If Jewish food were to have a signature scent, it would be the smell of Katz’s deli — at least for me. The aroma of corned beef brined in spices, pastrami dripping with fat, fried potato knishes and freshly sliced rye assaults the senses the second you reach the door at the corner of Ludlow Street and East Houston.
Now the deli wants you to bring a small part of that scent home. Allow me to introduce the chocolate egg cream candle. According to Katz’s website, the candles which come in vintage-style packaging and costs $25 can “Transform any room into a delicious blast from the past. These delightful candles are sure to sweeten up your day.”
All of this is well and good — and I’ve already ordered one for my desk — but, the real scent of Katz’s is that killer pastrami. So to the owners, I have to ask you, “When’s the pastrami sandwich candle going to debut? I like mine cut from the dekel and with just a shmear of mustard.”
Like all knish lovers, we at the Forward shed a tear when we heard that Gabila’s, the king of the fried square knish, was forced to shut down its factory after a fire last fall. Five months later, the knish drought is almost over.
On Monday, the Long Island factory will once again smell of delicious potatoes fried in oil (imagine the scent of latkes, year-round). If they get back up to full steam, the company will make as many as 250,000 knishes in its first week.
Up to 2,000 of those knishes will be sold in a week at Katz’s Deli, which was forced to take the knishes off of their menu last fall, according to owner Jake Dell. At the deli diners resorted to eating potato salad and French fries while more desperate knish devotees turned to eBay to get their fix.
For everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the knish, you’ll just have to wait for May for “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.” In the meantime, we’re content to just snack on those square knishes.
There are a handful of New York City landmarks that most people recognize: Lady Liberty. The Chrysler Building. And Katz’s Delicatessen.
Opened on the Lower East Side in 1888 and purchased by the Russian Katz family in 1903, the delicatessen famous for its orgasmic pastrami sandwiches, its Friday evening frankfurters ‘n’ beans and its Cel-Ray soda is one of the oldest continually operating businesses in New York City. And, at the ripe age of 125, Katz’s is still going strong: each week, the deli serves up more than 10,000 pounds of pastrami, 6,000 pounds of corned beef, and 4,000 hot dogs to locals and tourists alike. That’s a lot of cow.
Katz’s has attracted its fair share of attention over the years. But no one had ever written a book about it until now. In September, current part owner Jake Dell wrote the introduction to Katz’s: Autobiography of a Delicatessen in which he traces the famed storefront’s evolution from a tight-knit neighborhood joint to a star-studded celebrity hangout at the height of the early 1900s Yiddish theatre boom to a can’t-miss tourist attraction in the oughts. Large-format, full-color photos by Baldomero Fernandez detailing every nook and cranny of the restaurant accompany Dell’s text.
When it comes to publishing food or cookbooks, it’s usually the restaurant chef or owner that approaches the publisher with an idea. But in the case of Katz’s, Dell said, it was Bauer and Dean Publishers that, a few years ago, came to him. With the big anniversary fast approaching, Dell thought the timing was perfect.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said.
Want a side of art with that pastrami on rye? You’re in luck. As part of celebrations for the iconic Lower East Side deli’s 125th birthday, Katz’s Deli commissioned the space next door to their restaurant to use as a pop-up gallery.
The Space at Katz’s, as the gallery is dubbed, merges the old and new Lower East Sides, exhibiting deli-inspired artwork. The pop-up opened on October 22, and will be open to the public until February, cycling in new work every month.
The initial offerings at the space includes a wall-sized scrawl by fashion designer and artist Baron Von Fancy which reads “I’ll have what she’s having,” the quip from the famous scene set in Katz’s in “When Harry Met Sally.” Artist Hanksy, famous for his street art-style spins off of celebrity culture, contributed a portrait of comedian Will Ferrell in a cat costume dubbed “Will Feral Katz.” The show also includes several pieces by Studio Hyp-Inc made from carefully broken vinyl records in the shape of sandwiches.
Along with the rotating art, The Space serves as a store for Katz’s merchandise. Every month, a different designer will riff on the Katz’s deli standards to produce t-shirts, baseball caps, and event specialized sneakers. New York City-based designer Alife is The Space’s initial collaborator, offering Katz’s caps and t-shirts inspired by one of the deli’s slogans, “Send a salami to your boy in the army.”
The current exhibit at the The Space, at 203 East Houston Street, runs until November 24.
Bad news for fried knish lovers: New York is in the midst of a shortage.
Gabila’s, the country’s largest producer of fried knishes (which according to its website has sold over a billion doughy pockets), has had to suspend production of its “Coney Island Squares” until at least the end of November. The reason: a small fire that broke out in the company’s Long Island factory on September 24.
Gabila’s supplies many of the city’s delis and hot dog carts with their fried knishes (which can best be described as mashed potatoes wrapped in fried dough, and which go incredibly well with mustard alongside a deli sandwich). Delis from Katz’s on the Lower East Side to Essen New York Deli in Midwood are out of them.
“Believe me, if I could give you a square knish, I’d give you a square knish. I just can’t right now,” Katz’s fifth-generation owner Jake Dell told CBS News.
Katz’s normally sells 1,500 of these knishes a week (for $3.75 each), according to CBS.
So what does this mean for those of us craving knishes? For the next month you’ll either have to go with the round, baked variety (which sell for 50 cents more at Katz’s) — which are often homemade at delis and restaurants — or try to go over a month without knishes. Hey, your waistline might thank you.
If you’d like to make your own, check out a cooking video from The Forverts.
If you’re a person who spends their weekends schlepping to the outer-boroughs for a taste of New York’s best ethnic cuisines, or, if you are a dedicated reader of the Village Voice, or just a person who likes to eat in the city, you owe a debt to Robert Sietsema.
Sietsema’s taste buds have been New York’s flavor barometer for over 25 years. Starting with “Down the Hatch,” followed by a stint at Gourmet and finally serving as the Village Voice’s restaurant critic for 20 years, he has chronicled the city’s food scene longer than almost any other critic, uncovering hidden gems and whole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants one review at a time.
His memorable tenure at the Voice came to an abrupt end when Sietsema was somewhat unceremoniously fired in May, along with gossip columnist Michael Musto, and theater critic Michael Feingold.
Fortunately for readers, Sietsema has found a new home at EaterNY, covering what he calls his “natural beat.” As a regular columnist, he’ll continue his pursuit of the perfect dish through a series of “micro-neighborhood dining guides.”
The Forward’s Anne Cohen recently spoke with Sietsema about his take on the future of food journalism, his favorite New York deli, and what he really thinks of gefilte fish.
When David Manheim first started working at Katz’s Deli, he was a teenager promoting their delivery service and was paid in sandwiches. When he came back five years ago as a waiter, he knew he wouldn’t leave until he made something to showcase the soul of Katz’s, as he pegs it: “The Empire State Building of the Lower East Side.” This deli will celebrate its 125th year serving up some of the best pastrami in town on June 2nd, and it’s only fitting that it serves some old school Jewish humor with the slaw.
A Manhattan native, Manheim, 38, first got the attention of the food, and Jewish, world in late April when he launched his blog The Last Jewish Waiter with an accompanying hilarious video of the shenanigans behind the counter (where all the magic happens) and his often welcome abuse of Katz’s patrons. Deciding to film the deli, Manheim eschewed the reality show mold, which he feels is often fake and opted for a behind-the-scenes feel. “I’ve always been interested in shows that show the process and aren’t pretentious. That’s my vision for this, it should be just like The Muppet Show, a show about making a show yet shows the imperfections of a team.”
Growing up in Chelsea to parents who are both teachers, Manheim was on two different cable shows when he was younger and knew he was comfortable on camera. After a brief stint in Los Angeles, Manheim returned to New York and started waiting tables at Katz’s, which he hopes is only a stepping-stone to the next phase of his career. “I love talking to people and I love it when it’s good,” Manheim told the Forward. “I just have a problem with authority and I don’t particularly like to be told what to do, which is funny for a waiter.”
Since Katz’s, that holiest of holy sites for pastrami worship, opened in 1888, Yiddish theatre actors, immigrants from countless countries, politicians, movie stars and grandparents visiting from Florida have come to fress on the deli’s superb sandwiches. The Jewish food landmark turns 125 this weekend, so to celebrate, we took a walk down memory lane, from the early days before the deli was called Katz’s to Meg Ryan’s “Oh, my God” moment to the deli’s first-ever Passover Seder this year.
This weekend, Katz’s kicks off its birthday party, hosting a Shabbat dinner that melds deli with another long-standing Jewish tradition: Chinese food. Chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, who recently won a James Beard Award, will put his own spin on Katz’s classics. He’ll be joined by Bill Telepan of Telepan, Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl and pastry chef Sarabeth Levine.
The anniversary celebration continues with live music at Katz’s this Saturday and a pastrami-eating competition on Sunday. Too much of a good thing? Never! Ess gesunt!
Share your favorite Katz’s Deli memory with us in the comments!
(To scroll through the years of Katz’s, click on the right of the images below.)
Seth Meyers may have just been named as the next host of “Late Night” on NBC but we have our eyes on someone a little different. Meet David Manheim, foul-mouthed waiter at iconic Katz’s Deli by day, aspiring TV host by night. Not waiting for kismet to work its magic, Manheim, chronicles his life at the soon-to-be 125 year old deli on his blog “The Last Jewish Waiter.” Only blogging since April 20th, Manheim’s voice is a breath of fresh air in its unapologetic hatred of his job, his mistreatment (or some might say, New York treatment) of his customers and his comedic take on Jews and gentiles alike.
With an analysis of every type of customer, Manheim’s most interesting takes are those on the different types of Jews he serves. There are the easygoing, rich Jews who relocated to the South now making a pilgrimage back to the New York deli of their roots who delight in his mistreatment of them. And the Jews visiting from out of town impressing their family with their knowledge of all thing Katz. “I have to say, these guys crack me up,” writes Manheim, “they have determined that a square knish from Katz’s will finally open the dormant Jewish gene in their half-Jew daughter. I feel like they think one bite and the girl will be reciting a Haftarah portion.”
No doubt Manheim, who says he is 38, is among scores of Jewish waiters who hate their customers and have more than a few colorful words for them, the only difference is that he’s the only one with enough chutzpah to say it to your face. The controlled DMV-like chaos at Katz is unacceptable at a restaurant, writes Manheim, but he revels in it, “I love it! I throw silverware at the customers, refuse to serve certain items, and am generally nasty. With a certain understood kindness at the bottom.” Charm us, he does.
Check out his first video below:
If you’re going to take advice from someone on how to make a proper latke, that person should be Melissa Clark. [New York Times]
Everything you ever wanted to know about hosting a latke party. [Serious Eats]
Latkes goes modernist. [Saveur]
Try them with….brown butter and cinnamon applesauce. [Serious Eats]
Looking to celebrate the holiday of oil without covering your kitchen in it? Here’s a great list of events. [Serious Eats]
The fight over the H&H Bagel name continues to get shmeared. [Grub Street]
School lunches are getting a healthy makeover thanks to Michelle Obama’s initiatives. But not so much for students who keep kosher in LA. [Jewish Journal]
Katz’s Deli might just be the “manliest” sandwich shop in America, atleast according to Men’s Health Guy Gourmet blog. [Village Voice]
Food and Wine spends some time with (and gets some recommendations from) our favorite Israeli spice master Lior Lev Sercarz. [Food and Wine]
The barbeque brisket pop-up BrisketTown is starting to take orders…. hmmm, we’ll see you in line. [Eater]
In last week’s food section, we gave you 10 amazing Jewish sandwiches from across the country, which in true “top list” fashion sparked some debate over which sandwiches were really the best and which were missing from the list. Luckily, a tidy little poll let readers kvetch constructively by voting for their favorite (with a write-in option). With over 600 votes, favorites were all across the board — and world.
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.
Food Curated visits the 100-year old iconic ACME smoked fish plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to see how smoked fish is really made. Um, can someone get us a bagel and schmear please?
As things gear up for October 17th’s World Food Day (an effort to fight world hunger), plans are underway for It’s Time to Eat Real, America!, “A nationwide campaign to change the way Americans eat and think about food,” its site says.
Serious Eats’ Cook The Book column shares a recipe for “The Israeli Workingman’s Sandwich,” courtesy of “The Big New York Sandwich Book.”
This month’s issue of Saveur focuses on all variates sandwiches and of course takes a look at the great Katz’s deli. They share Katz’s recipe for chopped liver and a great video on the 2nd Avenue Deli’s pastrami.
Can you handle more pastrami? If so, check out Jamie Geller’s recipe for pastrami kugel on kosher.com.
In Rome, writer and sommelier Katie Parla, finds culinary traces of the former Jewish community of Libya, on The Atlantic.
Moment Magazine traces the history of the latke and its competition, the sufganiya.
Spicing up traditional Hannukah fare: Mexican food takes on the miracle of the oil with spicy zucchini latkes and brisket tacos.
Joy of Kosher talks with a rock-star winemaker in California that has just gone kosher.