All cities have their signature foods and the Big Apple is certainly no different. Despite this sobriquet, only upstate NY is renown for those red and juicy fruits. Bagels are more on target but sadly, many of them are now antithetical to the chewy wholesome goodness that has embodied this city’s treasured grab-and-go food for generations. Following this trend, it almost seems logical to regard deli food as having met the same demise long ago. After all, if you’ve had pastrami on rye anywhere else in the country, doesn’t that suffice? Haven’t we also reached the conclusion in today’s world, on constant red alert of saturated fat and clogged arteries, that deli food couldn’t possibly be such a highly regarded delicacy? That my friend is where you’d be dead wrong and were not talking baloney here!
2nd Ave. Deli
Originally opened in 1954 on the southeast corner its namesake 2nd Avenue and10th Street in the East Village, it’s now located at 162 East 33rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Beyond the familiar staples of Jewish penicillin (chicken matzoh ball soup) and house cured corned beef, the menu here is for the more adventurous palate seeking more old-school kosher renditions like flanken (center-cut tongue boiled and served with horseradish sauce). Other delicacies include gefilte fish, patties consisting of ground deboned carp mixed with eggs, onions and matzoh meal or challah, and then stuffed into the skin of the deboned fish which is then poached with carrots and onions. Pictures of Yiddish actress Molly Picon are ever present on the walls lest you forget where you are while munching on their spicy cholent. You’ll just have to visit to find out what this is and don’t cheat by Googling it!
Situated in midtown on 7th Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets, the Parker family established a deli in 1937 adjacent to Carnegie Hall that has beckoned hungry theater goers ever since. Now in its third generation, owner Milton Parker has co-authored a book entitled: How to Feed Friends and Influence People: The Carnegie Deli, chronicling the family’s historic stewardship. Their motto has always been: “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong.” You’ll find sandwiches on the menu stuffed with close to 1 pound of pastrami and corned beef and thick hunks of cheesecake well over 1 pound along with other traditional deli fixtures like matzoh ball soup, potato pancakes, chopped chicken livers, and smoked salmon. The corned beef hash is the best I’ve ever had! Dishes including My Fair Latkes, “Nosh, Nosh, Nanette”, and “The Egg and Oy” fittingly adopt Broadway themes and Yiddish phrases. If you’re catching a show in the theater district and you can dodge the tourist hordes, it’s your best bet.
The Bronx has a long proud tradition of Jewish delis, but in the last 20 years the count has dwindled sharply. Liebman’s is an exception and still run by the family that started it all in 1953 now serving the children and grand-children of original customers. If it’s been a long time since your last tongue and coleslaw on rye or chicken soup with Kreplach (small filled dumplings similar to wonton), its worth making the trek out to this kosher institution in the Riverdale neighborhood at 552 West 235th Street. Tender corned beef, homemade pigs in blankets, and increasingly rare round knishes are only some of their standouts. Renowned as one of the very few places in New York that still make their own pastrami and slice it to order, the process begins with a whole beef brisket rubbed with pepper, sugar, and salt, which is then smoked and steamed to perfection.