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Save the deli!

The delis are dying out. The art of pastrami is being lost, and let's not even talk about the difficulty of finding a decent matzoh ball soup in D.C. But David Sax, author of the new book "Save the Deli!" is trying to remind people of the history and role of the deli, and rouse folks to fight back. I'll be interviewing him at D.C.'s Sixth and I Synagogue tonight at 7. Details here.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 21, 2009; 11:37 AM ET
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Ezra, please do me a favor and ask David Sax why he titled his book "Save the Deli", when what he really means is "Save the Family-Owned Jewish Deli." As best as I can tell, never in American history has it been easier for the average person, urban, suburban, or rural, to get a fresh, high-quality, made-to-order salad, soup, or sandwich to go. The difference is that more and more of the thousands of deli counters around the country are owned by large corporations.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | October 21, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

One of the saddest things about San Diego is that I can't find a good deli here. Yeah, there are chained owned sandwiches that are, well, decent, but I have yet to find a GREAT sandwich place.

Posted by: goinupnup | October 21, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Almost weekly I crave (the memory of) a real jewish deli pastrami/corned beef sandwich like the ones I got in the mid-20th century - in particular the Skokie IL deli's on great rye with super kosher pickles.

The mystery to me is why this art isn't apparently reproduceable. It just can't be that hard - beef is beef, right?

There is NO good pastrami sangies in Portland. Or, for that matter ANY authentic Italian (roast) beef sandwiches with spicy broth on the bun.

I don't buy the argument that people don't create the demand (fat aversion, or something), because a Big Mac is way way worse for health.

Something is deeply wrong about our economy when there is no supply and lots of latent demand.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | October 21, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

will there be deli at the interview/discussion tonight? it seems cruel to discuss deli's without the goods.

Posted by: howardclh | October 21, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

forget it.
there is nothing to save.
carnegie deli...katz's deli....they are nothing, compared to the old delis.
i went to the carnegie deli and katz's....factor's deli in beverly hills, jerry's deli....
all gounisht. they pile the imitation jewish rye with pastrami and brisket, but it is half fat.
there was one deli that surpassed all others.
kartzman's deli in newark, new jersey....circa 1958.
the absolute best brisket, leanest corned beef, beautiful roasted turkey, salamis hanging from the ceiling could just kvell for. and then, you could bring it home and make salami and eggs that were so perfect:-)
kartzman's made a turkey, russian dressing and cole slaw sandwich that was heaven on earth.:-) :-)
now, some of these "jewish delis" use processed turkey.
well, down the street from kartzman's was the original "jack tabatchnicks...."
barrels and barrels of pickles and peppers...and white fish, sturgeon, lox, every kind of herring, sable....tubs of fresh cream cheese, "pot" cheese, sour cream, was some place.
(and in the front of the store, you could cast your vote in the 1958 "miss rheingold" contest...and they even sold hoffman's soda and wise potato chips.
and across the street, was the bergen bake shop...with rugelach and the best rye bread in the entire world with poppy seeds and caraway seeds, and victory cakes and saltsticks, and hamentaschen, and even mandelbread,and kichel...and mohn cookies and frozen dough cookies.
believe me, those were the days.
you never had to leave bergen street, in newark, to eat like a kind or queen.
and then....a few miles away, was the renowned weequahic diner and tavern restaurant.
dont even get me started on morris and leo bauman's weequahic diner, or the tavern's coconut cream pie.
the best, the best, the best.
ask anybody.

the world doesnt know from delis and diners anymore:-( :-)

Posted by: jkaren | October 21, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

here is a funny and true story.

once, on a hot summer afternoon, many years ago, i went with my parents to ratner's...which was a famous, old dairy restaurant in new york city.
everything that was said about these archetypal waiters was true.
we were very hot from travelling in through the tunnel from newark, to the lower east side, and waited for our glasses of water.
my father lifted his glass, and we noticed there was a big cockaroach under the ice cubes.
we called the waiter over.
he looked at the glass, and the cockaroach.
without missing a beat, he said, "i wont charge you for the cockaroach.":-)

by the way, there is a very funny book out now called, "if you have nothing nice to say, say it in yiddish," by lita epstein.
in extreme moments, you can parlay such phrases as,
"vilfil yor er iz gegangn oyf di fis zol er geyn af di hent un di iberike zol er zich sharn of di hintn."

translation: "as many years as he's walked on his feet, let him walk on his hands, and the rest of the time he should crawl along on his ass."


Posted by: jkaren | October 21, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Is there a link to the song? It's pretty awesome. My girlfriend complains about being unable to get the open faced turkey sandwich with gravy on rye bread that she often had as a kid.

Posted by: tmorgan2 | October 21, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

i will say, if you are not a vegetarian, and want as good a deli as you can find, langer's in los angeles has good stuff:-)
a heck of a lot better than anything else out there nowadays.
but what is with the "vienna products" on their sign?
jewish delis dont have signs like that.
and thank goodness, they dont have ham on the menu.
sometimes, you see that:-(
and, if you are a vegetarian, they have good pickles, cole slaw and RICE PUDDING:-)

Posted by: jkaren | October 21, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - surely by now you know about Morty's/Krupin's on Wisconsin? I can't vouch for their matzah ball soup because I go to delis for meat or lox, both of which are excellent there.

Posted by: Sophomore | October 21, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

So suddenly it's 'kosher' to talk about deli's and pastrami sandwiches?

What about all that business about carbon footprint and so on?

Those that live by the sword...

Posted by: leoklein | October 21, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse


vegetarianism has left me with only lingering childhood memories.
but there are still sour pickles, rice pudding with raisins and cole slaw!
i'd say that there is still rye bread.
but not out here on the west coast.
there is not a decent piece of rye bread to be found anywhere on the west coast.
others might take issue with that, but unlike gertrude stein's poem, " a half-a rye, sliced and seeded," is not "half-a rye, sliced and seeded," by any other name.

these "artisinal" breads and crusty baguettes with rosemary and olives are lovely, but a seeded rye bread in a white waxpaper bag, and a box of frozen dough cookies and rugelach, in a little white cardboard box, giftwrapped with thin little red and white strings.....they stand alone, untarnished by time, space and memory.

Posted by: jkaren | October 21, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

"those that live by the sword...."

what was to follow that?
"a feshkneydh zol zid dir shtelnin haldz."
those that live by the sword, "may choke on a fish dumpling?"

Posted by: jkaren | October 21, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I wonder whether Sax considers another factor (aside from assimilation, homogenization, and health concerns), that has led to the demise of the delicatessen: namely, the "Israelification" of Jewish culture. You're more likely to find an Israeli-style falafel joint opening than a deli these days.

The Yiddish-speaking, European community of immigrants from which the deli phenomenon arose is not just dying out through assimilation of its third and fourth generations. The European history and culture of the Jews, as a whole, has been reduced to a single historic moment: the Holocaust. When I was a kid, we had a whole year of religious school in which we studied European Jewish writers, scientists, artists, philosophers, statesmen, etc. My kids learned nothing of that: they got Israel, pure and simple. It's almost like 1,000 years of European culture--including the food--has been downgraded to a footnote. I call for schmalz!

Okay, believe it or not, one of the best delicatessens I've encountered, from New York to L.A., Montreal to Chicago ... is Shapiro's, in Indianapolis (I kid you not!). The original south side venue, not the new one on the north side of town. It's cafeteria style. Best rye bread, hands down, anywhere. But it's fading, fading.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | October 21, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"vegetarianism has left me with only lingering childhood memories. "

Well, frankly, I'd head straight for the pastrami myself. It's just hard to reconcile this nostalgia for delis with the 'meat=blood=death' photos that occasionally decorate this blog.

Personally I'm the kind of guy who gets into NYC and heads straight to Katz's regardless of relatives, hotel reservations or inclement weather.

Posted by: leoklein | October 21, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

"Personally I'm the kind of guy who gets into NYC and heads straight to Katz's regardless of relatives, hotel reservations or inclement weather."


Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2009 1:54 AM | Report abuse

There's a decent matzoh ball soup?

No there's not!

Posted by: pj_camp | October 22, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

but, but, one went to the kosher deli that used to be on Penna Ave for about five minutes. i worked across the street and was quite excited about it, went over there and had good sandwiches as big as my head. but i think it stayed in business for less than 1 year.

Posted by: ajw_93 | October 26, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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