Thou shalt not eat at any establishment calling itself a "New York deli" where the following is also served: sushi, Thai food, pizza, pasta, lobster.
This is one of the Ten Commandments of Jewish Deli according to journalist David Sax, author of the forthcoming Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen (due October 19th from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Alarmed by the state of Jewish delis, Sax set out on a mostly nationwide search for the best purveyors of corned beef, kishkas, the whole kit 'n kaboodle, going from New York to L.A., Salt Lake City to St. Louis, from "Coast to Coast With Latkes To Boast" to "Travels in the Deli Diaspora". Pastramiphiles will love going along for the ride behind the scenes, where the heroes are small, family-run delis that care -- and the villains are large, corporate deli chains that don't (such as Jerry's Famous Deli, Inc.):
"The death of America's Jewish delicatessens isn't unique. The problems that affect (them) continue to be harbingers of what will eventually happen to everyone else. When it comes to where Americans eat, corporations have leveraged your appetite into stock options."
Sax sings praises and throws punches when weighing in on some of our local delicatessens, in a chapter called Florida, Where Deli Goes To Die:
On Jerry's Famous Deli in South Beach: "The vast menu, with everything from Cajun pitas to lobster tails, lost much in the mix. The blintzes my waiter brought, which were two small, lukewarm blond squares, arrived long after I'd ordered, during which time a fistfight broke out in the kitchen."
"The original Epicure Market, in South Beach, grew from a small Jewish grocery into a place where celebrities now shop for extravagant foods and wines."
"One of the best delis I visited in Florida was Ben's Kosher Deli in Boca Raton, an outlet of the Long Island chain...Ben's corned beef and tongues are pickled in barrels in each location's kitchen.
On 3G's Gourmet Deli in Delray Beach: "The lines of grandparents in white pants are so long outside, 3G's has a loudspeaker in the parking lot that shouts the names of waiting parties. But the matzo ball soup and the roast turkey sandwiches, served on double-baked rye, are well worth the wait."
On TooJay's: "Most of the food served at TooJay's is made in a large central commissary, where it is frozen, shipped to various outlets, and then prepared for service. Rarely does the word 'cooking' enter into it. Instead, food is 'reheated,' baked goods are 'finished off,' and meals are 'assembled.'
On his last visit to Rascal House: "Jeffrey took a bite (of chicken matzo ball soup) and put his spoon down, pushing the bowl toward me.
'What, no good?' I asked.
He shook his head. It was weak. Real weak. Watery broth had soaked into the matzo ball, rendering it a sponge of nothingness."
David Sax will be appearing at Books & Books in October; Short Order will remind you of this in a few weeks via an interview with the deli-obsessive author.
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