The Jew And The Carrot

Upscale Deli Fare Is Headed For D.C.

By Rachel Tepper

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of DGS Delicatessen
Pickled Bluefish, Russian Rye, Salsa Verde

When I arrived last week at 2nd Avenue deli in midtown Manhattan for lunch with Nick Wiseman and Barry Koslow — the owner and chef of soon-to-open upscale DGS Delicatessen in D.C. respectively — I found my dining companions already elbow-deep in an impressive spread of traditional deli stand-bys.

Among the half-eaten offerings, I spied the remains of a corned beef sandwich, a hearty plate of kasha varnishkas, crisp gribnes, a knish the size of a softball, kreplach with fried onions, sweet noodle kugel, fatty cholent, pickles, cole slaw, and countless cans of Dr. Brown’s sodas in at least four flavors.

Wiseman and Koslow were in the homestretch of a whirlwind New York deli research trip, their second in the last few months. Also in tow: Wiseman’s cousin and DGS co-owner, Dave Wiseman, and the eatery-to-be’s newly hired general manager, Brian Zipin. Together the foursome had noshed their way through a marquee-worthy spate of New York deli institutions, old and new. On this trip, they’d already visited the much touted Montreal-style eatery Mile End, new-ish smoked fish emporium Shelsky’s, Borsht Belt-inspired Kutsher’s and Lower East Side landmarks Kossar’s Bialys and The Pickle Guys.

If they were fatigued, it was hard to tell. They should have been — Koslow confided they’d been eating for 10 hours straight. Nick Wiseman joked that they’d spent more than $1,000 in delicatessen — and that estimate didn’t seem too far fetched a possibility.

On their previous trip, the gaggle had hit up even more hallowed ground: Katz’s, Russ and Daughters, Yona Shimmel’s. No stone was left unturned — even the pickle bar at the Whole Foods on the Bowery.

All this eating was not without merit, they assured me. They’d taken careful mental notes about this dish and that, taking stock of everything from brines to cutlery. In some form or another, all they’ve learned will go into DGS, which aims for a late September opening.

D.C. isn’t exactly known for its deli. The city’s historic Jewish population has escaped to the suburbs in recent decades, taking with it many Jewish-owned restaurants and establishments. DGS hopes to harken back to an earlier time — it takes its name from District Grocery Society Stores, a cooperative grocery formed in 1922 run by mostly Jewish families. At its peak, there were 300 such stores in the D.C. area.

In recent years, new delis have been few and far between. One exception: Sixth & Rye, the deli-peddling food truck opened last year by historic synagogue turned Jewish center Sixth & I. It opened to great fanfare; Top Chef star and local restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn had developed the menu, and lines its first week were predictably long. The public’s deli fervor seemed palpable. But Sixth & Rye operated on a Friday-lunch-only schedule, and reviews have been lukewarm at best. For the most part, ask a Washingtonian where to find good deli, and he’ll still point you toward Baltimore, or worse, New York.

Koslow is eager to step up to the plate, acknowledging the direness of the D.C. deli scene. “Everyone is really excited about food in D.C. right now,” Koslow told me. “We’re filling a void. We’re getting in early on a trend.”

Indeed, D.C. is currently at a culinary crossroads of sorts. The last decade has seen its remarkable transformation from a staunchly meat-and-potatoes town to one with a vibrant and nuanced scene open to different types of cuisine. The time is right, Wiseman and Koslow believe, for deli.

But traditional deli isn’t Wiseman and Koslow’s aim. They’re banking on the popularity of chic-ified eateries like New York’s Kutsher’s and Mile End, which serve cocktails alongside smoked meat sandwiches. The trend has extended beyond New York, to San Francisco and Toronto, even London.

Koslow, a classically-trained chef with experience in some of D.C.’s top fine dining establishments, says he wants to offer a modern twist on deli while at the same time bringing the cuisine back to its roots.

“Deli had a height, then it crashed,” Koslow lamented. “They started out to be specialized and they grew into diners with overstuffed sandwiches and all-day breakfasts. They lost their soul.”

DGS plans to offer the expected corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, but executed with artisanal flair. Other items include classed-up smoked fish platters, house-made pickles, craft beer and cocktails, and a slew of dishes with global accents.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.