Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/11/23: Jewish Delis

New York City is famous for its Jewish delicatessens, with Katz’s still being the oldest and the best known. This particular kind of eatery sprang up in the late 1800s when German immigrants began to settle in lower Manhattan.  The food was decidedly Teutonic: sauerkraut, pickles, cold cuts, sausages. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe later added pastrami, borscht, rye bread, matzoh ball soup, and other delights. These fatty, salty foods were considered luxuries to the new immigrants. They didn’t survive on a diet of it at home, far from it. They were something for special occasions. Of course, over the decades, non-Jews began to eat there too.

The 1920s, 30s, and 40s were the deli’s heyday; there were perhaps 3,000 of them spread across the five boroughs. All had a similarity of name, and all seemed to be run by big, beefy guys named Mort and Walt and Shelly. They wore white caps, smoked cigars, and argued loudly with customers about local politics or baseball scores; their surnames were most often German or Russian. These names are reflected in my list below.

By the time the 1970s rolled around the traditional Jewish deli was in decline. New concerns with fat, salt, and cholesterol levels spelled its doom, as well as the many Jews moving away from the city. Plus, younger generations were no longer to carry on the backbreaking work that went into running them six days a week. College and the suburbs beckoned instead.

But, happily, a revival is occurring, with new restauranteers rediscovering this genre of food,  such as Holy Schnitzel and Pastrami Queen. These pun-filled names are also reflected in my names below.

Want to know more? The New York Historical Society is currently running an exhibition on the history of the Jewish Deli.


Jewish Delis

“Who’s got the best pastrami sandwiches in Midtown?”

“… and soup?”

“… and pickles and gefilte fish?”

The Bagel Works

Schnitzel World

Strassberg & Sons

Moe’s Catering

Sal’s Deli and Restaurant

Weissberg’s Sandwich World

Huntzie’s Mainline Grill

Iggy & Joe’s Uptown Coffee

Steinberg’s Schnitzel Heaven

Jay’s Broad Street Diner

Mort & Wolfie’s

Boris’s Fifth Avenue Takeout and Catering

Kenny & Benny’s Bagel Factory

Walt & Sam’s Sandwich Works

Paulie’s Kugel Paradise

Barsky’s Stage Door Catering

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