“For some, delicatessen food is close to a religious experience. A tender, crumbling cut of corned beef steeped in its juices. A full-bodied garlic dill pickle. Spicy brown mustard with grain. A blintz that melts in your mouth like a creamsicle on a summer’s day. Recipes and culinary garnishes from Hungary, Poland, Russia, Romania that flowed into late 19th and early 20th century America and soon became part of an American culinary and cultural vernacular.” – Deli Man
It was a coming of age experience for me. Where my father and I bonded when I first reached adolescence. It happened almost every Saturday morning. Except for sports, it was the only time my father and I really did anything without my mother. “C’mon”, he’d say, “get your arse out of bed. We’ve got to get there before they get out of Beth Shalom. You know I don’t do line-ups. And I want a booth, not those stools.” When I was 13, the deli sandwich was part of the glue that held two very different generations very tightly together.
My father was already noshing at the great deli in the sky when the film Deli Man came out. I wished I could have taken him (and sat in the last 10 rows where he could smoke). He would have loved it. And he would have been as hungry as I was by the closing credits.
Deli Man is a documentary about David Gruber, a third generation of New York style deli operators and the owner and maven of Kenny & Ziggy’s in, of all places, Houston, Texas. A graduate of the American Culinary Institute, with experience in a three star Michelin restaurant, Ziggy (Gruber’s nickname) gives up his aspirations of being a traditional French chef to help eternalize the Jewish deli.
“I’ll never forget. I looked around the room, it was all sixty and seventy year old people. I said to myself: ‘Who is going to perpetuate our food if I don’t do it’”; says Gruber. “That was my calling. The next day I went back to my dad and my uncle and I said, ‘I’ve had enough of this fancy shmancy business, I’m going back into the delicatessen business.’”
“Since he was a little kid, he’s been an 80-year-old Jew,” says Ziggy’s brother.
Deli Man was produced and directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou. It’s his third film exploring Jewish American culture. And the film is just as much about the Jewish culture as it is about the Jewish deli. It’s about the immigrants who brought the recipes and about the anecdotes and humor that made the delis the social center of New York as told in the words of people like Jerry Stiller, Alan Dershowitz and Larry King.
It centers around Ziggy’s but also visits the Carnegie, Katz’s, Second Avenue Deli and my own memorable meccas, Yitz’s and Caplansky’s in Toronto.
In 1931 there were thousands of delis in New York alone. Today there are only about 150 in all of America. Hopefully Deli Man might inspire the creation of one or two more.
Like most films, Deli Man comes with a warning. Not about sex or violence. And not from the MPAA. But from me: This picture will give you an intense and uncontrollable desire for an incredibly juicy, four-inch thick corned beef on rye, a desire that, if you reside in San Miguel de Allende, borders on the impossible. I do have a solution, however. As the old saying goes (well it should be an old saying), if you can’t get it at a deli, get it at home and, for that reason, I have pasted in Don Day’s Wife’s award-winning recipe for brining a brisket at the bottom of this blog post. I’d recommend that you have the meat ready and have already picked up a loaf of rye from Buonforno before you see Deli Man. And I’d also recommend, when deciding who to go to the film with, you heed the words of Damon Runyon that appear in the film: “There are two types of people in the world. Those who like delis and those you shouldn’t associate with.”
You’ll have a rare opportunity to catch Deli Man on a large screen at the 2018 edition of San Miguel’s annual Food In Film Festival. It is being held on February 22, 23 and 24 in the Bellas Artes Miguel Malo Auditorium. Deli Man will be shown on February 24 at Noon. You can purchase tickets at la tienda inside the Biblioteca on Insurgentes, at Juan’s Cafe on Relox, at the Auditorium on the day of the event, or online at www.foodinfilmsanmiguel.com. For a complete festival schedule, visit the website.
Don Day’s Wife’s Beef Brisket
5 pounds of beef brisket (we get ours from Carniceria Nueva Aurora in La Luz; what Mexicans call the punto has the most fat and is therefore the best part of the brisket; it usually has to be ordered a few days ahead)
1.5 gallons of water
14 ounces of Kosher or sea salt
4 ounces of white sugar
5 ounces of brown sugar
4 teaspoons of pink salt (difficult to get in San Miguel and optional as it doesn’t do much to the taste but does add that nice corned beef color to the beef. This isn’t the expensive Himalayan pink salt so don’t waste your money on that).
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespooons coriander
8 bay leaves
1 teaspoon juniper berries (available at Bonanza in San Miguel)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cloves
Heat 1/2 gallon of the water to almost boiling and add all of the ingredients. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool to room temperature and add remaining gallon of cold water. Add meat and place in refrigerator for five days. You can use a tight roasting pan or pot or do like Don Day’s Wife does and have someone bring giant, sealable plastic bags down from north of the border.
5 cloves of garlic
1 large onion, quartered
Remove the meat from the brine, strain the spices and discard the salty liquid.
Put the shoulder into a tightly covered roasting pan.
Add fresh water to cover. Stir in the strained spices, the cloves of garlic, and the quartered onion.
Place the pan in a 325 degree oven until the meat is fall apart tender, about four hours.