Skip to comments.Reviving The Spirit And Schmaltz Of The Jewish Deli
Posted on 03/28/2013 12:16:23 PM PDT by nickcarraway
On a recent morning, just south of Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle, about a dozen people are lined up outside a restaurant waiting for its lunchtime opening.
Jon and Ralph Rosenbaum are at the front of the line and are the first to be greeted by DGS Delicatessen general manager Brian Zipin, who leads them down a white tile hallway and seats them at a small table against a brick-exposed wall.
It's not the first time the two brothers have eaten at DGS, which calls itself a modern Jewish cookery. The New Jersey natives have lived in the nation's capital for years, but they say it's overdue for a delicatessen.
"It's nice that we finally have a place that has quality Jewish food, Jewish-American food, I would call it," Jon says. "We have a couple of other places, but they're not terribly good, so we're very happy with it."
The menu is not exactly what you would find in a place like New York's famous Katz's Deli. There's a grilled eggplant Reuben, smoked salmon pastrami served on bagels imported from Montreal, and a pickle plate. The menu describes the pickles as "half sours, dills and whatever else we can get our hands on."
The men behind the restaurant say they aren't trying to create literal reinterpretations of Jewish deli food. Instead, they say, they see themselves as part of a renaissance currently happening with Jewish cuisine.
Experimenting With Tradition
"Barry and I worked together about ten years ago," says partner Nick Wiseman, referring to DGS executive chef Barry Koslow. "There was an authenticity about cooking Jewish food that we hadn't felt cooking French or Italian food because it was our roots. It felt like our own."
Both Wiseman and Koslow say they have childhood memories of Sunday brunch with bagels, lox and schmear but they weren't raised in a particularly religious family. And they definitely didn't keep Kosher.
"We spent a lot more time eating Chinese food than Jewish food," Wiseman recalls.
The duo have worked in some of D.C.'s finest restaurants, but when it came time to open their own restaurant, Jewish food just felt right.
"When we started cooking this food and looking back at the history and sort of relearning these recipes, it did feel very authentic, like we were learning more about ourselves," Wiseman says.
It was also exciting to bring Jewish food back to Washington. In the 1920s, the nation's capital had plenty of Jewish delis. But, as happened in many U.S. cities, they died off.
The third-generation Washingtonians saw their chance to revive their Jewish heritage with a modern taste.
"There's this whole movement of people wanting to make everything from scratch, bringing back the old mom and pop feel by being the store owners, being there, working on everything, procuring everything and making it all by hand. And it's exciting and, hopefully, it's something that's gonna stick," Koslow says.
A New Way Of Noshing
The modern Jewish delicatessen is showing up across the country in places like Brooklyn, at Mile End Deli, as well as San Francisco's Wise Sons and Portland's Kenny and Zuke's. Each of these restaurants is serving up traditional plates like Reubens and chopped liver while also taking liberties.
"My dad put it best the other night when he was laughing at me," Koslow explains. "He said, 'How did you become the expert on all things Jewish in one year?' And I laughed too, because growing up, let's just say I wasn't the best Jew."
For Passover this year, the restaurant's first since it opened four months ago, Koslow is serving a vegetarian menu. For meat eaters, there was matzo ball soup infused with bone marrow.
"Traditionally, matzo balls are made with chicken fat, or schmaltz," Koslow says. "What we've done for the holiday is we've replaced the schmaltz with bone marrow ... and we roast it very slowly so that all the fat renders out, and then we save all that fat. You can smell just how rich and decadent it is."
They also infuse the broth with Asian influences like ginger and scallion, simply because, Koslow says, "it's fun for us to do something different."
As proud as Koslow is of his matzo balls, he recognizes they'll never top the ones made by Jewish grandmothers, or bubbes.
"Everybody says, 'These are almost as good as my bubbe's, almost,' " Koslow says, boasting that so far this Passover, he has already made at least 400 matzo balls for his customers.
Just another ‘Jewish-style’ deli. Not even kosher.
Assimilation, healthier eating, and the popularity of Middle Eastern-style Israeli cooking killed the ‘traditional’ deli.
I think a traditional Jewish deli would have better luck if it both recreated the “Yiddish” cuisine of the American Ashkenazi Jews, on one hand, yet also included the Sephardic menu of North Africa and West Asia.
“Yiddish is a fusion of different German dialects with adstrats of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary and some traces of vocabulary from the Romance languages.”
This is also a good way of describing their cuisine.
Sephardic cuisine would make a great complement to that, giving them an expanded menu that would go far beyond just Jewish tastes—important for a business. They could claim everything from Spanish style but Kosher Tapas, to popular African (including South Africa) and Middle eastern foods, and even some Oriental delights.
Starting with a broad menu, they would soon be able to tailor it to their customer’s preferences.
When I first went to the Carnegie Deli I ordered a side of fries. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to eat but half the sandwich. Great place.
I recently heard that one of the "famous" "Jewish" Deli's had closed. I heard that the Stage Deli has closed, and the number of authentic Jewish, or at least Jewish Style Delis in NYC has dropped yet again.
I'll occasionally bite the bullet and call Katz's Deli and order some pastrami, rye, mustard, half dill pickles, and knishes, and have them shipped to KC! It's OMG expensive, between the food and the FedEx overnight charges, but well worth it! There's NOTHING like Katz's pastrami!
Obama and Biden will show up for a lunchtime photo-op, stiff the guy for the bill, and they’ll be out of business by next January, LOL.
About a year ago a friend of mine organized a jazz concert at the Carnegie Deli (or something.)
Yummmmmmmmmm Seriously if they just made the albondigas with spinach served over rice and some good hummus they would put everyone around them out of business
If youd like to be on or off, please FR mail me.
I recognize most Jewish delis aren't kosher which is fine, still I always wonder about categorizing the Reuben sandwich as classic Jewish deli food.
There are two of these Traditional Kosher delis near where I live (Boca) and the lines to get in go all the way out to the street.
That says something about the popularity of this yummy kind of cooking!
I LOVE it, and I am an Irish-Eskimo-American-Christian!
There was an ad campaign in Boston years ago, which showed various ethnic types eating a corned beef on rye with the the caption:
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO ENJOY...
Such a campaign would not be acceptable today, unfortunately. It was clever, and loving, and fun, but NOT politically Correct! LOL!
They’re certainly not entirely gone and won’t ever be if there’s a demand for actually kosher food. It’s the non-kosher restaurant-only operations that will morph into something else as older clientele is no longer with us.
Here’s the one by me in Des Moines, Iowa:
I have a friend who lives in Maryland and orders cases of hotdogs from Katz’s.
Happy Passover, FRiend!
Well I think you'll like this site, roll up your sleeves and get busy...
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