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Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen Hardcover – October 19, 2009

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Product Description
As a journalist and life-long deli obsessive, David Sax was understandably alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen--a cuisine that once sat at the very center of Jewish life had become endangered by assimilation, homogenization, and health food trends. He watched one beloved deli after another shut down, one institution after another shutter only to be reopened as some bland chain-restaurant laying claim to the very culture it just paved over. And so David set out on a journey across the United States and around the world in search of authentic delicatessen. Was it still possible to Save the Deli?

Join David as he investigates everything deli--its history, its diaspora, its next generation. He tells us about the food itself--how it's made, who makes it best, and where to go for particular dishes. And, ultimately, there there is for hope--David finds deli newly and lovingly made in places like Boulder, traditions maintained in Montreal, and iconic institutions like the 2nd Avenue Deli resurrected in New York. So grab a pastrami on rye and sit down for a great read--because Save the Deliis an energetic cultural history of Jewish food, a vibrant travelogue, and a rallying cry for a new generation of food lovers.

Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from David Sax

Dear Amazon Reader,

I assume you're here because you either love Jewish deli like Jewish deli, or want to learn to love Jewish deli. Well, you're in luck. That's why I'm here too. In fact, that's the whole idea behind Save the Deli. If I can get twenty more people to eat a corned-beef sandwich, I've done my part. Mission accomplished, right?
Well, not exactly.

As you can see from some of the reader reviews already on Amazon, deli lovers are a fiercely opinionated bunch. They know what's the best and if anyone dares say otherwise, they're willing to hit the battlefield and inflict damage. Look into those reviews and you'll read criticisms about how I didn't go to X deli, or didn't go to Y city, and how dare I say that LA has deli that's as good, or even better than New York! Who am I to question the conventional wisdom about Jewish deli?

Blasphemy! Heresy! Heartburn!

But it's true. In Save the Deli, I talk not only about the great delis in New York--like Katz's, Carnegie, and 2nd Ave Deli--but also about unknown places in Detroit, Chicago, Salt Lake City, LA, Denver, Florida, and Toronto. I eat deli in London, Paris, and Krakow. The point here is to convince you that great deli knows no geographical bounds, that you can have a cabbage roll in Charlotte, North Carolina, that's better than one in Brooklyn, that great blintzes aren't tied to any one city or state.

Now before you light the pyre, let me tell you about how I came to this realization.

Three years ago, when I began working on this book, I too had fallen prey to the misguided notion that great deli was only confined to New York and Montreal. Anything outside those cities had to be a pale imitation. I, like many Jewish deli lovers, was narrow-minded,could see and imagine no further than the local delicatessen I frequented…a village simpleton who knows nothing beyond his little shtetl and the salamis therein.

But as I hit the road, in search of the story of delicatessen in American and around the world, I tasted revelation after revelation. It first happened in Brussels, where I encountered a fancy sandwich shop called Gilles. I dismissed it as a hokey deli until I layered their delicate smoked brisket on a warm onion roll and realized an entire new world of deli potential. Two weeks later I was in Paris, eating chopped liver with foie gras, duck sausage, and calves-foot jelly at Maison David. I'd stepped through the looking glass.

When I hit the road in America things were no different. Who knew the rye bread in Detroit was the best anywhere? Who knew a new deli in Boulder, Colorado, made its own schmaltz? Who could suspect the level of kitchen prowess I'd find in Los Angeles, where a kishke at Brent's blew me away?

Do you know what it's like to be blown away by kishke? It's akin to a religious moment; your mouth is so in love with this crackling fat-stuffed sausage that it floods your brain with endorphins. It's a watershed event. I'd love for you to experience that.

Great deli knows no geographical limits. If there's one thing I learned on this whole journey to Save the Deli, that's it. I hope everyone that reads this book will realize this. It doesn't mean the delis in your hometown serve up sandwiches any less delicious than before. It doesn't mean that the deli you grew up with in Brooklyn was anything less than spectacular. But I implore you to look out beyond your deli counter at the world of possibilities. Then go. And taste. You won't regret it.

Key Yiddish and Food Terms (so you don’t sound like a schmuck) from Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen

Fress: To eat a lot. A big eater is a fresser.
"He polished off two sandwiches and a knish. Quite the fresser."

Treyf: Unkosher. "I don't eat Reubens, they're pure treyf."

Maven: A master. "Ziggy Gruber calls himself a deli maven."

Haymish: Like home. "Such a haymish deli. His mother's in the kitchen."

Schmutz: Dirt. "There was so much schmutz there it was like eating in a bus station."

Goyish: Gentile, or exuding a non-Jewish vibe.
"That deli is really goyish. I mean, they serve lobster rolls."

Chutzpah: Nerve. "You got a lot of chutzpah to ask for butter on that sandwich."

Kvetch: To complain. Every diner's right at a deli.
"She came in, ate, and then kvetched at me for twenty minutes about the soup's color."

Gonif: A thief. "Sixteen dollars for a sandwich? Those gonifs!"

Nosh: To eat a little. A nibbler is a nosher. "I'll stop by, but just for a nosh."

Meshugah: Crazy. "You've gotta be meshugah to pay those prices."

Kibitz: To joke. "Mel Brooks was in yesterday, kibitzing with everyone."

Plotz: To keel over. "I ate so much I could plotz."

Shonda: A shame. "They took herring off the menu...such a shonda."

To Die For: The highest culinary compliment.
"The rolled beef was to die for" or "The rolled beef: to die."

Zay Gezunt: Be in health. "See you next week. Zay gezunt."

Ess Gezunt: Eat in health. "Ess Gezunt. Enjoy that sandwich."

Shmear: To spread, though also a term for all spreads.
"What kinds of shmear can I get with this bagel?"

L'Chaim: Cheers. "Is it cool to say l'chaim with Cel-Ray?"

Bissel: A little bit. "Gimme a bissel of that chopped liver."

The Deli Diaspora--A Sampling of Save the Deli Favorites
(Click on Images to Enlarge)

East Coast Delis

2nd Avenue Deli in New York, NY

The Kosher Cajun in Metairie, LA

Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI

West Coast Delis

Jimmy and Drew's 28th Street in Boulder, CO

Langer's in Los Angeles, CA

Miller's East Coast Delicatessen in San Francisco, CA

From Publishers Weekly

This is a book about Jewish food, Sax's prologue reminds, and it would be a shame to read it on an empty stomach. It's true; just a few chapters in, and you'll find yourself hungry for hot pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup, maybe even ready to try some gribenes (chicken skin fried in chicken fat). As freelance writer Sax explains, however, it's getting harder and harder for even the best delicatessens to stay open; the profit margins on sandwiches are atrocious, and young Jewish families tend not to embrace the food the way their ancestors did. Still, Sax has found a few truly outstanding delis, and not just in New York City—joyful moments in this otherwise elegiac travelogue come with the discovery of delicious schmaltz in Colorado, or the legendary smoked meats of Montreal. Along the way, he interviews deli owners, meat cutters and customers, digging deep into local histories wherever he visits. The well-crafted portraits don't string together perfectly, but individual chapters shine—such as the passages on the death and rebirth of Manhattan's Second Avenue Deli or the disappointment of Poland's attempts to reinvigorate a Jewish culture almost obliterated by the Holocaust. A helpful appendix includes addresses of all the delis Sax discusses and then some; readers in the right cities are sure to start planning visits straight away. (Oct. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013845
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

David Sax is a journalist and writer specializing in business and food.

His writing appears regularly in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Saveur, The Grid Toronto, and other publications. He is the author of The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cronuts but Fed Up with Fondue, which is chronicles how food trends emerge, grow, and ultimately make a difference in our world. He has been eating cupcakes since he was three, or two, he really can't remember.

David's previous book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen and has won a James Beard Award for writing and literature, as well as other awards and the praise of deli lovers everywhere...mostly New Jersey and Montreal.

He lives in Toronto, Canada with his beautiful wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By korova on September 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
New Yorkers are going to hate this book. Not only does it name the two best cities for deli as Los Angeles (all true New Yorkers can't stand LA, especially transplants who have to live or work there) and Montréal (CANADA? Huh??), it was written by a guy from Toronto. How can NYC not be the undisputed Deli Capital of the World? And what does a Canadian know from deli, anyway?

The answer is this: David Sax is on a mission. It's right there--it's the title of the book! Sax has traveled the world in search of the best of Jewish delicatessen culture and food. Believe me, Sax knows just about all there is to know about the deli classics everybody is familiar with, like pastrami, bagels, and knishes, as well as about hardcore Jewish soul food, such as p'tcha, kishke, and cholent. He's eaten more deli than you can possibly imagine. He knows what he's talking about.

Sax keeps the tone light and entertaining for the most part, even though Save the Deli serves up generous helpings of history, food criticism, and travel writing. The only (minor) flaw in the text is that Sax hasn't woven the chapters into a flowing and coherent whole very well. Some sections end abruptly, while others feel somewhat disconnected from the material that follows. This may stem from his background as a magazine writer. Nonetheless, the book is enjoyable and fun to read overall.

Bottom line: Save the Deli is a combination travelogue, tribute, and polemic. While Sax's aim is serious, he leavens his writing with a great deal of humor and sensitivity. Anybody who loves corned beef on rye with lots of mustard, always stops for fresh rugelach, or is just a dedicated fresser will dig this book. Maybe New Yorkers will too, when all is said and done. 3.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. Silverstone VINE VOICE on October 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Sax has produced a book that induced hunger pangs every time I sat down to read a chapter. His primary mission is to identify the surviving (and hopefully thriving) Jewish deli today, both in the epicenter of the Deli Universe - New York - but also in select cities around the US, and even some in Europe. However, Sax also sets the historical context, describing the rise of Deli culture to the peek of the golden age in the 40s and 50s and then the inevitable decline. Alternately, Sax is mourning the disappearance of the Jewish deli and celebrating islands of thriving deli culture that he finds in both expected (Los Angeles) and unexpected (Boulder) cities. There is much description of the different pickling processes to produce pastrami and corned beef, comparisons of matzoh ball soup, and the Pavlovian descriptions of the less well-known, but more arterial clogging speck (pickled brisket fat), kishke (schmaltz-stuffed intestine) and grine (chicken skin cracklings). To help out, Sax includes both a glossary, and a listing of all the delis he visited. Although there is much to mourn in the passing of so many delis, there is reason to snap on your bib and head out to find the still-surviving and newly inaugurated delis that are true to the time-tested techniques of food preparation that produce sandwiches to die for.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paper or Kindle TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Sax has a passion for deli, and he's willing to travel the world, literally, to find it. No dish is too exotic, which reminds me of Anthony Bourdain, but while Bourdain explores all culinary bases, David Sax sticks to the rib-sticking food of his youth. He gives a good picture of all the people he meets, and their quirks, but his descriptions of the food will really make you drool. Better have a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda on hand while you read this!

There is plenty of humor, but a darker side, too, as he considers an exhibit of cooking pots at Birkenau, a [...] extermination camp, and reflects on how Jewish cooking was decimated by the Holocaust. He explores Poland, where some people, Jews and non-Jews alike, are attempting to reanimate the cuisine.

He finds plenty of people as devoted to deli as he is, people who prepare it, serve it, eat it and talk about it with gusto. He explores the history of the foods, the preparation and the short-cuts (such as instant corned beef, at which he practically sneers).

There are some charming photographs of delicatessens and the people who maintain them, but I would really have liked some recipes. Although there is a list of delicatessens, and a glossary for people who don't know what all these dishes are, it would have been absolutely terrific to have some basic recipes for the home cook to try.

If you've never tried delicatessen, try reading this book. It may well give you an appetite!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Laurie Gold VINE VOICE on September 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm a secular Jew raised in Los Angeles, home of a huge Jewish population. As I get older - yet not more devout - I feel more Jewish, probably because I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. I also live with a foodie who has a tremendous fondness for deli, yet, because I'm not much of a meat eater, I've never even eaten a pastrami or corned beef sandwich. All of those things add up to a person surprisingly interested in a book devoted to Jewish delis.

The book begins with an anecdote about author David Sax's grandfather, who, upon being released from the hospital after a bout of angina, stopped off at his favorite deli on the way home, ate a sandwich piled high with fatty meat, then dropped dead. Perhaps it is only a Jew who could write such a story with fond humor, and perhaps it is only another Jew who could laugh when reading it, but for me, the author's tremendous verve and humor served him well throughout SAVE THE DELI, a book that traces not only the Jewish Deli - in the U.S., Canada, and Europe - but also provides context in the way of Jewish history.

Most of his food-related stories, descriptions, and metaphors charmed me, but very occasionally they fell flat, particularly when he waxed poetic. I totally get the joys of sinking your teeth into a slice of double-baked rye bread, with its chewiness and airy density...what I don't get is how cured meat smells like a fine fragrance on a beautiful woman.

Luckily those awkward moments are few and far between, and throughout most of the book, devoted to a world tour of deli, Sax delivers a foodie high of cured meats, baked goods, and a liberal does of schmaltz - as in the rendered fat of poultry that is, as the author writes in his inimitable fashion, an "aphrodesiac to Jewish men.
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