Kenny & Zukes …by moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.
When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, my dad used to take me to a traditional Jewish deli just a short distance from the Farmer’s Market. It was a tradition, and all these years later, I’m still looking to repeat the food from that memory.
Today’s NY Times reports on the decline of the “Jewish Deli”. We may lose the kosher label, but we could make up for it in better quality food:
At Saul’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley, Calif., the eggs are organic and cage free, and the ground beef in the stuffed cabbage is grass fed. Its owners, Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, yanked salami from the menu in November, saying that they could no longer in good conscience serve commercial kosher salami.
“It’s industrially produced meat that gets blessed by a rabbi,” said Mr. Levitt, who came to Saul’s two decades ago from Chez Panisse, just down the street. “We all know that isn’t good enough.”
The gist of the article: down to the pickles, the deli is being reinvented, and in many cases, the kosher tradition is being left behind.
So, places like the three-month-old Mile End in Brooklyn; Caplansky’s in Toronto; Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, Ore.; and Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, N.C., have responded to the low standard of most deli food — huge sandwiches of indifferent meat, watery chicken soup and menus thick with shtick — by moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.
“I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis,” said Ken Gordon, a co-owner of Kenny & Zuke’s, one of a handful of delis in the country where the pastrami is smoked over hardwood. It opened in 2007, an outgrowth of the “barbecue nights” that Mr. Gordon used to hold at his French bistro. (He closed it to devote himself full time to bialys and corned beef.)
“A hundred delis, with a hundred different recipes,” he said. “That’s how it is for pizza — why not pastrami?”
“The old-school places are closing faster than I can write about them” said David Sax, the author of “Save the Deli,” a 2009 history of, and guide to, the remaining authentic Jewish delis in North America.
By today’s standards, the classic deli’s food is strikingly unhealthful, its vast menu financially unmanageable and its ingredients no longer in tune with the seasonal products of local farmers. Too many shortcuts are taken: sourdough bread instead of rye, prepared blintzes, lax lox.
“Jewish cooks weren’t immune to what happened to food after World War II,” Mr. Sax said. “The powders and jars, convenience food — all of that helped lower the standard.”
In the 1950s, when postwar wealth and a push for assimilation carried many Jews into American suburbs, Jewish food became less distinct: the delis grew bigger and more ornate, and so did the sandwiches. The authentic delis that were left behind in cities often had to adapt; most of them, he said, have now closed.
It’s a much longer article than I have excerpted here. Well worth the time to read.