“Nothin says lovin like somethin from the oven”, the Pillsbury Dough Boy would have expanded to unlimited proportions in the kitchens, of once ubiquitous delicatessens, now just a “chosen” few. “Deli Man” is a scrumptious, succulent, salivating love story; the heart of this delicious documentary pulsates with the vibrancy of David “Ziggy” Gruber a third-generation “deli man”; Cordon Bleu trained, he could not shake the shackles of his heritage, his idolatry of his grandfather and mystique of a cuisine steeped in Jewish lore. “Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen” is the burgeoning pride of Huston, Texas.
Delis’ blossomed in New York’s Lower East Side in the 1840’s-50’s; European Jews, fleeing the confines of anti-Semitism, economic restrictions; they had few possessions, but the recipes cemented in their culture found a breeding ground in the new world, the Diaspora was not cauterized from its culinary customs; by 1931 there were thousands; the few remaining are primarily run by the sons and grandsons of the founders.
“Deli Man” journeys across the continent, focusing on the men and their Deli’s: “Nate’ n Al’s, Canter’s, Carnegie’s, Manny’s; Toronto’s iconoclastic Caplansky’s whose food truck is tattooed with the sobriquet “Sometimes You Have To Jew It Up”; Merlin’s of Matzo Brei, Kings of Knishes, Lords of Lox, fingers stained with schmaltz; 18 hour days, aches and arthritis; gruff, warm-hearted personalities; blustering, benign bullying of patrons; universally each proprietor exuded profound, exhilarating happiness.
More than the slathering, artery-clogging corned beef, pastrami, short ribs, these “deli guys” are feeding, recognizing, lionizing a people shunned by cultures/regimes now dead; incinerated in the Holocaust; wandering, wandering finally finding a place where scintillating, tantalizing scents are tangible, miraculous in reviving memories of places and people, still pungently, redolently alive in the sacred recesses of the mind.