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Jewish Journal

Thank heavens for hot pastrami

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 21, 2007 | 12:20 pm


Today I am writing a short piece for UCLA Magazine about Jonathan Gold, the LA Weekly food critic and author of the LA food guide “Counter Intelligence.” Coincidentally, I found a story in The New York Times Magazine called “A Counter History,” which deals with one of my favorite topics out there: Jewish delis.

It’s a fascinating profile of the Lebewohl family and the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan that Abe opened in 1954, his brother took over in ‘96 when Abe was murdered and that closed last year after a dispute with the landlord. The deli is reopening in November in Midtown, and now will be run by Abe’s nephews.

The Jews who immigrated here during the first half of the last century ate at delis — most of them kosher — regularly. Eventually they moved to the suburbs and traded salami for salad. In the 1960s there were 300 kosher delis in the city and suburbs and a Greater New York Delicatessen Dealers’ Association. That group is long defunct, and you can count the number of marquee delis left in Manhattan on one hand: Carnegie, Katz’s and Stage, none of them kosher. Assimilation is one reason; also, the need to separate dairy from meat limits menu choices (kosher meat is more expensive besides), and New Yorkers do not like limits. The staples of deli food, like matzoh-ball soup and corned beef, migrated in nonkosher form to diners and coffee shops decades ago; you need to be Jewish to eat deli the same way you need to be Italian to eat pizza. But for aficionados of the real thing, the high-quality, old-school kosher renditions of brisket or flanken or center-cut tongue like silk, the Second Avenue Deli was it.

I don’t care about kosher, but there is something spiritually inspiring about finely cut pastrami, like the kind Langers serves up a short drive from my office.

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