Thursday, September 13, 2012

Keeping the Family Tradition

“Hyman ‘Slim’ Schwartzberg’s…story began in the early 1900s when his family emigrated from Bialystok Poland/Russia to America for a better life, bringing its namesake bread (the Bialy) with them. If you don't know, it's a slightly crusty indented ‘roll’ with a schmear of onion in the center…

“Slim began working in a basement bakery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the age of 11…working hard, sleeping on flour sacks to keep warm on cold winter nights, and stoking the basement coal ovens, along the way perfecting his reputation as one of the best and hardest working bakers in the industry.

“After WW II, Slim…was among the first in New York to take the ovens and retail bakery street level in the Bronx and in Queens to revolutionize the Bagel/Bialy industry….He baked and sold them to local Mom & Pop delis, supermarkets, and restaurants. Everyone loved the quality and reliable service, and his business thrived. Our dad worked very hard and many long hours. If we wanted to see him,
we would have to convince him (free labor, not too difficult) to take us to the bakery with him on the weekends. We were young boys living in Brooklyn, when we discovered our passion for the art of baking and working with food. My dad and mom, Bosha, continued to live the American Dream, and moved to the suburbs of Long Island in the early 1960s, along the way passing the tradition and recipes on to us. We continue to pass this family tradition to our next generation” (

Today, Slim’s sons, Jeffrey and Gary Schwartzberg, both live in Santa Fe, where they are the owners and operators of two New York Delis. One is housed in an adobe building not far from the Plaza.
The second resides in a strip mall just off Cerrillos Road. While I suspect that the Plaza neighborhood deli would offer more by way of ambience, since we are constantly on Cerrillos, we opted for the latter. Both are open for breakfast and lunch and there are some that consider New York Deli’s breakfast to be among the best in town. But we chose to visit for lunch.

The lunch menu includes soups (soup of the day and chicken with matzo balls), salads (Nicoise, Cobb, Caesar, and others), fish platters (fish and chips, shrimp platter, and a fish and shrimp combo), and an assortment of sandwiches which they call Hefty Heros. These include: the Woodstock—mesquite smoked turkey,
Monterrey jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and scallions; the Grand Central—thin-sliced roast beef with bacon, Monterrey jack cheese, Southwest mayo, lettuce, and tomato; and the Little Italy—Genoa salami, ham, pepperoni, Provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Parmesan mayo. And the menu also includes a Philly Steak sandwich. Or does it?

The menu board lists a Steak Phily along with a Southwest Steak Phily.

The specials card on each table lists Tuesday’s special as Pilly Steak’s. Wow. Two words. Too misteaks!

Would you order a Philly Steak from guys who can’t spell Philly? I wouldn’t.

And there was a section called Deli Sandwiches which are served on your choice of a bagel, NY rye, whole wheat, sourdough or gluten free bread and come with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle, and your choice of coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salad, or potato chips. For “meats” you can chose from hot corned beef, hot pastrami, white meat turkey, roast beef, Genoa salami, ham and Swiss, egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, whitefish salad, and chopped chicken liver.

Now if we are at a New York-style deli, nothing will do but pastrami on rye with a generous schmear of chicken liver.
In a rare burst of discretion, we decided to split a sandwich with a side of cole slaw and then add additional sides of matchstick fries and—yes, he’s at it again—potato salad.

The sandwich was all right but missed on almost all counts in being an authentic New York deli sandwich. First, the seeded rye was a soft bread and the deli would be better served by obtaining their rye from Sage Bakehouse here in Santa Fe. The chicken liver was a much less than generous schmear and was rather dry. And while New York Deli’s meats are all of premium brand—Boar’s Head—the pastrami was totally fat free and so, when heated, became dry. For good hot pastrami, you can only get that unctuous juiciness from a meat with a fair amount of fat.

The three sides (slaw, fries, potato salad) were all acceptable but could have been better.

So what did we learn? We learned to stop at Sage Bakehouse for a loaf of their chewy caraway seed laden bread. We learned to stop at the local Albertson’s for a pound of chicken livers for my homemade chicken liver spread. And we learned to buy a pound of New York Deli’s pastrami which I heated by steaming rather than grilling. The resulting sandwiches? Well, we liked them better than the deli’s.

We decided that New York Deli worked better for us as a place to purchase cold cuts (they also sell a wonderful and very rare roast beef which is also good on Sage Bakehouse’s rye) than as a place to dine and only merits a 3.0 Addie rating.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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