Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen

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9780771079108: Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen

Part culinary travelogue, part cultural history, Save the Deli is a must-read for anyone whose idea of perfect happiness is tucking into a pastrami on rye with a pickle on the side

Corned beef. Pastrami. Brisket. Matzo balls. Knishes. Mustard and rye. In this book about Jewish delicatessens, about deli’s history and characters, its greatest triumphs, spectacular failures, and ultimately the very future of its existence, David Sax goes deep into the world of the Jewish deli. He explores the histories and experiences of the immigrant counterman and kvetching customer; examines the pressures that many delis face; and enjoys the food that is deli’s signature.

In New York and Chicago, Florida, L.A., Montreal, Toronto, Paris, and beyond, Sax strives to answer the question, Can Jewish deli thrive, and if so, how? Funny, poignant, and impeccably written, Save the Deli is the story of one man’s search to save a defining element of a culture — and the sandwiches — he loves.
From the Hardcover edition.

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As a journalist and life-long deli obsessive, David Sax was understandably alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen--a cuisine that once sat at the very center of Jewish life had become endangered by assimilation, homogenization, and health food trends. He watched one beloved deli after another shut down, one institution after another shutter only to be reopened as some bland chain-restaurant laying claim to the very culture it just paved over. And so David set out on a journey across the United States and around the world in search of authentic delicatessen. Was it still possible to Save the Deli?

Join David as he investigates everything deli--its history, its diaspora, its next generation. He tells us about the food itself--how it's made, who makes it best, and where to go for particular dishes. And, ultimately, there there is for hope--David finds deli newly and lovingly made in places like Boulder, traditions maintained in Montreal, and iconic institutions like the 2nd Avenue Deli resurrected in New York. So grab a pastrami on rye and sit down for a great read--because Save the Deliis an energetic cultural history of Jewish food, a vibrant travelogue, and a rallying cry for a new generation of food lovers.


Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from David Sax

Dear Amazon Reader,

I assume you're here because you either love Jewish deli like Jewish deli, or want to learn to love Jewish deli. Well, you're in luck. That's why I'm here too. In fact, that's the whole idea behind Save the Deli. If I can get twenty more people to eat a corned-beef sandwich, I've done my part. Mission accomplished, right?
Well, not exactly.

As you can see from some of the reader reviews already on Amazon, deli lovers are a fiercely opinionated bunch. They know what's the best and if anyone dares say otherwise, they're willing to hit the battlefield and inflict damage. Look into those reviews and you'll read criticisms about how I didn't go to X deli, or didn't go to Y city, and how dare I say that LA has deli that's as good, or even better than New York! Who am I to question the conventional wisdom about Jewish deli?

Blasphemy! Heresy! Heartburn!

But it's true. In Save the Deli, I talk not only about the great delis in New York--like Katz's, Carnegie, and 2nd Ave Deli--but also about unknown places in Detroit, Chicago, Salt Lake City, LA, Denver, Florida, and Toronto. I eat deli in London, Paris, and Krakow. The point here is to convince you that great deli knows no geographical bounds, that you can have a cabbage roll in Charlotte, North Carolina, that's better than one in Brooklyn, that great blintzes aren't tied to any one city or state.

Now before you light the pyre, let me tell you about how I came to this realization.

Three years ago, when I began working on this book, I too had fallen prey to the misguided notion that great deli was only confined to New York and Montreal. Anything outside those cities had to be a pale imitation. I, like many Jewish deli lovers, was narrow-minded,could see and imagine no further than the local delicatessen I frequented...a village simpleton who knows nothing beyond his little shtetl and the salamis therein.

But as I hit the road, in search of the story of delicatessen in American and around the world, I tasted revelation after revelation. It first happened in Brussels, where I encountered a fancy sandwich shop called Gilles. I dismissed it as a hokey deli until I layered their delicate smoked brisket on a warm onion roll and realized an entire new world of deli potential. Two weeks later I was in Paris, eating chopped liver with foie gras, duck sausage, and calves-foot jelly at Maison David. I'd stepped through the looking glass.

When I hit the road in America things were no different. Who knew the rye bread in Detroit was the best anywhere? Who knew a new deli in Boulder, Colorado, made its own schmaltz? Who could suspect the level of kitchen prowess I'd find in Los Angeles, where a kishke at Brent's blew me away?

Do you know what it's like to be blown away by kishke? It's akin to a religious moment; your mouth is so in love with this crackling fat-stuffed sausage that it floods your brain with endorphins. It's a watershed event. I'd love for you to experience that.

Great deli knows no geographical limits. If there's one thing I learned on this whole journey to Save the Deli, that's it. I hope everyone that reads this book will realize this. It doesn't mean the delis in your hometown serve up sandwiches any less delicious than before. It doesn't mean that the deli you grew up with in Brooklyn was anything less than spectacular. But I implore you to look out beyond your deli counter at the world of possibilities. Then go. And taste. You won't regret it.


Key Yiddish and Food Terms (so you don’t sound like a schmuck) from Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen

Fress: To eat a lot. A big eater is a fresser.
"He polished off two sandwiches and a knish. Quite the fresser."

Treyf: Unkosher. "I don't eat Reubens, they're pure treyf."

Maven: A master. "Ziggy Gruber calls himself a deli maven."

Haymish: Like home. "Such a haymish deli. His mother's in the kitchen."

Schmutz: Dirt. "There was so much schmutz there it was like eating in a bus station."

Goyish: Gentile, or exuding a non-Jewish vibe.
"That deli is really goyish. I mean, they serve lobster rolls."

Chutzpah: Nerve. "You got a lot of chutzpah to ask for butter on that sandwich."

Kvetch: To complain. Every diner's right at a deli.
"She came in, ate, and then kvetched at me for twenty minutes about the soup's color."

Gonif: A thief. "Sixteen dollars for a sandwich? Those gonifs!"

Nosh: To eat a little. A nibbler is a nosher. "I'll stop by, but just for a nosh."

Meshugah: Crazy. "You've gotta be meshugah to pay those prices."

Kibitz: To joke. "Mel Brooks was in yesterday, kibitzing with everyone."

Plotz: To keel over. "I ate so much I could plotz."

Shonda: A shame. "They took herring off the menu...such a shonda."

To Die For: The highest culinary compliment.
"The rolled beef was to die for" or "The rolled beef: to die."

Zay Gezunt: Be in health. "See you next week. Zay gezunt."

Ess Gezunt: Eat in health. "Ess Gezunt. Enjoy that sandwich."

Shmear: To spread, though also a term for all spreads.
"What kinds of shmear can I get with this bagel?"

L'Chaim: Cheers. "Is it cool to say l'chaim with Cel-Ray?"

Bissel: A little bit. "Gimme a bissel of that chopped liver."



The Deli Diaspora--A Sampling of Save the Deli Favorites
(Click on Images to Enlarge)



East Coast Delis

2nd Avenue Deli in New York, NY

The Kosher Cajun in Metairie, LA

Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI


West Coast Delis

Jimmy and Drew's 28th Street in Boulder, CO

Langer's in Los Angeles, CA

Miller's East Coast Delicatessen in San Francisco, CA


From the Inside Flap:

"With insight, passion, and a digestive system at which one can only marvel, Sax peers between the layers of a pastrami sandwich and glimpses the evolution of Jewish community and identity." ? Roger Bennett, author of Bar Mitzvah Disco

As a journalist and life-long deli obsessive, David Sax was understandably alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen. A cuisine that had once thrived as the very center of Jewish life had become endangered by assimilation, homogenization, and health food trends. He watched in dismay as one beloved deli after another?one institution after another?shuttered, only to be reopened as some bland chain-restaurant laying claim to the very culture it just paved over.

And so David set out on a journey across the United States and around the world in search of authentic delicatessen. Was it still possible to Save the Deli?

Join David as he investigates everything deli-- its history, its diaspora, its next generation. He tells about the food itself?how it's made, who makes it best, and where to go for particular dishes. And, ultimately, he finds is hope-- deli newly and lovingly made in places like Boulder, traditions maintained in Montreal, and iconic institutions like the 2nd Avenue Deli resurrected in New York.

So grab a pastrami on rye and sit down for a great read-- because Save the Deli is an energetic cultural history of Jewish food, a vibrant travelogue, and a rallying cry for a new generation of food lovers.

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