I don't want to alarm you, but we've got a Jewish deli crisis. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, in 1930 there were 1500 kosher delis in NYC; today there are two dozen. The cultural institution known as the corner deli is on the brink of extinction. This means the places that serve the best brisket, corned beef and pastrami will be no more. Are you concerned yet?
Well, luckily author David Sax was and after much research, has written a book, "Saving the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Deli." Sax was at the JCC tonight for a deli dinner and to talk about the rise and fall of delis and what we'll lose if they do all go away, namely the properly seasoned and cured meats they are known for, along with chopped liver, knishes and matzoh ball soup. Sax called delis the best ambassadors for Jewish culture in the U.S.
In addition to Sax's talk, we enjoyed a delicious meal of homemade corned beef sandwiches, sliced thick, on freshly baked rye bread. Along side that we had potato knishes, cole slaw, potato salad, a relish tray (sauerkraut, deli pickles and pickled tomatoes) and, for desert, apple strudel. Any good Jewish mother would have approved of the meal; she would also have beamed at me eating every bite and going back for seconds on the potato salad. The corned beef was sublime, the rye bread had a wonderful flavor and even New Yorker Sax had only raves for the knishes.
Sax asked if we had a Chinatown in RVA and the audience said no. "What's a large ethnic group you have here then?" he asked. A quick member of the audience answered, "WASPs," which was a group not much represented at this event (they did let a lapsed Catholic heathen like me in, though). The crowd had a very high percentage of people from Brooklyn and they knew from delis. When asked about the nearest real Jewish deli for Richmonders, Sax said it was Route 58 Deli in Virginia Beach and enough people in the audience nodded approvingly to sanction his opinion.
We're going to have to move the whales to the back burner, I'm afraid and get busy saving the delis before meals like I just had don't exist any more. A pastrami sandwich from Subway is not a pastrami sandwich. Or, to paraphrase Milton Berle, "Every time someone puts corned beef on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."