23 October 2007

The genealogy of New York deli

Visiting beautiful, sunny Barcelona and reading about New York deli ... the only thing better would be savoring a piled-high fresh-roasted turkey breast on rye, slathered with Russian dressing, a side of cole slaw, a really sour pickle and maybe a few deli fries.

No such thing in Barcelona ... although bagels have arrived!

The New York Times' story - "A counter history" - on the great families of the deli world was simply too delicious to read!

Here's the genealogical and gastronomical scoop on two grand families of the Second Avenue Deli (the Lebewohls) and Russ & Daughters (the Federmans) - the borsht is in their blood.

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.

Steve Cohen - the Second Avenue Deli's manager for 24 years - says his favorite experience was "when we had five nuns eating matzoh balls served by a Lebanese waiter - in a kosher deli. That's New York."

Read all about it here , but don't drool on your keyboard.


  1. I shouldn't have read this right before lunch. Now I want a deli sandwhich... LOL!

  2. I ate at the Stage Deli once, just before enjoying a performance of Phantom--it was the best meal AND the best play I've ever experienced in my life :D


  3. Anonymous10:34 AM

    to be Italian to eat pizza? (know what you're eating) is ludicrous.....now eating "deli", that's a different story.

    Scientifically speaking, Janice likely attributed her positive "Stage" experience to her remaining "phantom" hunger pangs while a member of the audience. That's NYC.

  4. Thanks, Janice, Jasia and Anonymous.

    I can't wait to get to New York in June!

    On the other hand, we had some of the best Chinese food ever in Barcelona the other night. Truly excellent!