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.
“It is so wrong for a deli customer to be served a knish that’s been put in a microwave,” lamented Michael Siegel, a successful San Francisco chef who is poised to open his own new Jewish deli in late January. At his place, almost everything will be made from scratch. “It’s time to bring the pride and love back into deli food,” Siegel said.
The first-time restaurateur takes making a good, fresh knish very seriously. In fact, his deli will be called Shorty Goldstein’s as a tribute to his great-grandmother, whose excellent knish recipe Siegel uses. The moniker is a combination of the great-grandmother’s nickname (she barely reached 4’10”), and her maiden name.
Inspired by new delis like Mile End in New York, Siegel, 33, decided to leave his position as chef de cuisine at Betelnut, a contemporary Asian cuisine restaurant, to join in San Francisco’s Jewish deli revival. “We have a large Jewish population in the Bay Area,” Siegel noted. “There’s a demand and a niche for good, slow-food Jewish deli. Wise Sons beat me to it and proved the point, which serves as motivation for me.”
After 75 years in business, New York’s Stage Delicatessen announced its closure today. For a deli world already used to deaths and disappearances, having seen thousands of landmarks wiped clean from our palate over the past decades, the end of the Stage plunges deep into the heart of deli lovers. The magnitude of its loss is incalculable. The significance is simply staggering.
Oh sure, in her later years she was easily dismissed as tired, failing, cranky, and limping along. Just a mere hint of her former greatness remained visible through the accumulated knickknacks and tchotchkes, and her telltale shtick. Once the talk of the town, now just seemed warmed over and rehashed for the tourist throngs, like a day old slice of salami repurposed into an omelet. They’ll say it hadn’t been the same for years, or even decades, and that her time was past, but they know in their hearts that even at this age, she was taken from us too soon.
Yes, there were older delicatessens, and bigger delicatessens, and, many will argue, better delicatessens than the Stage in its most recent incarnation. But there are few Jewish delis in America that were as influential to the evolution of the deli’s culture than the Stage. It was the deli that many others took their cues from, the deli that made the food famous, the place that Americanized the Jewish delicatessen.
The 75-year-old Midtown landmark located just a couple of blocks from Carnegie Hall (and from its rival, the Carnegie Deli) still has its website — with tantalizing photos of overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, crunchy pickles, tangy coleslaw, and creamy cheesecakes — up, but now the food is only for looking at, not tasting. Gone are the sandwiches that gustatorily honored celebrity customers like Mel Brooks, Larry David, Katie Couric, Howie Mandel, Al Rocker, Cindy Adams and Dolly Parton.
When Haaretz’s food and wine critic, the late Daniel Rogov, moved from Paris to Tel Aviv in the late 1970s, he discovered a cornucopia of Jewish foods from all over the world, stemming from the manifold cultures from which Jews had immigrated. What he missed was one of his favorite foods from his childhood in Brooklyn: a pastrami sandwich on rye.
Indeed, what is arguably the quintessential American Jewish dish has never played a major role in any other Jewish cuisine in the world. There is something irreducibly American about the deli sandwich, which bespeaks the unique history of American Jews.
Much of the Jewish deli sandwich’s popularity in America is tied to the evolution of the sandwich itself, which exploded in popularity after the First World War. Even before the advent of the mechanical bread slicer in Iowa in 1928, the sandwich (originally invented by Rabbi Hillel the Elder, as we commemorate each year during the Passover seder), became one of the most popular of all American foods, with more than 5,000 sandwich shops in New York by the mid 1920s. In a city defined by its manic energy, the sandwich became the perfect fuel for people on the go.
My mother-in-law’s favorite restaurant is a deli called TooJay’s. Whenever I visit her in Florida from my home in Portland, Oregon, that is where she wants to eat. It is rarely where I want to eat. I’d much rather sit out on a sunny deck and drink a margarita than squish inside an unprepossessing diner and eat greasy meat. One day we tried to sate her craving by bringing Too Jay’s takeout back to the pool. Come dinnertime, I asked her if she had any restaurant suggestions.
“How about TooJay’s?”
Food was also a hot topic at the URJ Biennial [URJ RAC]
Find out what happens to “Jewish” food when Eastern European Jews end up in Mexico… [WNYC]
…or San Francisco! [SF Weekly]
Growing interest in kosher organic meat gets a boost in the UK [Barnet Today]
But non-organic meat in the US will see no relief from antibiotic use [Grist]
Happy New Year!
In this two-part series Eitan Kensky takes a sharp look at food travel shows and the evolution of Adam Richman’s popular show “Man vs. Food.” Read Part 1 here.
One of the most striking elements of “Man vs. Food” was the way it flattened all ethnicities into generic American challenges. The idea of de-emphasizing difference made it rare, if not unique among food shows. Both of Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern’s shows were built around the idea of eating local and indigenous cuisines that most American’s find disgusting, such as unborn chicken eggs, squirrel and calf (testicles) — especially when the exotic locations Zimmern traveled to were in America, like the Gulf Coast, or the immigrant neighborhoods of New York and Los Angeles. “Man vs. Food,” however, didn’t exoticize ethnic foods or treat them as an other to be discovered; rather ethnic restaurants were just another way to experience over-sized, over-seasoned, or over-spiced American portions.
This approach was especially prominent during the first season when Richman visited Katz’s Deli in New York. The show went out of its way to not make reference to Katz’s Jewish origins. None of the patrons interviewed appeared to be Jewish and Richman treated Katz’s only as a general New York institution that serves very meaty sandwiches. There were, it’s true, a few codes for Jewishness in the presentation. Richman’s mother came to share the food with him, and he referred to her as the person who first introduced him to Deli, but he left out why she introduced him to it in the first place. His mother worried that his upcoming challenge would be “unhealthy,” making shtick out of the stereotype of the over-protective Jewish mother, but it backfires. Given the toxic spiciness of the food Richman is going to ingest later that night, the Brick Lane Curry House’s spicy p’haal, allegedly the world’s hottest curry, she isn’t so much the over-protective Jewish mother as the voice of reason. Nonetheless, it was striking that a 21st century food show didn’t mention that Deli is a Jewish food par excellence, and Richman’s mother presumably took him to delis as part of his heritage.
Empire Kosher Poultry, the largest kosher chicken company in the country, claims “it produces a healthier, cleaner, more reliably kosher chicken than available anywhere else in America — and in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” according to JTA.
Multi-colored Carrots are coming to farmers’ markets this month! Yes, we have a soft spot for our namesake veggie.
A deli plate would be naked without a pickle, but the preserved cucumber wasn’t always so beloved. Jane Ziegelman writes that the pickle was once viewed as a stimulant and consumption was frowned upon.
The title of Mark Bittman’s Opinionator piece this week, “Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance,” says it all.
Three years ago, Zane Caplansky applied to the city of Toronto to sell Montreal-style smoked-meat sandwiches from a cart. Confronted with red tape that would have required a steep investment in a mobile kitchen, he dropped the idea.
Bad news for the aspiring vendor became a boon for Toronto foodies. Caplansky instead started selling smoked-meat sandwiches from the back of a Toronto bar. Insane demand, fueled by word of mouth, led to the 2009 opening of Caplansky’s, his massively successful deli on the northern edge of the city’s historically Jewish Kensington Market neighborhood. “Caplansky’s did more to put Toronto on the map as a deli city than anyone else in half a century,” says David Sax, author of “Save the Deli” and a Forward contributor.
Despite our best intentions to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable, healthy food and the critical role of cooking it at home, we know that the majority of unhealthy calories and the largest increase in food consumption over the past 50 years has occurred with food purchased outside of the home, according to the Keystone Forum on Away from Home Foods. One might wonder: why are Jewish food establishments not working to create more healthy and sustainable menus?
While there are a few options, like those at last week’s Deli Summit, they’re mainly located in the sustainable food meccas of New York and Berkeley. Last week, that list grew one restaurant stronger with Inna’s Kitchen, a new player in the Boston Jewish food scene. Opened last week by Inna Khitrik and her son Alex, Inna’s Kitchen is a new Jewish deli in Newton Centre focused on sustainable healthy Jewish foods from a variety of cultures.