Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Deli Man: Get a Load of that Pastrami
now, many people do not realize at the time of the Civil War, Jews were largely
more accepted by the South than the North. However, there was one Unionist who
stood tall against anti-Semitism (Lincoln, of course). Maybe it should therefore
not be so surprising one of the one hundred fifty-some surviving real deal
kosher delis happens to be in Houston, Texas. Proprietor Ziggy Gruber (formerly
of New York) will be our primary guide through the savory traditions of delicatessen
cuisine in Erik Greenberg Anjou’s Deli
which opens this Friday in New York.
was born into the delicatessen establishment, as the grandson of the owner of
Broadway’s famed Rialto deli. He started working part-time for his beloved
grandfather at an early age and absorbed all his traditional recipes and
practices like a sponge. He now co-owns and operates Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen in Houston, one of an estimated 150 legit kosher delis in
America. To put things in perspective, there were over 1,500 certified kosher
delis in New York City during the 1930s.
supplies some historical context (pastrami originally came from Romania) and
offers some analysis of deli fare as a poignant cultural remnant of a shtetl
world that no longer exists, but when you really get down to it, Deli Man is all about the food. The
mountainous pastrami sandwiches are as mouth-watering as you would expect, but
everything coming out of Gruber’s kitchen looks appetizing. In fact, he whips
up some sort of roast shank that could probably justify a trip to Houston by
could not have cast a more fitting central figure than the effusive Gruber.
The man knows deli traditions through and through, yet he treats his staff and
customers like family, regardless of their backgrounds. We also meet a
representative sampling of other deli men and women, including Jay Parker of
Ben’s Best in Rego Park, Queens, which is about as authentic as it gets.
However, Anjou only peaks into the personal life of Gruber, who may have
finally found someone willing share so much of his time with the corned beef.
It is nice to see things working out for him, considering what he has done to
keep his family and culinary traditions alive.
duly observe the irony that it was Jewish Americans’ successful acceptance and
assimilation into suburbia that largely drove scores of neighborhood kosher
delis like Ben’s Best out of business, without belaboring the point. Indeed, there
is some serious substance to the film, but there is no getting around its food
porn indulgence—and who would want to? Recommended for those who appreciate
culinary cultural history on rye, Deli
Man opens this Friday (3/6) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza uptown and the
Landmark Sunshine, not so far from Katz’s on Houston Street.