Today’s blog is from Elissa Schein, director of public programs, who is sharing some great moments from our “Save the Deli” program last Wednesday.
"Why do Jewish delis need saving? After all, the food is notoriously fattening. So what if there are fewer corned beef and pastrami sandwiches being consumed by already overweight Americans? Who would really care?" Those were the opening questions posed by cookbook author and food blogger Arthur Schwartz to life-long deli obsessive David Sax, the author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. If our audience’s response is any indication, there is a lot worth saving when it comes to delis, and in his cultural history of Jewish food and vibrant travelogue, David explains why.
“You go into a deli to feel like you’re at your Aunt Zelda’s house. This is the food we know, where we came from. People can lose their language, their religious practice, but food is the last vestige of cultural identity,” says Sax. The evening felt a little like a Seder table, with audience members packed tightly together weighing in on what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to deli etiquette. Schwartz noted, “It’s hard to come by an authentic deli experience these days. If a Kosher Martian was to arrive in NYC today, he would think that sushi was Jewish food.”
Audience members learned some important deli facts from Sax, who toured the world, interviewing deli owners and famous deli lovers like Ed Koch, Ruth Reichl, and Mel Brooks. The best rye bread can be found at Zingerman’s Bakery in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and although David refused to say who serves up the best pastrami, audience members (with a few dissenters) agreed that the best pastrami in New York is still at Katz’s, where it is hand sliced and cured the old fashioned way.
Katz’s may now be getting competition from a new generation of deli owners. While smoked meat was referred to as “the bastard child of corned beef and pastrami,” Mile End Deli, a new deli in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn is offering their own Montreal-style home cured meat… moist, delicious and overflowing on rye bread with a smear of Gulden's mustard for $7; both David and Arthur say it’s definitely worth the trip to Brooklyn.
But if you’re in our neck of the woods, check out Izzy and Nat’s on South End Avenue, where many intrepid audience members trekked after the program. One diner, who came in from Long Island, told the catering manager that the pastrami sandwich was worth the schlep.
All in all, an evening with a lot of food for thought.
P.S. David’s book was nominated for a James Beard Award in the category of food literature. We’re rooting for you, David!