DELI MAN (2015)
Directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou
Anyone that's ever eaten at Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen, a block from The Galleria in Houston, can tell you it's a religious experience. French trained chef and owner Ziggy Gruber, who once cooked for the Queen of England, decided to forgo his father's advice to start a continental restaurant, instead Ziggy went into the deli business just like his grandfather, father, uncle, and great uncle. This third-generation deli man is the center-point of a new documentary that focuses on the small amount of Jewish delis left in North America.
In the 1930's there were about 1,500 Kosher delis just in New York, now there are only 150 left in the entire country. The cause of this decline is discussed by "Save The Deli" author David Sax and the owners of long standing establishments like New York deli's Carnegie, Katz's, and Second Avenue. Celebrities like Larry King and Jerry Stiller are also featured in the film as they voice their support for these traditional eateries that have been serving food prepared from recipes by immigrants from Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Romania. One thing is evident, the deli owners that still exist are passionate about continuing the tradition. 85 years ago the majority of the deli patrons were Jewish, not so much today, so there are a couple of newbies on the block like Wise Son's in San Francisco and Caplansky's in Toronto that have expanded their menus and methods to appeal to the fast food-loving public.
What makes a good delicatessen? In my opinion it's the warm and friendly service and sandwiches piled high with Pastrami, oh and those pickles. I don't know what it is but there is something about a deli pickle that tastes like no other.
"Deli Man" is highly entertaining and difficult to watch on an empty stomach. The nostalgic part of the film is great, I enjoyed learning the history behind theses timeless eateries and it evoked memories of wonderful dishes that grandma used to cook, and that is part of a deli's charm. Eating soup or potato salad at these delis is like visiting grandma and enjoying a nice home cooked meal.
This is the third documentary by director Anjou in his trilogy of Jewish culture films. It was preceded by the critically praised "A Cantor's Tale" and "The Klezmatics-On Holy Ground." Many people are interviewed in "Deli Man" but Houston's Ziggy Gruber is the star. He's funny, down to earth, and he really cares about his employees, feelings that are reciprocated by his staff. Ziggy's grandfather opened the first deli on Broadway in 1927 and when Ziggy was eight he was already helping out in the kitchen. Despite his classical training at the prestigious Le Cordon Blue and a three Michelin star restaurant in London, Ziggy's heart was in the deli business. After successfully opening delis in New York and Los Angeles, it's great for all of us Texans that 13 years ago Ziggy moved to Houston to open Kenny & Ziggy's, and I'm sure you'll make a stop there after viewing this film.