Our Chit Chat question of the week comes from Josh Katz of Minneapolis, MN:
What’s the deal with Jewish delis in the Twin Cities? Some good ones, but nothing great. At least nothing I’ve found so far. Help!?!?
Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk is a community-supported publication. Consider becoming a paid subscriber.
I agree Josh, there are some decent ones here in our hometown, but nothing in the top 100 nationally, which is weird because we have such a large vibrant Jewish community. I yearn to shout at a grizzled counterman in a crowded deli, “I Want the Don Rickles, Toast the Rye, Extra Cole Slaw,” while someone’s grandpa mumbles into an intercom with a loudspeaker, “Barbara Streisand’s chauffeur: your order is ready at that cashier”.
Josh, I feel your pain.
Delicatessens, real ones, are dying breeds.
When even a place like Ben’s Best, a kosher deli that I loved in Rego Park Queens, closes, you ask yourself, what’s happening here?
Surviving the last two years of the pandemic has been impossible for many restaurants, especially labor-intensive ones like a delicatessen. Glatt Kosher restaurants are fading in popularity. Clearly dining habits have changed. People aren’t returning to work in office buildings or other areas where many traditional delis have existed for decades. Supermarkets now make sandwiches, sell sliced meats and vend hot soups at low-low prices, hoping you leave with other items that they make good profits on.
The health conscious eat lunch, more often than not, at salad places rather than at sandwich joints. Many people are working from home. Others drink a shake for their mid-day meal. The value proposition in a scratch deli makes them expensive for many Americans. All restaurants suffered during the last two years, went into debt or closed. Covid and the lack of a robust RRF really hurt the industry. And I don’t think the new era of anti-Semitism can be ignored, either.
I still have a dream to own one someday.
I’m the fool on the hill, but I don’t care. From lox and eggs in the morning, to a half brisket/half pastrami sandwich for lunch to potato pancakes with roast chicken for dinner, the food of the deli courses through my veins. Born at the end of the 19th Century in NYC, the concept spread across America faster than the Jewish migrations, proving their universal appeal. A deli is more than a good place to get a sandwich, it’s a gathering place, it’s a great place to hang out, the cornerstone of Jewish neighborhoods, as vital to our culture as the local synagogue.
Since lists are important for travelers to have in their back pockets. Here’s mine for delis and they ARE NOT in any order. I am also sure that I left many out that are really superb, and that’s what the comments section is for.
Great Jewish Delis in the USA
Langer’s (Los Angeles): A superb menu of hits, including the #19 sandwich, which is as good as a sandwich gets in my opinion. Twice-cooked rye for the win. Phenomenal pastrami, great sides and soups. Norm is still at the door and the servers don’t take crap from anyone. And you can hang out here, which is my favorite thing to do at a deli. Hang out and schmooze.
Zingerman’s (Ann Arbor, Mich.): A temple of greatness with its own personality. OK, so it’s not traditional. I don’t care. They nail the vibe. The selection is mind-boggling for many reasons, and I have yet to try anything there I don’t like. The Bakehouse, the Creamery, the cheeses … oy vey, I’m hungry already.
Kenny and Zuke’s (Portland, Ore.): A great deli. All the baked goods are house-made, the bagels come from the owners’ other shop (Bagelworks) and the pastrami is oak-wood smoked and out of this world.
Famous 4th Street Deli (Philadelphia): Superb smoked fish platters for breakfast and their sandwiches are sublime. They come in two sizes. The “regular” ones are plenty big. Trust me.
Schlesinger’s (my other Philly fave): Great brisket sandwiches (order it hot with gravy if you like) that I can’t help but order anytime I am there. Don’t skip the potato pancakes.
Kenny & Ziggy’s (Houston): A newcomer on the scene. The menu is massive. I had my standard half-and-half (brisket/pastrami), warmed, fatty end, on rye — and was thrilled.
Katz’s (New York): The OG. Five generations of my family have eaten there we think. Four are confirmed. My father and uncle both had salami from Katz’s sent to them by my grandparents during WW2. The brisket, pastrami and corned beef are sublime.
Slyman’s (Cleveland): Cleveland’s best. The corned beef is superb and the portions are beyond over-stuffed. Go easy.
Jake’s (Milwaukee): Pastrami perfection. The room is perfect; I can sit there all day. One of the few places in America where I will order a Reuben because they get it right. Ratios are everything with that sandwich.
Mile End (Brooklyn): The name comes from Montreal’s deli neighborhood, so the Canadian touches are to be leaned into. Their matzo ball soup is a thing of beauty, and their smoky pastrami is crazy good
Wise Sons (San Francisco): Another newcomer, and they take their house-made everything very seriously. I love this place. Three words: double baked rye. Three more: handmade boiled bagels. I rest my case.
Harold’s New York Deli (Edison, N.J.): a terrible name for a great Garden State deli. The soups are superb. They have a pickle bar — something I have never seen before — and the cooked food is as good as the superb sandwiches. The only issue I have is that everything is too big (if there is such a thing). One of many delis on this list run by old Carnegie Deli alums too. Don’t skip the the kasha varnishkes, which is buckwheat cooked with onions and farfalle pasta.
Attman’s (Baltimore): Charm City deli heaven, over 100 years young and with a sprawling menu. I still stick to the basics. Still family-run, and the pastrami delivers 100 percent.
2nd Avenue Deli (New York): one of my favorite NYC delis. Gefilte fish, smoky salty nova, real-deal old school deli sandwiches and amazing chopped liver make this place a true classic.
Shapiro’s (Indianapolis): Indianapolis has a great deli. I have only had the corned beef here, which is their specialty and has been for over 100 years. So I think they had plenty of time to work out the kinks on anything else as well.
PJ Bernstein (New York): The deli I went to almost every day as a kid, it was a block from the house I grew up in. Still one of the last places that serves matzo brei, as well as a hot tongue sandwich that my grandmother raised me on.
The General Muir (Atlanta): One of my favorite delis in America. Everything is made from scratch in house, and when I tell you that in a half dozen visits I haven’t eaten anything here that I don’t love, I am not lying. Superb soups, sandwiches, smoked fish and some really stunning short ribs for dinner.
Gottlieb’s (Brooklyn): A deli and a restaurant in Williamsburg that is something straight out of central casting. It’s a kosher place, so the selections reflect that. The pastrami is very good. The hot food tastes like my grandmother’s and the classics like gefilte fish are spot on. And the vibe is unrivaled.
Please chime in: What are your favorite Jewish delis?
Thanks for reading Spilled Milk.
The small subscription fee helps compensate my team fairly, keep the lights on, and (let’s be honest) stock the fridge. If you enjoyed this content, please click the ‘heart’ at the bottom. Share this with a friend, on your social media, etc., etc., etc., you know the drill.