East Coast Kosher Delis’ changing fortunes

  • 5777 Carnegie Deli HOME
It’s out with the old (the beloved Carnegie Deli is to close) and in with the new (trendy Mamelahs is booming and expanding), as New York’s famous kosher delis go through a period of changing fortunes as the city’s population shifts around. Pictured is one of Carnegie Deli’s famous mile-high brisket on rye sandwiches which will not be available after the 70-year-old institution closed on December 31.
by ANT KATZ | Oct 04, 2016

New York deli lovers had better enjoy their last chance to dine at Carnegie Deli, one of the city’s most celebrated delis. The New York Post reported last week that the home of the ‘mile-high sandwich’ is taking its last orders just shy of its 70th birthday. Employees were told last week that the deli would close on December 31.

Dedicated fans have just a few more months to order sandwiches like ‘the Woody Allen,’ ‘Fifty Ways to Love your Liver,’ and ‘Brisketball.’ The deli, which opened blocks from Carnegie Hall in 1937, has been a favourite destination for show-goers, tourists, and locals alike.

5777 Carnegie Deli3Its menu is peppered with well-known Ashkenazi dishes like chicken soup and brisket, and old-world favourites like kasha varnishkes, gefilte fish, liverwurst, and beef tongue.

The number of old-school delis like this one are few in number, while new-school iterations are on the rise.

The family who own Carnegie Deli will maintain its brand through its outposts in Las Vegas and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Owner Marion Harper Levine hints that New York might see another configuration of Carnegie Deli in the future. Until then, enjoy it while it lasts! 

Meet a new-school iteration

The Nosher reports that In August, the much anticipated opening of Mamaleh’s, a new Jewish delicatessen in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, Bostonians no longer have to trek beyond their borders for home-cured pastrami, kreplach, and hand-rolled bagels with house-cured lox. The dine-in and takeout menus offer up traditional Jewish fare including noodle kugel and matzah ball soup, as well as new takes on some standards.

In addition to its gravlax-style house cured lox and pickled herring, Mamaleh’s offers perfectly smoked sturgeon and sable, sourced from Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, according to Rachel Miller Munzer, part of the team that launched Mamaleh’s two months ago.


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ABOVE: Mameleh's opened to much fanfare in Boston two months ago and is already planning to expand into a dinner trade. The surrounding area is chock-a-block full of kosher and Israeli eateries. But the diners are a mixed bunch, many of whom are simply enjoying tasting this new range of what to them would be very exotic tastes.

Mamaleh’s is the newest in a growing number of Jewish and Israeli eateries and cafes attracting Boston diners in and out of the Jewish community. Tatte Bakery and Cafe, owned by a Tel Aviv native Tzurit Or, recently opened its fifth location, a short walk from Mamaleh’s. Tatte’s cases overflow with Israeli inspired baked goods like a delicately flavoured halvah rose pastry and light meals. Inna’s Kitchen, serving made-from-scratch Jewish and Israeli food, is part of the new Boston Public Market, the city’s first year-round indoor local food market.

Mamaleh’s has that nostalgic deli experience with a black and white tile floor and counter seating on bar stools, as well as roomy booths and table seating for 80 diners. Tempting home-baked loaves of moist babka (chocolate and cinnamon), slices of chewy, nut-filled mandel bread, delicately flavoured tahini cookies, and gorgeous spirals of rugelach sit atop a glass case with a carrot-lentil salad and other take-out items. Mamaleh’s fountain and bar serves an array of inventive drinks, from homemade celery soda to egg creams, including a version with alcohol. Shelves are stocked with other items for sale, from Jewish snacks to cookbooks and Mamaleh’s memorabilia.

A few weeks before Mamaleh’s opened, the owners hosted a pop-up bagels-and-lox event at their State Park restaurant next door. “’What’s lox?’ somebody asked. It blew my mind,” that people didn’t know, Miller Munzer said at the time. “It didn’t occur to us to that we were opening an ethnic restaurant.” In less than a month, the deli is attracting a diverse range of diners. Some daring diners not raised on Jewish fare are experimenting, she said — others know Reuben sandwiches and house-roasted turkey and roast beef.

On a recent weekday, one group of diners steeped in this food couldn’t resist the urge to dig in, starting off with the Jewish Pu Pu Platter, loaded with chopped liver, schmaltz on toast, pickles and kreplach.

“The star was the kreplach, with shredded beef,” said Laura Mandel, executive director of Jewish Arts Collaborative that was holding its staff lunch meeting at a corner booth. “Almost as good as my mom’s, which is saying a lot,” she added. Mamaleh’s version is fried, an updated take on the dumpling traditionally served in soup. The pastrami and potato knish was another big hit. “It was nicely baked, golden and delicious,” Mandel added. She couldn’t resist a rye bread to go.

5777 Carnegie DeliThe emotional response from customers came as a pleasant surprise, said Miller Munzer. In the short amount of time they’ve been open, many people are connecting with the food and culture. “This reminds me of my grandmother,” some people have said.

Another customer recalled that her aunt used to call her Mamaleh. “It is very touching.” Mamaleh’s is a lunch-only kosher eatery, but is planning to expand to dinner service soon.


Back at Carnegie…

The New York institution since 1937, will soon serve its last “Woody Allen” - the iconic gigantic Jewish-style sandwich packed with pastrami-and-corned beef. A ‘Woody’ on rye stands 10cm high (the one pictured is from their Facebook page).

The restaurant’s owner, Marian Harper Levine, tearfully broke the news to 60 heartbroken employees on Friday morning. But, says Levine, 65, “At this stage of my life, the early mornings to late nights have taken a toll, along with my sleepless nights and gruelling hours that come with operating a restaurant business.”

 “I’m very sad to close the Carnegie Deli but I’ve reached the time of my life when I need to take a step back,” Levine said. Her family has owned the Carnegie since 1976.

Unlike at some other famous restaurants that recently closed, Levine had no landlord to blame — she owns the six-story building at 854 Seventh Ave.

But Marian has been taking strain. The dining room shrank when she lost her lease on annex space in a building next door a few years ago.

In April 2015, the city shut the Carnegie Deli down for nine months over an illegal gas hook-up — which Marian blamed on her ex-husband Sandy.

Carnegie Deli finally reopened in February 2016 with sidewalk hawkers dressed as pickles. It drew lines around the block and Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a celebratory photo of a pastrami sandwich.

But now the kneidlach in chicken soup’s run dry.

Levine will continue to license Carnegie Deli outposts *there are two: in Las Vegas and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) as well as at some sports venues. Harper hopes to keep her father’s legacy alive by focusing on licensing the iconic Carnegie Deli brand and selling their world-famous products for wholesale distribution.


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