How’s the Jewish Deli Doing?

The Jewish deli is such a defining a part of New York Metropolis that it would as effectively be the very air we breathe (together with pizza, dim sum, Trinidadian doubles and curbside halal).

On Friday, an exhibit about simply that arrives on the New-York Historical Society on the Higher West Facet. “‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli” is “by all indications essentially the most sweeping survey of this culinary establishment tried by a serious museum,” Adam Nagourney wrote in The Instances when the present made its debut in Los Angeles this summer time.

The present state of the Jewish deli in New York Metropolis is shaky, given the closings of Stage Deli (2012), Carnegie Deli (2016), Superb & Schapiro (2020) and others. However there are nonetheless sufficient of them to overwhelm even essentially the most decided diner, so I reached out to Jeffrey Yoskowitz, a co-author of “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods” and a self-styled deli obsessive who consulted on the deli exhibit. Right here’s what he needed to say.

“It’s referred to as the secular synagogue for a motive,” Jeffrey advised me. “It’s a spot the place you need to really feel a connection to dwelling.” First, he confirmed that Katz’s, on the Decrease East Facet, and its pastrami are usually not overhyped. (Additionally: Order the new canine.) And don’t ever, ever name Russ & Daughters a deli — simply learn up in your appetizing traditions. He additionally really helpful the Second Avenue Deli in Murray Hill, the place his household ate when he was rising up (again when it was nonetheless on Second Avenue).

Inside, Second Avenue Deli seems no totally different out of your favourite diner, proper right down to the all-ages crowd. Service is lightning quick, and in below an hour, you possibly can take pleasure in matzo ball soup with essentially the most stunning pale bronze broth, a big onion-packed latke and a manageable pastrami on rye (maybe a stinging rebuke to the monster pastramis of the close by Sarge’s Deli). Dessert is free — two egg lotions in shot glasses — although you need to positively seize a field of rainbow cookies on the way in which out.

Jeffrey additionally pointed me within the course of Liebman’s Deli, the almost 70-year-old restaurant within the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, so I drove as much as West 235th Road. At 11 a.m. on a Friday, the scene at Liebman’s was largely older prospects popping in to order matzo ball soup with two additional matzo balls, and “not too scorching.” Order an early lunch of the No. 7 (thinly sliced pastrami and corned beef on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing) and scarf it down in your automotive earlier than driving by the Hudson Valley at peak fall foliage — or one thing like that.

You would possibly understandably be considering, effectively, the Jewish deli is greater than pastrami and matzo balls. True sufficient. As Jeffrey famous, it’s additionally kreplach soup, or beef dumplings, at P.J. Bernstein on the Higher East Facet and the Mill Basin Deli in Brooklyn, considered one of a handful of kosher delis nonetheless “servicing a group the way in which that the previous delis used to do it” — in proximity to these predominantly Jewish communities.

However traditions are altering, as at so-called designer delis. At Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, you will get a bacon, egg and cheese on challah, and comparable counters are popping up in locations like Houston and Richmond, Va. Totally different teams are additionally carrying the torch, just like the Yemeni Muslim homeowners of the decades-old David’s Brisket House in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, who “serve exemplary Jewish deli sandwiches to a predominantly African American crowd,” as Betsy Andrews wrote in The Times in 2012.

Jeffrey mentioned that David’s “encapsulates the whole lot, the perfect of New York.” And who would deny New York the perfect?

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