Arts & Culture

Museum Quality at $16.95 a Pound

[Editor's note: this piece was inspired by the recent New York Times article "At Jewish Delis, Times Are as Lean as Good Corned Beef"] I am writing this with a corned beef on rye in front of me; call it … Read More

By / October 13, 2009

[Editor's note: this piece was inspired by the recent New York Times article "At Jewish Delis, Times Are as Lean as Good Corned Beef"]

I am writing this with a corned beef on rye in front of me; call it research. Extra mustard. This is one of my favorite meals, so don’t get me wrong when I say two dozen Jewish delis in New York is enough. Maybe I’m spoiled, living near enough to Katz’s to swing by when the mood strikes. Ever since 97 Orchard St. became the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in 1988, Jewish delis stopped being restaurants and became monuments. Heck, Katz’s even gives you a ticket upon admission. Nothing wrong with sampling a little history, see how your ancestors ate fatty meats before we knew about cholesterol, but times have changed and we expect restaurants to do the same. Restaurants have some of the highest real estate turnover in New York City; often lasting just as long as they are the hot new thing. But Jewish delis are no longer restaurants. They are artifacts and by preserving them their owners have taken a stance against change and have no right to complain about losing customers. Sorry. A lot of baggage comes along with pastrami and rye bread, and while my grandmother thinks it’s cute that I live right near where she grew up on Hester St. I think the latest round of non-Chasidic Jews can be forgiven for not wanting to shop only at the Jewish bakery, supermarket, falafel place. We’re Jews, we’re great assimilators. But the craving does come, just like the craving for the MET, and then there is nothing more that I want than a hand-cut corned beef piled so high if you brought your own bread (Grandpa you’re embarrassing me!) you could make three sandwiches. These delis should get assistance from the state to maintain the old techniques. Insist that they cure their own meats, make their own matzo balls, support their local picklers and give them a national historic landmark status, even if they’re less than ten years old. Because they’re old souls. But beware, the further we get from the tenement times, the closer we get to Colonial Williamsburg.