My Deli Despair

Pastrami on Rye

“Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.” – Milton Berle
Oh Uncle Miltie, if you only knew!
I grew up around the corner from a kosher deli and in my house, it was one of the 4 major food groups (the others being Chinese, pizza, and diner). As with many other things, I took it for granted. I took for granted that I had this awesome old school kosher deli right around the corner from me. I didn’t realize how much so until my freshman year of college in Boston. There was no deli around the corner from my dorm and only after an exhaustive mid-November search (pre-internet days) did a fellow Jewish floor mate and I find the deli we were missing. Sadly, it wasn’t that great and I don’t recall going back much in my 4 years in the neighborhood.
In the summer of 1995, I took my first trip to Minneapolis to visit my girlfriend (now wife). My nice Jewish girl from Minneapolis also happened to live right down the street from the Lincoln Del. So when she had a hostess shift to work at Applebee’s  (so much better as Burger Jones), I had to check out the famous Del. What would this Minneapolis pastrami taste like? Do they have any idea what they’re doing? The Del was fine – nothing spectacular, but totally acceptable to my spoiled palate. I specifically remember thinking that I could live with the Del.
Many years have passed and the Del has been shuttered. Now I live here. What is a Jewish guy from New York who grew up with a kosher deli around the corner supposed to do here in the Twin Cities? Where can I get a good pastrami or corned beef sandwich – one served hot, with deli mustard (not yellow) on rye bread?
For 13 years, I visited the Twin Cities – on occasion even schlepping pastrami on the plane with me.  One time, I even supplied a pastrami taste test – from 3 delis in New York. I thought Zaroff’s was fair – but that closed too (Chin’s is an insult to my injury). Where else is there?
Oh wait, my mother-in-law said – we have Cecil’s! And so, I heard all about Cecil’s. The set-up was incredible. I was going to love Cecil’s and be hooked. Granted it was all the way in St. Paul – but for me, it was ordered and picked up. I was about to enjoy a Cecil’s feast and I was going to feel right at home in the Twin Cities. Nishkoshe.
After a few months living with the in-laws, we rented a place in Golden Valley. Soon after settling in, Mort’s opened and I was in heaven. Again, right around the corner for me. This will work just fine I thought. The reviews were terrible and the local Jews were not thrilled with the service or the portions. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I know how long it sometimes takes for a restaurant to get into its groove. And then I stopped in for breakfast one day. I asked for one of their frozen H&H bagels with lox and cream cheese. The nice, older woman behind the counter was puzzled and finally gave up. “What is a lox?” I gave up too – explaining that it was smoked salmon and then leaving for Einstein Bagels. Oh Mort’s – you had such potential!
So here is my question: Am I just a deli snob or do TC Jew folk just feel undeserving of the real Jewish deli experience?
I do realize that demographics play a part here – that there just aren’t as many Jews to support such an endeavor. But, as evidenced by this website, there is a strong and vibrant Jewish community – one that I feel deserves a real Jewish deli!
Jewish delis are a dying breed for sure and there is no denying that sad fact. But, there still are plenty all over the country – delis that are reinventing themselves to an ever-decreasing Jewish population. In a strip mall in Houston, (yes, Texas) is a Jewish deli that is packed all the time. It’s a huge space and they make all of the traditional favorites. The owner told me that if he relied on Jews to be his #1 demographic, he would have closed after 6 months. How does he do it and why hasn’t anyone succeeded right here in the TC?
Part of me thinks that the Jewish connection to food is a little lackadaisical around here. Perhaps the lack of a real Jewish deli for so long has rendered TC Jew folk satisfied with what remains. Let’s call it pastrami complacency. Does a Jewish deli need Jews to make it successful? If so, how do other ethnic restaurants stay in business?
I might be relatively new here, but I think we can do better. Who’s with me? Any angel investors out there in TC Jew folk land?
While we wait for my Jewish deli fantasy to come true, go make some stuffed cabbage and think about your grandma.
*Please use your judgment on the amounts depending on the size of the cabbage and how much you want to stuff the leaves.
For the stuffed cabbage:
1 large head of cabbage
2 ½  pounds of ground beef – use something like 85/15 or 88/12
1 ½ cups of cooked white rice
1/3 cup of minced onions
1/3 cup of minced green bell peppers
1/3 cup of pureed carrots
2 eggs
¼ cup of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of onion powder
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
2 tablespoons of Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon of dry mustard powder
salt to taste
pepper to taste

For the sauce:

1 can of root beer
½ cup ketchup
2 cans of diced tomatoes (with juice)
½ cup of raisins
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
juice of 2 limes
¼ cup of apple cider vinegar
all-purpose flour, if needed to thicken
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1. Wrap the cabbage in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 3 days before use.
2. Boil the head of cabbage and remove the leaves as they soften.
3. Allow the cabbage to cool and dry off.
4. Brown the beef with the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, ginger, mustard, salt, and pepper.
5. Cook off the white rice in a separate pot.
6. When the beef is browned, let it cool.
7. Fold the vegetables and eggs into the beef mixture.
8. Fold the cooked rice into the beef mixture.
9. Lay out the cabbage leaves and fill each one with a portion of the beef mixture.
10. Roll the cabbage leaves tightly to seal in the filling.
11. If the leaves are particularly thin you can use two leaves.
12. Line a baking dish with the stuffed cabbage.
13. Add all of the sauce ingredients to a saucepan and being to a boil.
14. Lower the heat and let simmer until it starts to thicken up.
15. Add the flour if necessary.
16. Pour sauce over stuffed cabbage in baking dish.
17. Cover with foil, leaving an opening to vent.
18. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes @ 350 degrees.
19. Enjoy.
(Photo: adactio)