Despite closing 23 years ago, the closing of Lincoln Del evokes a sense of nostalgia that few restaurants can bring in the community. But what so many people don’t know is that throughout the 20th century, there were dozens of Jewish delis across the Twin Cities.
The history of the Jewish deli in Minnesota is going to be celebrated at an upcoming Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest exhibit, “DELIcious History: The Jewish Delis of the Upper Midwest – The Appetizer.” The exhibit will be at the Tychman-Shapiro Gallery at the Minnesota JCC’s Sabes Center Minneapolis, from Jan. 12-Feb. 17. It will feature a Lincoln Del booth, light fixture, drapes, and other memorabilia from the deli that the JHSUM has in its possession, but it isn’t solely a Lincoln Del exhibit.
“Anecdotally, we’ve heard that there were 13 delis in St. Paul in the 60s, and there was a great number between the Southside and Northside of Minneapolis, the Westside of St. Paul, the Selby-Dale area,” said Robin Doroshow, the executive director of the JHSUM. Doroshow said that changing demographics and eating habits have led to a vast decline in the number of Jewish delis. “We will definitely be talking about, you know, with sort of the demise of the traditional deli, where does that leave people to gather?
“People talk about Lincoln Del being not only a family place but a place where a lot of business was done. The deli was the secular synagogue for many American Jews.”
The opening night event will feature a short documentary by local filmmaker Dale Bluestein, and an author talk with Wendy Zelkin Rosenstein, the granddaughters of the Lincoln Del owners and the author of The Lincoln Del Cookbook. The book will be available at the event, as well as some deli treats.
“It’s a very big deal in that [the deli] represents the Jewish community of the Midwest,” Rosenstein said. “Everyone thought this was the place to go eat.”
Rosenstein, who began working at Lincoln Del when she was 8 years old, said the restaurant was a community gathering place, for everything from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to prenup dinners.
“For good celebrations and sad celebrations, the Del was a part of everyone’s life,” she said.
Doroshow said there are two other big events planned for the exhibition. The first is a screening of the documentary Deli Man on Feb. 9 at the theater in the Minneapolis JCC Sabes Center. The second is the lone food-related event of the exhibit, with “heavy deli-appetizers,” beer, wine, and Dr. Brown’s at the J-HAP Cafe at Cornerstone Creek Apartments, with guest chef, James Beard Award semifinalist Andrea Baumgardner of BernBaum’s in Fargo, N.D. on Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $60 each and the event is limited to 50 people.
Doroshow calls this exhibit the appetizer for the main course exhibit she’s planning to have later in 2023.
“We’re going to be inviting people to bring their stories,” Doroshow said. “Literally every day I hear from someone that says, ‘oh, have you heard of such and such a deli?’ There are a lot of surprising stories I’m getting. The deli was a place for American Jews to gather when they were still sort of ‘the other.’”