Cecil’s Deli began its 70th year with a bang. Following celebrations in July for its 70th anniversary, Cecil’s Deli was featured in the first episode of Family Restaurant Rivals yesterday.
The show premiered on the Food Network. Family Restaurant Rivals is exactly what it sounds like: families are pitted against each other and the clock to prove which restaurant has the best team and ultimately the better food. The winner gets $10,000.
Owner Sheila Leventhal and her daughter and granddaughter Becca and Evana Kvasnik represented Cecil’s Deli. They opened the episode titled The Family that Cooks Together by saying, “We are the best deli in the midwest.”
The Leventhals were the first to leave the competition, but were able to show they have the best Jewish food in five states which Leventhal knows because “the press tells me so.”
Evana Kvasnik said, “We are three generations of strong Jewish women. We don’t back down. We know what’s best.”
They competed against the Baldwin family of J. Baldwin’s and Testa Barra, and Oriental Wok’s Wong family.
The families were challenged by host Valerie Bertinelli to make lunch combos for picky eaters in 30 minutes. Each family got an additional personalized challenge.
The Chinese American Wongs had to keep their meal vegetarian, the Italian-American Baldwins had to stay low-carb, and the Jewish Leventhals had to remain dairy-free.
“We’re making a pastrami sandwich as our main dish because we have the best Jewish food there is,” said Becca Kvasnik.
Evana Kvasnik said, “And we have the recipes that go back further than we even know.”
When the 30 minutes were up, the Leventhals presented their pastrami sandwiches with chopped liver and latkes with homemade applesauce.
The judges, best-selling author Clinton Kelly, executive chef Jet Tila, and executive chef and restaurateur Antonia Lofaso, were all excited about the latkes until they realized they would not be accompanied with sour cream.
However Lofaso said, “You guys hit the no dairy part of this out of the park. I want to eat the apple sauce just on its own with a side of ice cream as a dessert.”
Kelly said, “I’m going to talk about the latke because I want about 15 more of them, please. I loved, loved, loved it.”
While making the latkes, Evana Kvasnik said latkes are “the core of Jewish deli food.”
She hand-grated the potato and onion. She said, “The onion protects the potato from turning color.”
Evana Kvasnik said latkes should always be mixed by hand. “And then you form them, put them in the pan, and your mom reforms them because she’s unhappy with how they look.”
Tila said the overall flavors presented were off the charts and noted the family chemistry between the Leventhals. He said in jest of Becca and Evana Kvasnick, “[They’ll] kill each other but [they’ve] got to take care of grandma.”
The family worked well together to make a dish with “so many exceptional elements” according to Lofaso. But their downfall was that the making of the pastrami sandwich involved “no culinary essence” as Tila said.
Tila said, “It’s hard for me to judge this sandwich because you just took meat and bread and mustard and slammed it together.”
The Baldwin family won the competition after a second challenge of making a pasta dish with the twist of swapping noodles. The Wongs had to use linguini while the Baldwins used Cantonese noodles.
Though they left the show early, Bertinelli said, “To be able to watch three generations of women – we’re extremely lucky to have you.”