I’ve been reading Save the Deli by David Sax since before the Olympics, and I just finished this ode to the piled-high sandwich. Incredibly well-researched, Sax has the enviable quest to document delis across North America and in a few places in Europe, eating his way from New York to Las Vegas, Montreal to Krakow.
You can get a sense of the background work the author conducted in the Save the Deli blog, where 3 years of regular posts documents his visits to the delis (adding more pictures than what the book offers, and video too, which is a great way to capture the deli man attitude and the feel of the restaurants – many of which have sadly closed).
But Sax’s ability to capture flavours in writing, makes your mouth water throughout the book. For instance, the author writes of Peter Varvaro Jr. “Smoked Meat Peat” in Ile-Perrot outside of Montreal:
…his smoked meat is superb. Dry cured for ten days, and hardwood-smoked for eight hours, it has a dark red crust that can only be described as devilish and tastes both sweeter and spicier than its [other smoked meat] counterparts in the rest of the city.
Or amazing sandwiches at the historic 2nd Avenue Deli in New York, originally described as:
pastrami hot, tender, and marbled, sliced this so that chewing was almost unnecessary…
and reincarnated a few years after its original location closed:
The thin slices of the pink corned beef and the dark red pastrami spilled over the crust of the rye bread, leaving a trail of meat scraps and peppercorns on the plate. He generously applied spicy brown mustard, shut his eyes, and bit in, “Ummmmppphhhh!” His eyes rolled back into his skull, and he reclined into the vinyl [booth]. After ten seconds or so he swallowed, and opened his eyes, looking as through he’d emerged from a trance. “I really forgot how good it tastes,” Joshua said. He took another bite, closed his eyes, and nodded.
Other mouth-watering descriptions of light-as-air Matzo balls in rich golden chicken soup, prettily made Kinishes folded with all the expertise of dim sum makers, luscious sweet kugels that defy their noodle-y origins, and freshly fried super-crisp latkes are included as sides throughout, but the star still is the sandwich. There are a few scary meals that are described, and Sax is frank when he’s served something below par – this honesty makes you trust that the good reviews are well earned, and that the proclaiments that certain foods are “the best” all the more drool-inducing.
I wish I would have noticed the “Food and Yiddish Appendix” on page 281 earlier… but, I now officially know what Meshugah means! An index of restaurants visited and others also recommended is included in the book too. Save the Deli was not a quick read per se, but it was completely enjoyable and clearly made with love for the food and true respect for the art of deli.