Some time in early fall, I decided my long-term goal would be to open my deli. I grew up on deli food and miss it so - the soft, seeded-rye; stinky chopped chicken livers; the dew on the windows from the corned beefs… corning; the grease-glazed knishes; mountains of yellow potato salad. Delaware is not a haven for such gastronomical delights beyond chicken 'n dumplings and steamed crabs. My very indiscriminate love of good food was born of my experience with really good deli food. So, in seven years, I want to open a deli. I have never been good with the more subtle nuance of fine dining, am not very adept at any particular nationality's cuisine nor do I know how to fling a pizza dough. I do enjoy really good deli fare and think many other people do, too. So, the goal is to bring my sunset years into focus flanked by two slices of that rye bread shmeared with spicy brown mustard and pastrami. Between now and then, however, I have to figure out how to do it without losing my shirt.
The plan is to explore, in ridiculous detail, the favorites that make up the menu of classic delicatessens, legendary for blending the food of immigrants, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, with American appeal. I do not really need to delve headlong into the history of the deli as institution in this country; like the colloquialisms that bespeckle our geography, the food offered at delis varies from town to town. For that matter, the food can vary from street to street! So, knowing about the deli itself is not quite as important as knowing well what is contained therein. New York delicatessens are legendary, and for good reason. Katz's Deli is a landmark, a shrine, to the cornerstone of what defines a quintessential delicatessen. Even the more touristy places like Maxie's and Roxy in Times Square eloquently do justice by offering an array of classic deli dishes. Deli food is not limited, though, to the big island. While I haven't yet visited every city in the country, I would guess that there are some respectable delis throughout the country. Certainly, Miami, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlantic City have all done me well when hankering for some matzoh ball soup and a Reuben. Some venues offer local specialties or eclectic tastes of the particular deli operator. New York delis often have the trademark, paper-thin pizza. Further west, pizza is in the pizzeria across the street from the deli. Up north, subs or hoagies are on the same menu next to blintzes and brisket. So it goes that flavors vary by locale. The classics, though, like Bach, Sinatra and The Beatles, may be interpreted differently, but are always on the playlist. Call them standards, call them 'must haves,' there are just some dishes that must be there to be called a deli. Singularly, one item is profoundly indicative of classic deli fare and must have a presence to pay respect to the title 'deli.' So, Potato Latkes are the "Let it Be," "It Had to Be You" and "The Brandenberg Concertos" of the deli repertoire.