This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited over to my friends, Evan and Leo’s for a deli tasting. Moishe and Leopold as they sometimes refer to themselves are living the dream. They quit their jobs and are on the path to revitalizing Jewish deli in San Francisco, by opening a true delicatessen dedicated to high-quality meats and baked goods that are worthy of the San Francisco foodie palate . To help get their recipes down, they cooked up a storm and fed about 40 people house-made pastrami, corned beef, pickles, and coleslaw, all on fabulous rye bread. Leo made 14 loaves of rye and even threw in a chocolate chip challah toward the end of the evening. He’s turned into a master baker and showed me with great pride his rye starter that he brought with him from LA when he moved back to the bay. Evan is the meat man, and spend most of the evening slicing pastrami and corned beef, but thoughtfully smoked some shiitake mushrooms to make veggie reubens for the few vegetarians who dared to venture into the house of meat. The whole apartment has been taken over with bins of pickles fermenting, crates stacked with bags of flour and curing salts and cooling racks waiting for bread and rugelach. Evan’s roommate Robby may soon be up for an award for being the most tolerant house-mate in San Francisco, but I suppose the constant supply of food makes its easier to deal with.
Overall the food was fantastic. I have to admit Evan posted some pics of their knishes on facebook the next day and I was disappointed to have missed out on those. They looked fantastic, so I’ll need to start angling for another tasting invite.
My friendship with these guys aside, they are embarking on something hugely important to Jewish culture. The art of Jewish deli is slowly fading and there has been a call to save it. Sure you can go to any sandwich counter and get “pastrami” but it is nothing like the house-cured version our great-grandparents made. The tradition of Jewish deli is not only important to the history of Jews but is a slice of Americana. I believe Jewish deli is a testament to history of the Jewish people in diaspora, and particularly in America. We took our food traditions and created businesses around them that not only appealed to our community but drew in our neighbors as well. Only in America would Jews have taken pastrami on rye and topped it with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and russian dressing to create the Reuben.
Obviously, I wish Evan and Leo nothing but success, least of all so I have a place to get a decent Reuben, but mainly so the young Jewish hipsters of the Mission have a place to discover their culinary roots. As they embark on a potentially life-changing venture, I wish them yasher koach – may you go from strength to strength!