Save the Deli

Saveur Sandwich Issue

March 29th, 2011

I’m not just writing this because I’m a contributing editor at Saveur. I’m writing this out of love and awe.

Love, because the newly released Sandwich Issue is a work of pure wonder.

Awe, because they managed to pull it off with perfection.

You want deli: they cover Harold’s, they cover sardines at Jewish delis, they cover bagels and lox, and they have Jane and Michael Stern on the search for great Jewish rye bread. I’m in there, talking about Israeli schnitzel sandwiches, plus there’s this gorgeous series of sandwich videos from the 2nd Ave Deli, with two of my favorite people on earth: the great Steve Cohen and David Gonzales.

I have read this issue cover to cover twice in the past three days. Pick it up. You will not be disappointed.

The Pacific Northwest Deli Bonanza Continues with Seattle’s Stopsky’s

March 25th, 2011

Who would ever think that the cold, green, wet coast of America’s Pacific Northwest would one day become a fertile breeding ground for innovative and delicious Jewish delis?

Probably no one from the region, or the Midwest, or especially the Northeast, and that doesn’t even say anything about the naysayers in New York. “What the hell do they know about deli over there?” they taunted, “maybe smoked salmon, but not real deli.”

There were pioneers for sure: Saul’s in Berkeley, David’s, and Miller’s, and Moishe’s Pippic in San Francisco, Rose’s in Portland, and others in Seattle. But the change came with Kenny and Zuke’s in 2007. The Portland upstart, which began as a pastrami station at a farmer’s market, changed the way people thought about deli. It took deli outside the Jewish community and made it a cuisine to be respected.

Just a few days ago, I happily reported on the continuing of that tradition with the soon to open Wise Sons Delicatessen in San Francisco. And now, not to be outdone, comes Seattle.

Stopsky’s Delicatessen is opening in May just outside Seattle (Mercer Island, to be precise). It’s being run by Lara Jeff Sanderson, with a kitchen helmed by chef Robin Leventhal (she of Season 6 Top Chef) and breads by Columbia City Bakery founder Andrew Meltzer. Here’s what they are promising:

Stopsky’s will celebrate and serve Jewish dishes from around the world. Classics items like pastrami, corned beef, matzoh ball soup, kreplach and kugel, rye bread, challah, and rugelach can be enjoyed either in the restaurant or at home. The majority of these products will be made in-house using locally sourced, sustainably grown, organic ingredients whenever possible. We call our approach “Tradition, Updated.”

The restaurant will provide seating for 36, and be open initially for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. Dinner will be added later this year. In addition to dining in, patrons will be able to order many of the menu items for take-out, or purchase a wide variety of specially selected products in the retail section. Stopky’s will also feature the exclusive, artisanal espresso.

Can’t wait!

Wise Sons takes San Francisco by storm

March 23rd, 2011

(Leo Beckerman, with his bialys)

So I’m in San Francisco last week, and every single person I meet asks me “have you tried that new deli?”.

I’m a pretty good gauge for when a deli is buzzing beyond its traditional audience (Jews), and this was definitely the case. Wise Sons is hot, and folks, this is just the beginning.

Now, let’s dial it back a little. Over a year ago, I got an email through the site from Evan Bloom, of San Francisco.

“I am currently in the planning stages of opening a traditional Jewish Delicatessen in San Francisco. While I’m hesitant to divulge too much information in this email, I would be interested to know your thoughts. It’s to be in the SF Mission style and an updated take on the classic Jewish deli using quality ingredients, modern technique, and classic recipes. All items, including meats, will be made in house without shortcuts. There is no reason schmaltz cannot become a known culinary ingredient in a city like San Francisco. We hope to build on the DIY, house made charcuterie trends by showing people they are paramount to good deli.”

(Evan Bloom, avec knishes)

My ears perked up. This is obviously something close to my heart, and in my opinion, the best way to save the Jewish delicatessen from irrelevance. It has worked beautifully for places like Caplansky’s, Kenny and Zukes, and Mile End, but so far the artensenal deli movement had bypassed San Francisco. True, Saul’s in Berkeley has been sourcing local and quality ingredients for two decades now, but as anyone who visits the area knows, San Francisco and Berkeley, while close, aren’t the same city by any stretch. And until it migrates across the bay, the impact isn’t truly felt. This was good.

Then a few months later, I got an email from another fan, who Evan and his partner Leo Beckerman had solicited for investment. It laid out the concept for the deli, and its name…Treyf:

“Our working name, Treyf (pronounced Tr-ay-f) is the Hebrew word for something un-kosher or not following traditional Jewish dietary laws based on ancient Scripture. It’s a little ironic as we will serve the best quality, pure ingredients with an emphasis on tradition and no pork to be found.” I posted a preview

Thankfully, Evan and Leo changed the name to Wise Sons Delicatessen. Nine weeks ago, working out of a communal kitchen incubator, they began doing a pop-up Saturday deli brunch at a local cafe, serving homemade bialys, knishes, ryes, corned beef, and pastramis on Saturdays from 9 to 2 pm. Most days, they’re selling out of meat by 11 am. It’s a runnaway sensation, complete with lines, mixed crowds, and a fain change in their parents’ tone, from questioning (“why not law school?”) to encouraging.

Now, unfortunately, while I was in San Francisco last week, I wasn’t able to make it to the pop-up deli Saturday. I did however meet Evan and Leo in their kitchen, just as a batch of hamentaschen were coming out of the oven. Leo schmeared a hunk of creamed cheese on a plate and let me tear into his fantastic bialy, one of the best I’ve ever eaten, both chewy and fragrant, and laced with soft onions. The knishes, loaded with schmaltz whipped potatoes, were epic, and I probably had six hamentaschen.

The boys behind Wise Sons (I say boys, mainly because they’re a year or two younger than me), are already looking at spaces for a permanent deli in the Mission, and hope to have it open in several months. Until then, check out their Saturday wares, and watch as a deli renaissance sweeps San Francisco.

Serving Saturdays at 105 Valencia @ McCoppin inside Jackie’s Cafe 9am-2pm.

Wise Sons Delicatessen from Lucy Laliberte on Vimeo.

Two Reasons to Visit Paris in the Springtime

March 22nd, 2011

Ahhh Paris in the spring. What could be more meaty….

Now that the winter rain has subsided, and the grey skies parting, many of you will start taking trips to Paris in search of romance and fatty foods. When there, make sure to hit up the growing deli scene in the Marais, the traditional Jewish district in the city’s center.

Now, I’ve waxed many times about Maison David, the small butcher shop run by Michel and Francine Kalifa, just off the Rue des Rosiers. Others seem to be getting the idea too. Recently, Maison David was featured in the influential guide Le Fooding, and a gorgeous coffee table book on Parisian restaurants by the master chef Alain Ducasse called J’Aime Paris. Now, Maison David has been discovered by expat Parisian food blogger John Talbott, who visited recently for the new eat-in meal that Michel is offering and dubbed it “the best meat in the world” :

Now I’ve left out an essential to this tale; before during and after serving(s), he’s slicing, spooning and dishing up stuff for the 4-6 folks at the counter, announcing each from the pictured coarsely chopped chicken-liver (like I’ve never had so good at any bar mitzvah), goose rillettes and slices of green and black pepper, dry and moist sausage. The latter, ten minutes after I stopped eating, suddenly kicked in and I said, “Wait a minute, what was that sausage with black pepper, suddenly it took off?” And M. Kalifa smiles and says, “I watched your face when you ate it and it didn’t move – it takes that long for the taste to arrive, doesn’t it?”

Read the rest of John Talbott’s tale here

And if that’s not reason enough to visit, head on over a few stores to Schwartz’s Deli, a Parisian take on a North American style Jewish delicatessen, though the owners insist it has nothing to do with the famous Montreal Deli of the same name. The Montreal Gazette isn’t so sure:

Chutzpah is a dish best served hot – in Paris, anyway.

Consider: A father and son open a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of La Ville-Lumičre, serve fast food like pastrami and pickles and hot dogs, and call the place Schwartz’s – when their name is actually Rubenstein.

Yes, such a place really exists. Not only exists, but even has a red-lettered logo remarkably similar to that of the iconic restaurant on Montreal’s Main.

Either way, these and the other Jewish bakeries, butchers, and delicatessens in Paris’s Marais district are enough to rekindle any gastronomic romance with the city of lights.

The New Pancer’s (same as the old Pancer’s)

March 9th, 2011

Photo credit: Nicki Thomas/Toronto Star

Back at the end of 2010, I, like many of my Toronto mishpucha, heard the news that Moe Pancer’s delicatessen was changing hands. After reading a pretty disastrous interview with new owner Lenny Gould, I was worried, and from what you all commented, so were the deli’s fans.

Today, in the Toronto Star, my friend Corey Mintz has an article that touches on the transition.

I joined Corey when he went to Pancer’s to check out how things had changed, and I returned a week later. And here’s what I think: Pancer’s is still Pancer’s. The corned beef is still tender and shaved paper thin, the matzo ball soup still potent. The atmosphere’s the same, the great waitresses are the same, and so far, finger’s crossed, Mr. Gould has done a great job.

I’m as guilty as anyone to fear that the sky is falling when a deli changes hands. I’ve seen how change precipitates disaster in this business. Owners change, a new generation takes over, locations shift, and menus evolve. Each step can spell the end, but in just as many cases the deli thrives. For now, it looks like Pancer’s is going to keep on thriving, and that’s good news for everyone.

A Mishmash of News: Awards, New Delis, and Pop Up Mania

March 8th, 2011

courtesy of

A whole bunch of stuff to cover today.

First, my article in Saveur about the Roots of the Deli has been nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Whoop whoop! Awards are announced in early June at a ceremony in Austin, TX.

Next up, I’ve just received word that a new deli has opened in Philadelphia, a city with a fair number of great delis. So glad the momentum keeps building. This one’s called Schlesinger’s and it looks legit. Here’s what their website says:

Schlesinger’s Delicatessen is Center City Philadelphia’s answer to the traditional deli. For nearly a century, delis have been a staple in the United States. Even more than their home-cooked dishes, cured meats and rich pastries, the atmosphere of the Jewish delicatessen served as a gathering place for community and conversation, inspired by nostalgia for the old country. In the 1930s Joseph Schlesinger owned and operated a deli/luncheonette in West New York, New Jersey. More than eighty years later, his grandson Allan Domb continues the family tradition with Schlesinger’s.

Schlesinger’s Delicatessen follows this century-old tradition. Best known for its oversized sandwiches, smoked fishes, massive desserts and traditional deli sides such as knishes, kugels, and potato pancakes, Schlesinger’s is reminiscent of the country’s original delis. The decor is authentic-hardwood floors, wood tables and chairs, tin ceiling, mirrors and stainless steel deli cases. Expect to find lox and bagels, corned beef specials, brisket platters, kasha varnishkes, black and white cookies, a case of Dr. Brown’s soda and good conversation.

My favorite sounding dish is this: Fresh Chopped Liver mit Diced Onions mit Schmaltz

(215) 735-7305
1521 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA

And finally, pop-up and food truck mania continues to sweep the deli eaters of the nation, this time in DC. Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn will be opening a kosher food truck next month outside the Sixth and I synagogue/community center. As reported by Rachel Tepper on :

Named ‘Sixth & Rye,’ the truck will serve traditional Jewish items like corned beef sandwiches and knishes. Micheline Mendelsohn, his sister and spokeswoman, told The Feast exclusively that Spike is “going to try to make it as deli-like as possible.” The idea, which was hatched with consulting chef Malcolm Mitchell, was inspired by a lack of good Jewish delis in D.C.
The truck will be a Friday-only lunchtime affair, parked outside Sixth & I, a former synagogue that has experienced a rebirth as a Jewish center and secular concert venue. Micheline says the plan is to roll out toward the end of April.

The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook

March 3rd, 2011

Not every day is the holidays (oh, but if it were). Some days we just have to get a meal on the table, ideally while it’s hot. With any luck everyone will enjoy it, but what about the Jewish content? What about keeping it real?

Fact is, most of us aren’t going to be braising briskets on our average thursday night. We want something fresh, simple, and if possible, tied to our roots.

Enter the Hadassah Everyday Cookbook, written by a good friend, Leah Koenig, one of the finest young food writers I know. Leah’s passion for sustainability is matched only by her appetite for great food. She’s a kosher gastronome, and here, in these beautifully crafted pages, she not only gives us recipes, but reasons to love the food.

Here’s the book’s description:

The Jewish love of eating extends far beyond the Shabbat and holiday tables to the every day. And while cholent and challah sate our appetites on Shabbat, and classics from brisket to latkes grace our holiday menus, what do we make for dinner on Monday night? Or prepare for Sunday brunch, or snack on in front of a movie? Here, America’s leading Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, answers those culinary questions, sharing over 160 delicious, simple, kosher recipes that are destined to become family favorites.

The recipes in this book span the culinary globe, combining iconic American and Jewish tastes with Mexican, Italian, French, Asian and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine. They also celebrate the growing availability of fresh, seasonal produce and gourmet kosher ingredients, from artisanal cheese and chocolate to organic meat and poultry. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will be delighted to find a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes (not to mention snacks and cocktails) that cater directly to them. Focusing on freshness, flavor and no-fuss technique, The Hadassah Every Day Cookbook brings the flavors of the world—and the farm—to the kitchen.

What that translates into is wonderful dishes like challah french toast with a pear compote (I made something similar this weekend) and a grilled tzimmes.

But it’s Leah’s touches of care and love for the cook that really bring out the spirit of Hadassah, that venerable women’s organization in the Jewish community. Look no further than her blessing for the cook, which she devised a few years ago at a conference on Jewish environmental sustainability:

Blessed are You Creator of the world Who brings forth fruit from the Earth.
Blessed are You, Who gives us knowledge of cooking, and time to cook
And who has blessed us with the need for nourishment so that we can fully understand Your gifts.
May it be Your will
That the food that I cook Brings nourishment, fulfillment and happiness to those who eat it
And bring honor to the land and all the people that make this meal possible.

Amen to that.

Granny Ella’s Meatballs

February 23rd, 2011

Recently, the Jew and the Carrot blog asked me to contribute a little story about shabbat food in my house. I could only think of one thing, Granny Ella Sax’s sweet and sour meatballs. Here’s a teaser for the story, found at Jcarrot, which is now the food blog of the Forward.

Unlike most of my friends, my parents didn’t inherit a lot of Jewish food traditions from my grandparents. My mother’s family had been in Canada for so many generations that they ate like WASPs. She grew up with roast beef dinners washed down with a glass of milk, and her mother’s cooking, which I experienced on visits to Montreal, was more a source of comedy than comfort.
Grandma cooked from a lot of cans and powders, which came out of a deep pantry that seemed to be restocked every two decades. She was capable of making a mean roast beef, it’s true, but a stern frugality flavored everything in that Formica kitchen. Her favorite dishes to prepare were “concoctions”, essentially experiments with leftovers. Some — the vanilla iced cream she melted, mixed with crushed red and white swirly mints liberated from restaurants, and refrozen — had their charms. Others, like the casseroles of no discernable origin, had my father sneaking out to Snowdon Delicatessen after dinner, to cleanse his palate with salted meats.

His mother, though more closely linked to her Yiddish heritage, had a few dishes that were legendary in the family. In tribute to her, one of these became our Shabbat staple: Granny Ella’s sweet and sour meatballs. These were golf ball sized orbs of soft, tender meat, simmered slowly in a sweetened tomato sauce. When Granny made them, the meatballs were consistently round and juicy, and the sauce was bright and sweet, with a lingering garlic spice.


Delis Boom in Bethesda

February 22nd, 2011

Say what you will about the state of the economy. Say what you will about the state of the deli. At least we can count on Bethesda.

I just got an email that a new deli has opened in Bethesda, MD, that city of naval officers and many Jewish families, just on the border of Washington DC. Bubby’s is the name, and its owner, Jeff Manas, is a boy from the Bronx with decades of experience in the NY deli business. Plus, he’s a Vietnam vet, which bodes well in this military rich city. He’s matched with head chef Frank Petrello, of Brooklyn, and if there ever was a NY centric team to fire up deli in the capital region, this could be it.

Here’s what they’re promising on their website:

Bubby’s is a warm and friendly place where family and friends can meet and enjoy a delicious meal. We believe in preparing our food with patience and pride; so we can enjoy the dishes many of us grew up sharing on special holidays or family gatherings. We offer favorites like chicken soup with Matzo ball, whitefish salad, stuffed cabbage, brisket of beef brimming with flavor and gravy, a pastrami sandwich on rye, a freshly baked bagel with lox and cream cheese or a homemade potato latke that could have come straight from your own Bubby’s kitchen. We believe in using only the highest quality ingredients and making our dishes fresh and in-house.

Not only is this promising, but it creates a mini-boom of delis in Bethesda. Back in November, the Uptown Deli opened in Bethesda, just around the corner from where Bubby’s has gone in. The city is seeding a deli rich corridor in this neighborhood packed with shops and restaurants already, and with any luck, more delis will come in and turn Bethesda into the next Montreal.

A Bluegrass Deli Song

February 14th, 2011

Because we need some good time country feelin’ in this deli lovin’ world. Thanks to Bruce Kaplan of the Bay Area:

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