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The food of my people
October 7, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

"At Jewish Delis, Times Are as Lean as Good Corned Beef"

David Sax hopes you will help "Save The Deli". (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (62 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
i propose a department of agriculture pastrami subsidy plan.
posted by Hammond Rye at 7:39 AM on October 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Hammond Rye? You want mayo and cheese with that, goy?
posted by gman at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


i resent that. in addition i also hope to preserve the growth of matza trees.
posted by Hammond Rye at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This made me sad. Corned beef is one of my favourite food groups. Does anyone know what the most authentic, worthy-of-saving deli in Toronto might be?
posted by Go Banana at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2009


all kidding aside, it is a civic duty to send a salami to your goys in the army.
posted by Hammond Rye at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2009


Does anyone know what the most authentic, worthy-of-saving deli in Toronto might be?

Centre Street Deli. Hands down.
posted by gman at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the wurst news I've heard all day.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


.
posted by jdfalk at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2009


good Corned Beef is not lean.
posted by shmegegge at 8:11 AM on October 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think it's becoming more of a niche thing.
Just look at the success of Caplansky's, here in Toronto. Line ups out the door.
posted by chococat at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2009


Go Banana, the best deli in TO was argued here.
posted by anthill at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2009


Katz's Deli in New York is my favorite: it hasn't changed since my childhood in the late pleistocene era. There are periodic rumors that it will close due to nighborhood development - which have not yet come true, but staying in Manhatten has run their prices up to $16 for a pastrami or corned beef sandwhich. And it is still worth every penny (repentant self-link.) There is a documentary film in the works about Katz's due soon. Another masterpiece in the Deli-porn documentary genre is Chez Schwartz, about the legendary Montreal deli Schwartz's, where the local version of pastrami is "smoked meat" and has become a symbolic of Quebecois multiculturalism.
posted by zaelic at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


the legendary Montreal deli Schwartz's

I love me some corned beef, and I love me some pastrami, but I gotta say, the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's might be the best sandwich I have ever eaten.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


the local version of pastrami is "smoked meat"

for some reason this is kinda offensive to me... I feel like defending the particularity of our meat...

weird.
posted by ServSci at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2009


one year on my birthday a buddy and i met up for lunch at katz's deli to share a combo plate. cliff's son was about 2 - i remember he hadn't learned to sip water from a straw instead of blowing bubbles.

it was one of his first times in a restaurant. he was a little antsy. when the waitress stopped to ask if everything was okay, she looked at cliff's squirming son and wordlessly peeled a sheet of paper from her pad and handed it directly to him.

he was dumbstruck by this act and was totally absorbed by quietly playing with that piece of paper and watching to see if she would come back.

i was impressed.
posted by Hammond Rye at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up on the Second Avenue Deli (back when it was actually on Second Ave). I remember when they closed that location, somebody photoshopped a fake "Coming soon to this location: HOOTERS!" poster and taped it to the door. It crushed me soul, and also I had a head cold and all I wanted was matza ball soup.
posted by ben242 at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2009


Go Banana, the best deli in TO was argued here.

Fuck that noise. Yitz's and Pancer's don't cut their meat by hand. At least not the last time I was there.
posted by gman at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2009


Yeah. I live within striking distance of half the delis in that article, but Schwartz's in Montreal is still a required stop every time I'm in the city. It's quite perfect.
posted by rokusan at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2009


Goddammit, now I'm hungry, and there isn't a Jewish deli for many miles. And I haven't had a good matzoh ball soup in years. Damn you, Joe Beese! You owe me a salami!
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


A couple of months ago, I took my kids on the grand tour of New York. At one point, we popped up near the Carnegie Deli and my kids said that it was too soon to eat dinner-- since we had eaten lunch only two hours before. I walked away...Of course, ten minutes later they were ready for "smoothies".

I must have been out of my mind. I could have at least bought a pound or two of pastrami to go.

I'll have to survive on the Old Neighborhood red pastrami, sold at my local market. I made the mistake of buying the black (or lean) pastrami for many years. It never satisfied. The red pastrami is pretty darn good. If you steam it, most of the fat melts away.

Think I'll have to get some. Oh yeah, I bought a pound yesterday, along with good rye and mustard.
posted by notmtwain at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2009


Growing up on Long Island/Queens, they typical New York suburban assimilado-witz, I never appreciated the certain ethnic je ne sais pas of the Jewish deli. Now I long lovingly for a good tongue sandwich (the only deli food I like) but even at Katz's, it ain't like what it used to be.

I remember reading somewhere that food is one of the last ethnic vestiges to die with assimilation. In other words first generation speaks new language haltingly, eats as much of the "old food" as possible. Second generation speaks old language haltingly, eats a lot of the old food. Third generation (me) speaks none of the mamma losh'n but still craves the old ethnic eats.
posted by xetere at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2009


Somebody here owes me a new keyboard [wipes drool].
posted by HyperBlue at 9:20 AM on October 7, 2009


One of the last pub quizes I went to had a Jewish Deli round. I dominated that shit. I was on a team of mostly friends-of-friends that I had never met before and they all thanked me profusely after that. I didn't pay for a single drink all night.
posted by piratebowling at 9:28 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I went to Greenblatt's in Hollywood just last night. It's pretty good for L.A. (better than the dog food at Canter's, anyway). I do miss Katz's, although I hear Langer's can give it a run for it's money. I've still got half a rye triple-decker with corned beef and pastrami left over for lunch, so booyah.

Please, tell me more about this "smoked meat."
posted by Bookhouse at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2009


where the local version of pastrami is "smoked meat" and has become a symbolic of Quebecois multiculturalism.

A-ha, you just explained why Jonathan Goldstein often mentions going for smoked meat sandwiches on WireTap! Thank you!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2009


viande fumée, mofos!
posted by anthill at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2009


You can get smoked meat AND poutine all over Canada, not just in Montreal. Alberta King of Subs in NE Calgary has as good smoked meat (and Poutine) as I ever had in Montreal.

We get this on chowhound all the time- Americans convinced that (1) this is the cuisine of Montreal, and (2) it's only available in Montreal. Montreal isn't remotely as multicultural as most other major Canadian cities (though it is multicultural by Quebec standards, which is not difficult as Quebec is the most monocultural part of North America), so there might be some truth to 1, but the fact is that Quebecoise food (smoked meat, poutine, those horrible Montreal bagels that go stale after 12 hours, and of course the Quebecoise specialties of Vachon Cakes and Pepsi) are available coast to coast.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:56 AM on October 7, 2009


bagels that go stale after 12 hours

Isn't this sort of what bagels do? If it's still "fresh" after a few hours, it probably wasn't a bagel to begin with.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:02 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just freeze them right out of the oven.
posted by gman at 10:03 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I lived in Baltimore, I loved going to Attman's.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:13 AM on October 7, 2009


Growing up on Long Island/Queens, they typical New York suburban assimilado-witz, I never appreciated the certain ethnic je ne sais pas of the Jewish deli.

It probably depended on your neighborhood. My neighborhood deli in Fresh Meadows closed last month. Delimasters. Here's their menu. They were a neighborhood icon -- had been there for nearly 50 years, I believe.
posted by zarq at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2009


“In many ways, deli owners in places like Detroit or Chicago have told me, they are better deli clients than Jews,” Mr. Sax said referring to African-Americans. “They accept it as it is. Take a corned beef sandwich. A Jewish customer will say, ‘I want the corned beef lean, from the middle of the brisket,’ because their grandfathers did. It’s like Jews going to a Chinese restaurant. They love it for what it is and they are better clients because of it.”

The death of tradition and a segment of customer culture makes for better customers? Ugh.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2009


I remember reading somewhere that food is one of the last ethnic vestiges to die with assimilation.

The assimilation of the foods themselves also produces some weird concoctions. "Italian" and "Chinese" foods don't often bear a resemblance to dishes you'd get in either country.

Of course, that happens in other ways, too. I spotted fresh charoset for sale at a Central Market in Dallas a few years back, helpfully labeled "Apple Walnut Salsa."
posted by zarq at 10:34 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I used to work above the Downtown Deli in Phoenix, and it may have been the best year of my life. Thank goodness the parking garage was so far from the building, or I might have had a heart attack at the age of 26.
posted by padraigin at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2009


xetere: "Growing up on Long Island/Queens, they typical New York suburban assimilado-witz, I never appreciated the certain ethnic je ne sais pas of the Jewish deli."

My Long Island days are 20 years behind me now. But Ben's never failed to fully satisfy my parents - who, being from Brooklyn and The Bronx respectively, could be assumed to know the difference between the upstart and the legitimate.

Judging by its amazingly high Google ranking for "jewish deli", I trust it's still putting out quality product.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2009


Centre Street deli, eh? I dunno, sounds like I'd have to go north of Bloor.
posted by Go Banana at 10:40 AM on October 7, 2009


Because of this article, and to support Jewish delis, I am eating a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of matzo ball soup from Mendy's at Rock for lunch.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:42 AM on October 7, 2009


I waited in line many times at Koch's Deli in West Philadelphia. Bobby Koch would tell bad jokes, hit on your mom if she was with you, and dispense samples if the line got too long - and the line was always long. The sandwich was big enough for lunch and dinner and you would have to take a nap between meals. It was one of those places you brought friends from out of town as well as friends from Philly.

Bobby died a few years ago and while his deli is still owned by the family, it isn't quite the same.

I no longer live in Philly, but I do try to stop by Koch's when I'm in town. Thanks for this post about delis, it brought back good memories - pastrami, brisket, good pickles, damn good milkshakes, and those long afternoon naps induced by good food.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh. I've actually never eaten at an authentic Jewish deli. My SO is Jewish, and I've been slowly experiencing many of the traditions over the last couple years (Bar Mitzvahs are a whole lotta fun) and after reading this thread, I am salivating with anticipation of entering into the world of food linked here.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:45 AM on October 7, 2009


My Long Island days are 20 years behind me now. But Ben's never failed to fully satisfy my parents - who, being from Brooklyn and The Bronx respectively, could be assumed to know the difference between the upstart and the legitimate.

Judging by its amazingly high Google ranking for "jewish deli", I trust it's still putting out quality product.


Ben's is quite good, but it's no Katz's. Certain dishes are as good as any classic deli: Chopped liver, Stuffed Derma with gravy, knishes, Chicken matzah ball soup, corned beef on rye, etc. Others are not: their noodle pudding is so-so, their latkes are merely adequate and their pastrami is too lean. YMMV.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2009


zarq: "Ben's is quite good, but it's no Katz's.."

At the risk of perpetuating a negative stereotype, I have to say that - as good as the food was (for Long Island) - my favorite memory of Ben's was the way Father Beese, after ordering for all of us, would invariably survey all the tables, each and every one occupied by happily fressing parties, and conclude out loud, "They must be making a fortune with this place" - as if the atmosphere of lucrativeness was a stimulant to appetite.

Wherever he is now, I hope they have a nice egg cream.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:17 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having trouble making it back East?
Come on out to my town, we can't get a decent sandwich to save our life.
Hell, I'll shop there on a weekly basis and I won't even expect you to speak Yiddish!
posted by madajb at 11:25 AM on October 7, 2009


...my favorite memory of Ben's was the way Father Beese, after ordering for all of us, would invariably survey all the tables, each and every one occupied by happily fressing parties, and conclude out loud, "They must be making a fortune with this place" - as if the atmosphere of lucrativeness was a stimulant to appetite.

Heh. Sounds like something my grandfather would have said. Hope they're both drinking egg creams somewhere pleasant. :D

My father-in-law bought one of their infamous "The longer it hangs, the better it tastes." t-shirts the last time he was in town. My MiL won't let him wear it. :)
posted by zarq at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2009


I will forever be in debt to the amazingly talented trumpeter Frank London from the Klezmatics for bringing me a kilo of Katz's corned beef to Budapest. Since then, I have had to learn to make it myself, which I do about three times a year. I don't use salpeter to preserve the red color, but the natural greyish pickled meat sure has the taste and texture of corned beef. Haven't tried smoking it yet, but maybe this winter I will send some to my friends in the Hungarian countryside who smoke sausages. A lot of what I leanred about home made corned beef and pastrami I picked up from this epic thread at Egullet. Recipes and techniques start a few pages in. It's quite easy.
posted by zaelic at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's strange to me that Sarge's doesn't get more love in these articles and this thread.

I believe it's the only deli in Manhattan that still cures its own pastrami, instead of buying it from the same big Brooklyn wholesaler all the others use. It's fantastic.
posted by Eater at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poultry are not ruminants, and do not have as severe an impact on climate as cows

Yes. Deli's of the world, please ensure that cold poached chicken is a staple. Having gained a great love for the Jewish delicatessen after working at one for two years, I was greatly dismayed when my local spot discarded cold poached chicken, installed a flame grill and started grilling everything with barbecue sauce. WTF?

I agree with quite a bit in that Survival guide link. Stop it with the 4lb football-shaped sandwiches please. You can't hold them or fit them in your mouth and they end up as a pile of food shrapnel on your plate. Sandwiches with parallel bread are every bit as delicious.
posted by well_balanced at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2009


I remember reading somewhere that food is one of the last ethnic vestiges to die with assimilation. In other words first generation speaks new language haltingly, eats as much of the "old food" as possible. Second generation speaks old language haltingly, eats a lot of the old food. Third generation (me) speaks none of the mamma losh'n but still craves the old ethnic eats.

My great-grandmother left Randazzo, Sicily in 1919, spoke little to no English, sold fruits and vegetables on the street from a cart, and died, still mostly monolingual, in New York in the 1960s. My grandmother remembers some sicilianu but has only passed on nicknames and food words; my father, Salvatore, is somehow "Tudino" or "Tudy" - something which remains unexplained to me. And my Irish-extraction mother has picked up only a few bits here and there, including what must have been the Sicilian pronunciation of a now-universally known cheese from southern Italy: "muzzarel'".

So I don't know any Italian or Sicilian, really, but I've been able to find a ball of mozzarella everywhere I've ever lived, from Latvia to Java. There's little so evocative of memory as taste and smell, and while the environmental cost of getting a little package of cheese around the world is impossible to justify, I'll make other sacrifices to have a little bite of home - a home with three generations of flavors wafting through the kitchen.
posted by mdonley at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2009


I'm counting the days until Suburban House can rebuild from the fire that hit a few months ago. My grandmother passed away in June, and now I have no source for proper matzoh ball soup at all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:04 PM on October 7, 2009


With a few exceptions, I find Jewish food remarkably bland and uninteresting. This could partly be due to my girlfriend's family's cooking traditions, but it seems true across the board. And I'm Dutch, so I know bland and uninteresting. Sure, dry-aged salami and pastrami are nice, but is that a cuisine? Why ruin perfectly fine herring with these godawful cream sauces? And you know, speaking of diary, maybe if a little cheese was allowed with all that meat, you could actually make something nice for dinner.
posted by monospace at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2009


Just look at the success of Caplansky's, here in Toronto. Line ups out the door.

Sometimes they even run out of meat!

Still, despite the success of Caplansky's, it was the gang from Schwartz's that was flown in from Montreal with 200lbs of smoked meat for the Toronto International Film Festival.
posted by Kabanos at 12:29 PM on October 7, 2009


With a few exceptions, I find Jewish food remarkably bland and uninteresting. This could partly be due to my girlfriend's family's cooking traditions, but it seems true across the board.

Depends on the ancestor culture, as well as the chef's skill. Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions are very different. If you haven't had the latter, I recommend them. Some dishes are very flavorful and tasty.

Sure, dry-aged salami and pastrami are nice, but is that a cuisine?

No, they're cold cuts which have become associated (at least here in America) with Jewish delis. And Irish delis. And Italian delis. And Greek delis.... I could be wrong, but most Jewish families aren't regularly serving them for dinner.

Why ruin perfectly fine herring with these godawful cream sauces?

Blame the Scandinavians, who invented it. See Sillsallad. Personally, I can't stand the "pickled in vinegar" variety, originally a British dish.

Many ethnic dishes are an acquired taste. Like bloedworst or uierboord, you know?

And you know, speaking of diary, maybe if a little cheese was allowed with all that meat, you could actually make something nice for dinner.

Parve foods vary from awful to excellent. (Cakes without dairy ingredients generally suck.) But in the right hands, kosher foods can be delicious. Most meat dishes don't require butter, milk or cheese. Stuffed cabbage is a great example.
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Uierboord? I had to look that one up. Ew!
posted by monospace at 1:21 PM on October 7, 2009


I went into a Jewish deli in New York not too long ago. They had kosher food and Hasidic customers, but they also served pepperoni pizza. To survive, you gotta do what you gotta do.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:33 PM on October 7, 2009


Twoleftfeet: if they Hassidic customers, then it was kosher pepperoni (beef.) Some of my favorite Brooklyn pizza places are hassidic joints in Boro Park.
posted by zaelic at 5:09 PM on October 7, 2009


Also: Kosher is not mixing meat and milk (cheese). Some of the kosher pizzas I have seen can be very adventurous with the kosher fake meat toppings. But Hasids are not big on Delicatessen food - most of them eat only at home or at catered meals available at their places of worship.
posted by zaelic at 5:11 PM on October 7, 2009


I've been living in Korea about 2 months now and just came down with a nasty stomach bug. The only thing in the world I want to eat is one of those huge friggin' sandwiches from Katz's. Needless to say, Korea has not yet gotten the good word on Pastrami. Uggghhgh.
posted by GilloD at 5:18 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


My local deli is Kosher, but run by Greek Orthodox folks, and wonderful. But it makes me miss the deli's my sister grew up with in NY that I didn't, here in the south, even though I grew up in an old Jewish neighborhood.
posted by strixus at 6:18 PM on October 7, 2009


To perform my tourist duties I lined up at Schwartz's this summer. In former years I've walked past but didn't feel like braving the lineups. Everyone raves so about it, recommends it as an essential visit when in Montreal, the chance to experience the perfect sandwich. Understand that this isn't my culture, for me there's no nostalgic quality here relating to how my grandparents ate, I can't discriminate between the subtle qualities of smoked meat. But after lining up, squeezing past all the pilgrims to a seat at the counter and ordering the speciality from the Latin American or Filipino clerk, I was presented with some meat on a tiny piece of what looked to me like sliced white bread with a slash of plain old yellow mustard. (It couldn't have been white bread, right? Isn't the joke about we goyim centred on our poor taste in bread?) I thought, this is it, this is the must have of Montreal, this is the pride of a community? For authenticity I was supposed to order the pickle, but I didn't feel like spending a buck and a half for a pickle. A couple twenty year olds sat down beside me, raving like we were sitting in St. Peters. Before he gets any food the guy beside me has his cellphone out, taking pictures, speaking about how wonderful this cramped stuck in time sandwich store is. From his review, drinking Cott's Cherry Coke in Schwartz's in Montreal is an amazing experience. I've read my Mordecai Richler, but it was all disappointing to me. For the rest of the afternoon, everytime I sensed the aftertaste, I thought, 'that was it?' Probably just me, because everyone else, Jewish or not, says it's the place to go.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:38 PM on October 7, 2009


Saul's Deli in Berkeley is my go-to for a liver and pastrami sandwich. Mmm. They make their own pickles too.
posted by zippy at 10:24 PM on October 7, 2009


[Saul's] make their own has delicious pickles too.
posted by zippy at 10:33 PM on October 7, 2009


I'm not Canadian and I've only had it in Toronto and Vancouver, but Montreal smoked is NOT pastrami...I think it's a different part of the cow.
posted by brujita at 11:37 PM on October 7, 2009


Ben's is quite good, but it's no Katz's.

There is actually Ben's, which is a chain (not a massive one, but locations in various places) and then there's Ben's Best, which is unrelated. Ben's Best is a single location and it's pretty fantastic. The meats are amazing, but they're probably best known for their matzah ball soup, served in a gigantic mug.

But a lot of times, when you're talking about eating at Ben's, you need to be explicit:

Person: ...so we got the corned beef at Ben's...
Me: Wait. Ben's or Ben's Best.
Person: Ben's Best!
Me: I love that place!
Person: Can I finish this story?
posted by puckupdate at 3:17 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


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