DELI MAN: 3 ½ STARS. “matzo-ball soup, kreplach and pastrami.”
There was a time when there were Jewish delis on almost every street corner in New York. As richly textured as the matzo-ball soup, kreplach and pastrami may have been, they didn’t just provide nourishment for the body, but for the soul as well. These days with fewer than 150 left in the United States director Erik Anjou set out to preserve the culture in a documentary called “Deli Man.”
There are many deli men profiled in the doc, including Canada’s own Zane Caplansky, but the focus is on third-generation deliteur (my word, not his) Ziggy Gruber. He’s a New Yorker through and through who grew up learning at the elbow of his father and grandfather. The twist is that his deli, one of the best in the US, isn’t in NYC but Houston, Texas. Gregarious and passionate about the food, Gruber is an evangelist for the deli tradition and a convincing one. He’s a living testament to the deli rules of buy good food, prepare it well and always be a mensch.
Legendary deli’s like NYC’s Katz’s, 2nd Avenue Deli, Carnegie, the Stage and Los Angeles’s Nate ‘n Al’s round out the picture of a cultural tradition that is about so much more than just food. A visit to Montreal’s fabled Schwartz’s Deli would have been the pickle on top, but as it is “Deli Man” is a delicious look at how delis have influenced not only what we eat, but why we eat it.