I have been fortunate enough to have eaten several times at the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue in New York, the place that was the setting for a tableful of Jewish comedians in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. The sandwiches there are big enough to require a forklift to get them to your mouth. In the L.A. area there are Nate and Al’s in Beverly Hills and Greenblatt’s in Hollywood, both fine places, but our favorite by far is Canter’s in the old Jewish neighborhood of Fairfax. We have enjoyed many a pleasant meal there. It is a non-kosher establishment, so you can have ham, bacon, or a cheeseburger, but I go to a deli for Jewish food. The pastrami is to die for.
This is a really entertaining documentary about the deli business, with a lot of history thrown in. There used to be literally thousands of delis in New York City alone, and who knows how many elsewhere. Now there are only about 150 in the whole country. What a shame. Rising meat prices, aging customer base, the long hard hours … what can you do? Just go to the remaining ones, I guess.
We visit several of them here, and interview the owners of many more, and a fair number of famous faces like Larry King, Fyvush Finkel, and Jerry Stiller rhapsodize about delis, but the concentration is on Ziggy Gruber, a third-generation deli man of Hungarian descent who opened one of the best deli’s in the country in, of all places, Houston! Let me tell you, when I grew up 90 minutes away from Houston, there was little chance of a redneck southeast Texan seeking out good matzoh ball soup. But Texas cities have grown more sophisticated, in their food, anyway, and the clientele seems to be all ages and backgrounds. Ziggy is an amusing fellow, a talker, a toucher, a man who gave up a possible career in haute cuisine to follow his roots and make the best blintzes, potato pancakes, challah, gefilte fish, and chopped liver in America. If this movie doesn’t make you hungry, no movie about food ever will.