Ben’s Best Deli’s Jay Parker (left) with Erik Greenberg Anjou, director and producer of the film. Photograph courtesy of “Deli Man.”
Of all the machers in the new film “Deli Man”, which opens this week, Jay Parker of Ben’s Best stands out. He’s in Rego Park, Queens, for one thing, not the sexy Lower East Side or Midtown Manhattan. He also comes across as a consummate deli man, as quick with a quip as he is with a witty quote about the joys — and occasional tsuris — of running a kosher deli.
And while Parker may not enjoy the high profile of some of his counterparts, Ben’s Best has developed its own mythos after 70 years in business. The New York Times hailed its pastrami as “incredible”; Guy Fieri honored Ben’s Best with a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives segment last year.
Ben Parker, Jay’s father, founded Ben’s Best in 1945. After Ben’s death in 1984, Jay — then 33-year-old bond trader — took over the business, and hasn’t looked back. At the start of another day serving up sky-high corned-beef sandwiches, overstuffed cabbage roll and steaming matzo-ball soup, Parker took time to catch up with the Forward. “Deli Man said something accurately: If you don’t love the business, you really can’t be here. It asks too much of you,” he says.
The popular smoked-fish store just added Jewish classics such as smoked meats, kasha varnishkes and kugel. Photograph courtesy of Shelsky’s.
Fans of Shelsky’s, the always-mobbed Brooklyn smoked-fish emporium, are getting even more to fress.
Starting today, the white-tiled appetizing shop will expand its menu to include classic deli sandwiches, Ashkenazi side dishes and meats by the pound.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” owner Peter Shelsky told the Forward. “We’ve done smoked fish for a while. Now, we want to play both sides of the News York Jewish food game.”
A pastrami sandwich at the 9th South Deli in Salt Lake City. Photograph by Anthony Weiss
(JTA) - Going back to his very first bite of a Reuben more than 50 years ago, Randy Harmsen has always loved deli food. So when he decided to open his own restaurant, the Salt Lake City native followed in the footsteps of his heroes, who founded establishments like Katz’s in New York, Langer’s in Los Angeles and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But although Harmsen’s 9th South Deli is stocked with deli classics like succulent pastrami and crunchy pickles, it differs from the predecessors who inspired it in at least one key regard: Unlike the Jewish founders of Katz’s, Langer’s or Zingerman’s, Randy Harmsen is Mormon and a former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Harmsen first sampled deli food as a teenager in 1963 at the delicatessen of Lu Dornbush, a Dutch-born Holocaust survivor who maintained a shop in downtown Salt Lake City, and was immediately taken with the cuisine. As he subsequently traveled for work — he ran an engineering firm — Harmsen always made a point to seek out delis in whatever city he happened to be in and try their offerings.
While the deli remains intact, Wise Sons lost its commercial kitchen in the fire. Photograph: Flickr
Beloved San Francisco deli Wise Sons is scrambling to rebuild its catering and wholesale businesses after a devastating fire in early February destroyed the building that housed its commercial kitchen.
The fire — which killed one person and injured six, according to news reports — also forced the delay of offshoot Wise Sons Bagels, which partners Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom had planned to launch this week. After months of testing, Wise Sons’ commissary kitchen was finally ready to bake bagels for wholesale accounts and branded retail outlets it had planned to open across San Francisco, SFGate.com reported.
Still, Bloom told the Forward that Wise Sons will emerge from the disaster even stronger. “In six months, we’re hoping we’ll be saying, ‘Yes, we made it through the fire,” Bloom told the Forward. “We have to find a new place. And the market for real estate in San Francisco is abysmal. But we know more about our business now. And our staff has really come together. I’m a micromanager. Suddenly, you can’t worry about a lot of little things. The staff has really shown us they can do it.”
Photograph by Daniel Lailah
I had the pleasure of attending two fabulous Jewish-food events this week. The first was a celebration of Janna Gur’s new cookbook, “Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh” (Shocken Books), at Einat Admony’s cozy Balaboosta restaurant. There were delicious dishes made from recipes in the book, including two savory Moroccan salads — one beet and one carrot — and some garlicky meat patties that I can’t stop thinking about.
In a powerful speech toward the end of the gathering, Gur, who is editor-in-chief of the Israeli food magazine Al Hashulchan and author of “The Book of New Israeli Food,” said the purpose of her new book was to introduce the North American audience to a wider range of Jewish recipes.
“When people say Jewish food, they primarily mean Ashkenazi,” she said. “Gefilte fish; matzo ball soup — foods that make me cry, actually — they’re the foods my grandparents used to make. But Israeli food is so much more. It’s the food of the diaspora. Jews lived all over the world.”
Mile End’s Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich Kit. Photograph courtesy of FoodyDirect.
Now, FoodyDirect’s Jewish quotient is getting upped again. Brooklyn’s own Mile End Deli has launched a meaty presence on the site, shipping kits and platters themed around its massively popular Montreal-inspired menu. The perfect no-hassle way to break the fast, perhaps?
For $99 — plus shipping of $10-$30, depending on your location — you can fress on a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich kit that includes two pounds of Mile End’s luscious dry-cured and house-smoked smoked meat, a half loaf of sliced rye, eight ounces of deli mustard and a quart of McClure’s whole garlic-dill pickles.
Photo: New York Neon Blog
Earlier this month, renovators uncovered the sign for an old Jewish Delicatessen behind a closing bodega at 2705 Broadway, according to New York Neon.
Classic Art Deco lettering in blue porcelain letters contrasts with a white background. Its blue neon lights are long gone, but the nostalgia remains.
Although the name in the left corners of the sign is obscured, a search through old telephone directories revealed that B. Hudes and Sons owned the deli back in the 1930s and ‘40s, making the sign around 75 years old.
In 1942, one of the “sons,” Max Hudes, moved on to operate the famous Carnegie Deli. He was the second owner, reported Eating In Translation, and wanted to try his hand at a sit-down delicatessen, instead of his old takeout-only at 2705 Broadway.
“The neighborhood is changing so much, so quickly… to have the history unveiled like this is very exciting,” preservationist and photographer Everett Scott said to pix11.
After Hudes Delicatessen closed, it merged with the space next door and reopened as the Olympia Superette, which lasted for several years. Most recently, the Grocery & Flower occupied the space. That business recently folded — once the Grocery & Flower’s signage was torn down, Hudes Delicatessen was revealed.
The future of the sign remains a mystery. Does it deserve to be scrapped or preserved?
President Obama visited Canter’s Deli today, an old favorite of Jews in Los Angeles. Over the course of the meal, he sat with a teacher, a wounded veteran, and two women entering the job market, according to Mark Knoller, CBS’s White House correspondent.
Pres Obama discussing basketball and free-throw abilities with customers at Canter's restaurant in Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/EQVITBHuuO— Stephen Crowley (@Stcrow) July 24, 2014
Canter’s opened in 1931, and has always been a family-owned business dedicated to providing classic Jewish deli foods for the L.A. area.
Let’s hope the President had the good sense to order the matzo ball soup. Goodness knows he’ll probably need some comfort food to go with everyone’s kvetching.
Zane Caplansky shows off his new beer in his eponymous Toronto deli./Renee Ghert-Zand
Forget the lime wedge or orange slice. This beer comes with a pickle garnish.
Caplansky’s Delicatessen in Toronto has introduced its own brew, called Deli King Spiced Dark Rye Lager, and it really does taste better accompanied by a sour dill.
This is not only because the beer is brewed with rye (in addition to barley). It’s also because it is flavored by the proprietary brisket rub deli man Zane Caplansky uses to make his delicious smoked meat (sort of like a deli sandwich in a bottle).
“The vinegar of the pickle cuts across the hoppiness of the beer,” Caplansky told the Forward, referring to a lager’s bitter, tangy taste. “And in any case, garnishing a beer with a pickle just goes with the chutzpah and humor I’m known for.”
Although some diners might order a beer to go with their deli sandwich, most people do not usually associate Jewish delicatessens with alcoholic beverages. Many delis are not even licensed to sell them, and even at Caplansky’s, which has been licensed since its opening, most patrons ask for a dark cherry soda or gingerale.
“Newsflash: Jews don’t drink!” Caplansky, 46, said with tongue in cheek. In fact, two years after the deli opened, he moved the bar to the back of the restaurant so that the meat slicing station could be in a more prominent position.
Artisan delis have popped up in Portland, New York and San Francisco in recent years with up-and-coming chefs riffing on their grandparents’ pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball — while cooking up an antidote to the Jewish deli’s widespread demise.
But the deli revolution hadn’t reached Los Angeles, at least not until now. Last week, chef Micah Wexler opened Wexler’s Deli, adding a swanky newcomer to L.A.’s list of venerable delicatessens, many of them decades old.
Wexler, 31, is known for the innovative Middle Eastern cuisine of his last restaurant, Mezze. But now he’s returning to his childhood roots — deli food.
“I wanted this place to be less about cheffy creativity and more about craftsmanship,” said Wexler, 31, wearing a denim apron over a white button-down shirt printed with “Wexler’s” in old-school cursive.
His 10-seat eatery inside the bustling Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles has been packed since the opening, serving up mainly sandwiches (your choice of pastrami, corned beef, roast turkey, egg salad or tuna salad) and bagels (topped with lox, smoked sturgeon, pastrami or cream cheese).
“I have a basic rule,” Wexler said of his cooking. “If we can’t make things at least as good as what’s out there, then we don’t do it.”
That’s a bold statement in a town that boasts traditional delis such as Langer’s, a 67-year-old eatery that Pulitzer-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and “Save the Deli” author David Sax have called one of the country’s finest delis. Wexler, who grew up in the Valley, remembers eating there as a kid with his grandparents. It’s still his favorite deli.
This morning I attended the funeral of Yitz Penciner. Yitz was the last of his generation of Toronto’s Great Deli Men. For 22 years he worked and managed Shopsy’s Deli before opening his own eponymous place at Avenue and Eglinton. He sold that around 2000. He was “The Godfather of Deli” and my mentor.
When I opened my place in the Monarch in 2008, David Sax, author of James Beard Book Award winning “Save the Deli” suggested I invite Yitz for lunch. Yitz showed up with his accountant, Harold. It was a Wednesday and it was very busy. I remember corralling the last couple of seat for them. Geddy Lee was standing at the bar eating a sandwich.
Yitz looked around in astonishment. “Who are these people,” he asked no one in particular. “What’s going on?” What was going on was something of a phenomenon. My deli in a dive bar touched a nerve and attracted immense media attention both traditional and online. He didn’t quite get it maybe because he’d been so close to deli his whole life. I don’t know. Certainly he was happy for me and happy that someone was trying to carry on the tradition even if it wasn’t in the traditional way.
Yitz had a deliberate way of speaking. As if he’d considered each of his words before offering them. As if you’d be wise to pay attention. Maybe even take notes. I’m not sure how exactly our relationship developed into a mentorship but I’m beyond grateful it did. Actually, that’s not true. I remember the exact moment:
I bumped into Yitz and Mrs. Yitz (the lovely Bernice Penciner) while I was filling my basket at Loblaw’s on St Clair with boxes of Matzo Meal. “You’re going to make matzo balls,” Yitz said. “Here, take this”. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a yellow card with ‘From the Pocket of Yitz Penciner’ printed at the top. Amazing. “This recipe was given to me by a borscht-belt chef 20 years ago,” he said. “It works every time.” And he proceeded to write the recipe for his wonderful matzo balls. Of course I still have that card.
Along with making my own pastrami, I was excited to test Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce (though I know them as stuffed cabbage) from Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman’s “The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home”.
This is a dish I grew up on; my Russian-born grandma made it all the time. And when I thought about it, given that she died in 2002, and stopped cooking much before that, and my mom never made it, I realized I probably hadn’t eaten it in over 20 years.
Ground beef is mixed with onion, barely-cooked white rice, garlic, parsley, raisins and eggs, and rolled into blanched cabbage leaves, and then baked in a tomato sauce.
The amount of brown sugar in the tomato sauce had me guessing that I would find the dish too sweet, and I did. However, biting into it provided such a sense of nostalgia for my Babushka’s cooking that I could overlook it, especially since this is how the dish is traditionally made.
“I can see why my ancestors would have made this,” said Sam, one of our friends who tasted the dish at a Shabbat dinner at our house. Unlike the Reubens, she felt this was much healthier and more balanced. She felt it was solid, get-you-through-the-winter kind of food.
Our other guest Adam appreciated that for Jewish food, it was low on carbohydrates, and didn’t have to be smashed between two pieces of bread. Additionally, he happens to love cabbage. “I think cabbage gets a bad rap,” he said.
He too thought the sauce was too sweet, and would have preferred taking it into a more savory direction, perhaps with some Worcestershire sauce.
What’s better than a bagel and lox? A bagel and lox with beer, of course.
Two classic Jewish eateries, Russ & Daughters and the Mile End, are venturing into late night territory. Russ & Daughters’ move isn’t confirmed yet, but the Lower East Side staple, which specializes in smoked fish, applied for a liquor license for “Russ & Daughters Café” at 127 Orchard Street. (Management told Eater that “there’s really nothing to say just yet,” but a liquor license certainly indicates they’d be dishing up something to wash down that smoked herring.)
But there’s no ambiguity about the new direction of the Brooklyn location of Mile End Delicatessen. Owner Noah Bermanoff recently reopened that location with an updated menu and an extensive craft beer program to accompany it. The restaurant has temporarily suspended breakfast and lunch on the weekdays — though Bermanoff tells the Jews and the Carrot that “we just took a hiatus from lunch” — and is instead open from 5 pm to midnight, serving up brews along with its trademark Montreal-style smoked meats. Old standards will remain on the menu, alongside smaller snack items, like house-cured sardines.
“We wanted to carry good beer, not just beer,” Bermanoff said, explaining that the restaurant had teamed up with former Bierkraft buyer Chris Balla to make their selections. “We’re trying to push the idea that this food and beer work well together.” The new menu includes a selection of sour and smoked beers, like a smoked beer from German brewery Marzen.
The shift isn’t a change in direction so much as a “kick in the pants” for the restaurant, Bermanoff said. “We’ve kind of had a rough eleven months after Sandy,” Bermanoff explained. “I wanted to shake it up and make things fun again.”
The revamped Mile End will also host beer-related events “once or twice a month.” It’s not the only shift for the Mile End empire. Their Manhattan restaurant has been converted from take-out counter to sit-down service, and the Red Hook commissary kitchen, badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, will take on a more meat-oriented direction. Mile End teamed with Josh Applestone of Fleisher’s meats to craft the new facility with a new focus on butchery. The space devoted to what was once the bakery, which was completely destroyed by the hurricane, will now be what Bermanoff calls a “food-driven event space,” with the capacity to host up to 40 people.
“It’s going to be less about making it an extension of Mile End and being a facilitator for other people’s projects,” Bermanoff said. The event space is due to open mid-October. Until then, you can kick back with a cold one and a pile of those sardines on Hoyt Street.
By infusing a mod American eatery with Jewish soul, Todd Ginsberg has created one of Atlanta’s hottest spots: The General Muir. The restaurant, which is named for a ship that carried holocaust refugees to New York, opened in January and set bloggers abuzz with its house-cured corned beef, matzo-ball soup, latkes, and brisket with kasha varnishkes. Non-Hebraic fare like kale salad, fried avocado, and poutine have been smash hits, too.
And the eatery is about to get even busier with its coronation as the city’s best new restaurant by Atlanta magazine. While Ginsberg’s humble about the honor, he couldn’t have been too surprised; Bon Appetit included The General Muir on its own list of America’s best new restaurants, and Bocado — where Ginsberg helmed the kitchen until last year — won similar laurels from Atlanta in 2009.
An alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park Ginsberg took a rare break to chat with the Forward about pastrami, proper pronunciation of Yiddish foods, and the surprising similarities between Southern and Jewish cooking.
Heading north to Montreal this summer? If you’re not, you should be.
Aside from being the three months out of the year when the city doesn’t look like a snow globe, summertime is festival time in Montreal. From June until mid-September, the newly laid-out Place des Festivals is aglow with lights, sounds, crowds, music and film.
The more well-known events, like Francofolies, a two-week tribute to French culture in Canada and abroad, and the Montreal Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 34th anniversary this year and has hosted the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin, have just ended, but that’s no reason to cancel.
All that partying tends to give one hunger pangs, and Montreal is happy to help relieve them. You’ve probably heard of poutine, the heart-attack inducing combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds, but what of Montreal’s Jewish food scene? Like the city itself, its Jewish fare is defined by the blend of English-speaking Ashkenazi heritage complete with a French-speaking Sephardic twist.
From juicy smoked meat to melt-in-your-mouth North African sweets, there’s something for everyone. If you’re new to the city, check out the map below to plan your post-festival food crawl.
Late Night Smoked Meat: Schwartz’s Deli
No Montreal night out is complete without a trip to Schwartz’s. Even at 3 a.m. (closing time for bars in the city), you will find a line snaking out the front door and onto the street, while tourists and locals alike wait to fill their bellies with smoked meat (the Canadian answer to pastrami).
Founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, the “charcuterie hebraique” (Hebrew Delicatessen) is the oldest deli in the city, and has occupied a prime spot on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, a.k.a. “The Main,” for more than 80 years.
Each smoked meat establishment jealously guards its recipe, complete with a secret blend of herbs and spices. The good news? If you can’t get enough of the juicy blend, it’s now available in travel-friendly packaging in certain supermarkets around Canada.
Disclosure: Though the white-tiled interior and narrow tables stay true to the deli’s origins, the business is no longer under Jewish ownership. In 2012, Rene Angélil, Celine Dion’s husband and a lifelong smoked meat fan, bought the deli from businessman Hy Diamond.
Must Try: Smoked meat sandwich (when asked if you want it lean, the answer is most decidedly no).
3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec, H2W 1X9.
For those who may have been wondering whether new tastes would arrive at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco with its new director, there is now an answer. While Lori Starr will not officially become the museum’s new executive director until June 10, word is already out that Wise Sons will be moving into the downtown museum’s vacant restaurant not long afterwards.
Wise Sons’ Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman, who are among the leaders of the Jewish deli revival of recent years, told j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, that they were very excited to open a second location at CJM. “It’s the next logical step for us,” Bloom said about the projected mid-to-late June opening.
To accommodate the additional food production involved in expanding beyond their restaurant at the corner of 24th and Shotwell Streets in the Mission District, Bloom and Beckerman have leased a new space that will allow for the increased production of baked goods and cured meats.
I recently ate lunch with some family members at Shorty Goldstein’s and was overwhelmed…by the vinegar. I’m afraid that if chef and owner Michael Siegel doesn’t change some things at his new deli in San Francisco’s financial district, he’s going to be in a real pickle.
When I spoke to Siegel in December of last year, as he was working on opening his restaurant (really, more of a lunch counter), he told me that he would serve lots of Jewish deli classics, but that he would add his own, contemporary California-style twists to them. “It will be a mix between tradition and my style, which is a little nouveau,” he said.
The problem I found is that these changes Siegel has made are detracting from the authentic deli food that he is doing right. The biggest issue is his pickles. All you get when you eat them is an overpowering bite of vinegar. The vegetables’ natural flavors are lost, and there are no discernable spices.
It’s here! The New York Times Magazine’s 2013 food and drink issue is out this weekend in print and online. Features range from hunting and killing your own dinner to the rise of healthful fast food. [The New York Times]
Bye-bye matzo! Welcome all that delicious chametz back into your life with one of our favorite challah recipes. [Smitten Kitchen]
Or sweeten the end of Pesach with some babka. [The Jewish Week]
Craving spring flavors? Lemons can hold you over until the season gets fully underway. [Food 52]
Hitler’s food taster talks about her bitter years during the war. [Spiegel]
Another look at Washington, D.C.’s DGS Delicatessen and the modern deli renaissance. [NPR]
Ask Google about the Jewish food history of Toronto and you’ll get nothing. Ask author/storyteller Michael Wex about Toronto Jewish food history and he’ll talk about immigrants, Sabbath observance, and cholent.
With a population of nearly 2.5 million people, half of whom were born outside Canada, Toronto is the most multicultural city in North America, and one of the most multicultural in the world. You can travel around the world in one weekend without ever leaving the city. Some ethnicities even have multiple ethnic neighborhoods. A short 5 ½ mile walk will take you through four ethnic neighborhoods.
As a New Yorker who moved to northern Utah almost 30 years ago, I’m sometimes tempted by local restaurants that offer what they refer to as “authentic New York fare.” Shops that sling “New York” pizza, serve a Big Apple-style cheesecake and worst of all, a Jewish deli sandwich, often disappoint.
So, when I recently read an exceedingly laudatory review of the new Feldman’s Deli in the local alt-newsweekly City Weekly, I was pretty skeptical. It seemed too good to be true, and after all, I condescendingly thought, what could a Utah food critic really know about Jewish deli food?
But given such a glowing report, I knew it was only a question of time before I’d make the 45 minute drive to Salt Lake City to try it. So on a smoggy January afternoon, I headed south with my dear friend and fellow zoology professor Bob Okazaki to introduce him to what I was hoping was an acceptable sandwich. A California émigré who has lived and travelled all over the planet, he has never had a Jewish deli sandwich — more than my individual satisfaction was riding on this adventure.