour, wit and heart, while grappling with such issues as the smoked meat and pastrami debate, the food police, the measure of success in tumultuous times and the dreaded F-word: franchise!

Despite the long connection of delis to Broadway, I’m amazed that a deli musical is only now hitting the stage. This is pretty monumental, and I hope to get down sometime this summer to see it. Check it out:

And if that weren’t enough of a reason to visit Montreal, here’s another.

Wilensky’s, that plucky lunch counter where time stands still, has finally decided to open on Saturdays. Yes. Blessed be the heavens. Yesterday the Montreal Gazette reported the news, and Sharon Wilensky told me how quickly it spread:

A customer about your age came into the store last Friday. I had heard him talking about Twitter when he had come in the time before…. When I told him we were opening on Saturday, he tweeted it. It’s amazing how fast news travels.

Despite their new hours and newfound fame, Schwartz’s and Wilensky’s thankfully remain as untouched, old school, and delicious as ever. God, it’s been a year since I was in Montreal. Time for a return.

A Deli Luncheon in Ole Miss that Needs to be Saved

March 30th, 2011

The folks at Vox Tablet’s podcast bring us a wonderful story about a deli luncheon in Mississippi.

Half a century ago, the Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Miss., was the state’s largest synagogue; its sanctuary overflowed during the High Holidays, attracting worshipers from the city and surrounding communities. But many children of those earlier congregants have moved away, and by 2000, the temple dismissed its full-time rabbi. One tradition, though, has held on: Hebrew Union’s annual deli luncheon, a fundraiser for the Temple Sisterhood and a much-anticipated event for both the Jews and non-Jews of Greenville. (In 2009, 1,400 corned beef sandwiches were served.) Reporter Philip Graitcer attended this year’s luncheon earlier this month and filed this dispatch from a tradition that might not endure.


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