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Saul’s Story

The Delicatessen

What does it mean to be an authentic, vibrant, relevant delicatessen today? To us it means bridging the links between the “Old Country” and the “New World,” and the future of food. Not being frozen in time, not attempting to replicate another place (like New York.) It means providing a cultural and culinary home to those looking for familiar and traditional foods. It means connecting with our roots all along the timeline of Jewish food.

At Saul’s we are excited about reflecting season, time and place. We reconnect with traditional culinary practices, minimizing, where possible, the impact of the industrial food system. Where possible we try to bring local processing and artisanal culinary experiences back to the diner.

At Saul’s the place of vegetables, seafood, legumes, and fruit in Jewish cuisine is celebrated and central. Our meat comes from producers who raise animals with the very highest standards of health, humane treatment, and ecological conservation. All of our fish is from Monterey Fish Company, whose mission is to support and encourage the use of local sustainable seafood. We serve all organic Acme Breads. Our coffee is fair trade and organic. We serve eggs which are cage free and organic. Our produce comes from among the very best of local and organic fruit and vegetable farmers.

In the 1930’s the Saul’s building was a produce depot right off the railroad tracks. Since the 1950’s, it has housed a delicatessen: First the Pantry Shelf, then Rosenthal’s, and finally Saul’s, established in 1986, in honor of Saul Lichtenstein. Saul and his wife Ginny liked to feed people. Saul held forth and Ginny cooked. Friends and family would gather with him to eat, talk with their mouths full, trade stories. We like all that. So come. Eat. Locally owned and operated.

Latke Tent, Beer Garden & Live Klezmer Dec 8 & 9

Saturday December 8
& Sunday December 9
12pm – 4pm

Hot latkes outside Saul’s

Microbrews such as
Linden Black Lager
Linden Blonde
Trumer Pils

Live music 12pm-2pm

Saturday: Mike Perlmutter (sax & clarinet), Jeanette Lewicki (accordion & singing) and Richard Saunders (bass)
Sunday: Mike Perlmutter (sax & clarinet), Rick Elmore (tuba), and Aharon Bolsta (drums).

In the News

Jewish Daily Forward
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Innovative in the Bay Area
Leah Koenig

. . . Or, as Karen Adelman put it, “This trend is long overdue.” She should know. Along with Chez Panisse alumnus Peter Levitt, Adelman co-owns Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, a Berkeley-based restaurant that helped pioneer the movement around sustainable, ingredient-driven deli. When Adelman and Levitt began changing Saul’s menu to reflect their farm-to-table food values 15 years ago, they had no network of vendors to rely on. “We recognized that if we wanted to serve authentic, quality deli food, we would have to do it on our own.”

So they embarked on a neo-retro deli experiment. They sourced from the few existing like-minded Jewish purveyors — places like the Shmaltz Brewing Company (which makes He’Brew beer), and reached out to persuade non-Jewish companies to develop local versions of rye bread, cured meats and pickles.

The response from customers was not unanimously supportive. “Some of our old-time customers simply feel comforted by having that Ba-Tampte pickle jar or a bottle of Manischewitz borscht nearby,” Levitt said. But, bit by bit, their food began to change customers’ minds, and push forward the conversation about what “real deli” should taste like.

“Fifteen years ago, we were considered renegades for how we thought about and sourced ingredients,” Adelman said. “These days, it’s just a given.” She and Levitt have taken the strategic position of welcoming, and in some cases collaborating with, what they view as a growing network of compatible purveyors. “Saul’s has been incredibly supportive of us from the beginning,” said Blake Joffe, co-owner of Beauty’s Bagel Shop, which supplies both Saul’s and Wise Sons with its Montreal-style bagels.

NY Times
Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed?
Julia Moskin

WHEN a Jewish deli decides to stop serving salami, something is wrong in the cosmos.

At Saul’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley, Calif., the eggs are organic and cage free, and the ground beef in the stuffed cabbage is grass fed. Its owners, Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, yanked salami from the menu in November, saying that they could no longer in good conscience serve commercial kosher salami.

Fora.tv video Deli Summit: The Renaissance May  2011

Fora.tv video Referendum on the Jewish Deli Menu with Good Food host Evan Kleiman, Michael Pollan, and others. February 9, 2010

Some of the Press on Referendum on the Jewish Deli Menu

East Bay Express - Best of the East Bay 2009
Best Housemade Sodas: Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen

The deli mixes the extracts in-house and sweetens each flavor with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Blueberry soda, a vile proposition when made with artificial ingredients, is transformed into something – dare we say it – sophisticated at Saul’s: blush-colored, subtly sweet, and laced with actual chunks of fresh fruit. Likewise, their cream soda incorporates real vanilla for a delicate result that’s vastly preferable to the usual cloying sweetness of commercial recipes. The lineup changes with the seasons, so keep a lookout for Meyer lemon, blood orange, and strawberry, and don’t be afraid to venture into unknown territory. Celery soda may sound scary if you’re not already a Cel-Ray fanatic, but it’s shockingly good, and the cardamom flavor is no more exotic than root beer or ginger ale (Saul’s makes that, too), with a spicy zing that you won’t taste in supermarket brands. For that final soda-fountain flourish, retro cardboard straws add a certain soggy charm. Watch your back, Dr. Brown.

KQED Bay Area Bites
Jewish Delis: Eating at Schwartz’s and Saul’s
Thy Tran

How does a meat-centered restaurant survive in a health-conscious, politically aware, option-filled world? How does Saul’s modest amount of Niman Ranch beef compete with super-stacked, industrially raised pastrami from tourist-driven, New York delis? And how does a younger generation begin transforming a cuisine frozen in time into a meaningful, relevant, profitable business?

Anyone who hangs around chefs knows that, generally, they survive on the razor’s edge of profit margins and see the cloud behind every silver lining. Peter and Karen were refreshingly honest about the challenges of running the deli, from the need to cater to the economics of not smoking your own meat to the impossibility of guaranteeing a kosher establishment. (People want milk with their coffee, after all, and don’t even think about getting rid of the Reuben!)

The Monthly
Noshtalgia for Pastrami
John Harris

While Jewish delis are fading nationwide, local delis with the foodie credo—“It’s the ingredients, stupid!”—are thriving.

Bay Guardian
Of Blood and Blintzes

L.E. Leone

. . . They’re those potato and onion pancakes, you know, served with applesauce and sour cream. I love that they were used, according to Jewish legend, to put some Assyrian meanie to sleep and then chop off his head.

And I love Saul’s. It’s a cheerful, comfortable place to hang out.

Diablo Magazine
Latkes #29 on the list of East Bay’s 101 Most Delicious Things to Eat

Talk about a religious experience. Served with a side dish of sour cream and applesauce (slather at your discretion), these crisp yet delicate saucers take comfort food to a higher level.

San Francisco Chronicle
Saul’s plans its Seder
Deli’s Passover meals prove popular

. . . a large number of his customers on these evenings are what Levitt calls “culinary Jews,” a tag he applies to himself as well. “They come together to share these meals because that’s the last vestige for them of celebrating the religion,” says Levitt. “They still feel deeply about their heritage, and the best way to hold onto it is through food.”

SF Weekly describes Saul’s
SF Weekly names Best
Jewish Deli

J. Weekly
Best Deli

Not many delis have alumni from Chez Panisse working in their kitchen. But Saul’s Deli is used to being an exception.

Saul’s co-owner Peter Levitt, who has worked in some of Berkeley’s best restaurants, now cooks in the Bay Area’s best deli — at least, according to j. readers.

Oakland Tribune
Jolene Thym
Deli owners show there’s more to Jewish food than bagels

[Adelman] and Levitt have deliberately moved away from trying to replicate Jewish culinary traditions in favor of continuing the journey of forming Jewish cuisine that reflects their location in Berkeley. . .

“Years ago, the tradition for most Jewish delis (including Saul’s) was to order many of the foods direct from New York. That is no longer the case. Besides leaving a huge carbon footprint, we’ve found that we can actually get better quality here on the est Coast. We have great suppliers who are very much informed about organic, sustainability. “We’ll always want to have those Jewish comfort foods, but we also want to be relevant. We never want to be like that New York deli that is frozen in time.”

Daily Californian
Not your average corner deli

Bagels Matter. The Bagel Baron at Saul’s

Dan Graf came to us a few years ago from New Jersey. He worked the counter and on the line. His dry sense of humor and East Coast palate captivated customers and co-workers alike. Dan eventually brought a whole posse of his friends from Jersey to work at Saul’s, and it was a lot of fun.

At the same time Peter Levitt, Saul’s Co-Owner and Executive Chef, dreamed of raising the bar for the bagel experience. He believes people could and should be just as excited about bagels as they are about, say, wood-fired pizza, IF bagels were given the time and attention they deserved. But the Saul’s kitchen and chef responsibilities are packed with everything else served in Saul’s 100+ seat deli. Peter always pestered Dan (and any employee that would listen) with: “Why don’t you start a bagel business and sell me bagels?” And so on.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baron’s Bagels (from Dan Graf, Bagel Baron)

Then, Dan goes away for a few years. On Tuesday, June 5, without any warning, he walks into Saul’s with an armful of bagels he made all by himself. Bagels with contrast: dense, shiny, a chewy, crunchy crust and a depth of flavor that can only come from fermentation (and time and attention). They’re a revelation.

Dan didn’t say a word to us until he got them to a level worth talking about (and worth chewing on), after about a year of recipe testing and experimenting. And though he’s just a one-man artisanal start-up in a shared commercial kitchen, he has the capacity to supply us with all the bagels Saul’s needs – unusual for a new handcrafted venture. (We’re a pretty big restaurant and sell quite a few bagels.)

So less one week after Saul’s tasted them, we were selling Barons. As of Monday June 11. Come taste them and let us know what you think.

Celebrate Bagels

Seems it’s famine to feast on “real” handcrafted bagels in the Bay Area: Baron’s based in Oakland, Beauty’s in SF and soon-to-be Oakland, and SF-based Schmendricks. All truly a giant leap forward. Certainly we at Saul’s think so.

Rally your friends and family for the revolution in Bay Area bagels and bagel expectations!

Even in New York, where have all the good bagels gone? For The State of the Bagel in America, read:

Schmendricks is coming to Saul’s to talk bagels. Thursday June 21, 7pm.

Schmendricks has everything a kvetching New Yorker could want . Really. Texture, flavor, appropriate size, chewy, dense, sweet and salty. You’ll be very impressed, we promise.

This is your rare POP-UP opportunity in the East Bay to try them. (They’re in artisanal start-up mode, with engagements in select theaters only). And this is their first appearance in the East Bay – they mostly pop-up in San Francisco.

 

New York Bagel Education: An Evening with Schmendricks

**Schmendricks’ last presentation sold out quickly, so buy tickets now** http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/253782

MORE ON SCHMENDRICKS
Schmendricks Pursues the Brooklyn Bagel” SF Weekly
“Bagel Boutique Rises in Bay Area”
SF Chronicle
@Schmendricks on Twitter

http://www.facebook.com/Schmendricks

http://www.schmendricks.com/

Invite friends on Facebook

 

 

 

Housemade Pastrami: brined, spiced, smoked

Pastrami

Pastrami on rye with mustard, a simple pleasure, no?

No, not really simple at all.

We used to get pastrami from New York. It arrived in a plastic bag, and we steamed it to order. It traveled three thousand miles. Next we procured local, hormone free and antibiotic free meat but sent it to Los Angeles for curing.  Then, most recently, we started having trouble with supplies of this special arrangement.

Finally, we decided to bring pastrami production under our roof.

Hand-slicing Saul's housemade pastrami

Now many permutations and decisions.

For the rub: Red or black? Definitely coriander, black pepper, paprika. What proportion each? Allspice, clove, garlic?

Peter slices pastrami on the Spice of Life chef stage

What kind of smoke and how much? Pastrami is a smoked meat after all. A whole generation is used to pastrami out of a plastic bag with only a distant hint of smoke.

Cut of meat? Navel or brisket. One is too fatty, the other too dry.  Strictly grass fed or corn finished?  Cow or steer meat?

About the brine: Pump and float or just float or just dry rub? Minimize nitrates and risk the perfect pink color?

We are aiming for a pastrami that is never too dry or fatty (although this is very subjective), peppery, spicy, smoky and essentially on the fatty side. Please remember that in every piece of pastrami, even assuming the most skilled slicing, there will be sublime to less sublime and then sublime again, in one piece. Hopefully you get a perfect combination of slices on a perfect pastrami day. If not let us know.

With so many variables it becomes a rather complicated and changeable process. We hope you will join us in this journey, still very new.  Your feedback is always welcome, especially written form and shared with kindness.

Pastrami spices

Housemade pickles: brining, fermenting, crunching

Pickles

‘The perfection of fermented foods lies in it’s imperfection. If your desire is for perfectly uniform, predictable food, this is the wrong food for you… If you are willing to collaborate with these tiny beings with somewhat capricious habits and vast transformative powers, then eat on.’

Sandor Katz

Pickle plates at Spice of Life Festival with chermoula peppers

We have committed to make our pickles in house. This means when they are good they are really good.

Before when we gave free pickles, we found more than a third would make their way to the garbage can.

So we reduced the price of a sandwich 50c and charge 50c for a pickle. Believe it or not we no longer find pickles in the garbage.

Also non-pickle eaters no longer subsidize pickle eaters. Its a win-win.

Another benefit: before people did not really have an option of half sour vs full sour. You got what came in those pasteurized buckets.

Now both our customers and staff are developing a real knowledge of the difference, the complexities and the joy of fermented foods.

We now ferment sours, half sours, kraut and pickled green tomatoes.

Pickling tomatoes

Every morning a Saul’s ferment nerd, can be found testing brines, skimming yeast by-products, making sure all cucumbers are submerged and starved of oxygen, and generally prodding the ferments along and keeping them safe from taking wrong turns.

Some days the sours are just not yet sour enough for one, yet too sour for another.

Some batches absorb too much salt, some not salty enough. Some cucumbers arrive from the fields too big, sometimes just right.

 

If you are eating pastrami or corned beef we strongly urge you to eat these with our fermented pickles.

It is good nutrition, good digestion and good old yiddishkeit.

These true and tried complimentary flavors, in balance, provide harmony.

Pickle plate with radishes

Deli Summit: Exploring the Challenges and Thrills of the Modern Deli

Peter Levitt, Saul’s Restaurant and Deli, Berkeley
Noah Bernamoff, Mile End Deli, Brooklyn
Ken Gordon, Kenny & Zuke’s Deli, Portland
Evan Bloom, Wise Sons Deli SF pop-up

Moderator: Joan Nathan, Author of ten cookbooks including Jewish Cooking in America and Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Food Arts Magazine and Tablet Magazine.

Original billing:

At the:
JCC of the East Bay
(just around the corner)
1414 Walnut Street
Berkeley, CA 94709

On the menu from Wise Sons:

House-baked Bialys and Smoked Fish, with chive cream cheese, red onion & capers. Sweet and sour pickles on the side 7 openfaced 10

The beloved institution of Jewish delis continues to disappear.

But a few brave delis are breaking up canons of the dying model. Delis in this NY Times article by Julia Moskin: Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed?

Saul’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley is convening these upstarts for a Deli Summit. Four very different models of renegade.

Saul’s owners Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt believe they and their colleagues will benefit from collaboration on a common language. In a culinary genre defined by rigid expectations (yet varied depending on customer), comparison and critique, these delis trailblazing the deli lexicon can gradually give each other points of reference and authority.

This is a restaurant concept being actively revived. What do these departures from the Deli Institution look like on the menu, the plate, in the dining room? What does it mean to thrive as a deli business?

This is a follow-up to Saul’s Referendum on the Jewish Deli Menu. Now with the other Delis, Saul’s will talk nuts and bolts of their industry.

It’s a behind the scenes, chefs-in-the-trenches conversation open to the public.

Some of the Press on Deli Summit

 

Preserved lemon in Jewish cooking

Preserving lemons at Saul's

Joan Nathan says “preserved lemons are an indispensable item in my pantry cupboard.” From her book The Foods of Israel Today on preserved lemons in Jewish cooking:

“(The lemons) are delicious in salads, in chicken with olives, in a marvelous Moroccan brisket, and stuffed into the cavity of a simple roast chicken with garlic and fresh herbs,” Nathan writes. “Long ago the lemons were weighted with stones to keep them submerged in the preserving liquid. (But in the) contemporary method, the lemons sink with the weight of the salt.”

Camp Kee Tov comes to visit

Kee Tovers enjoying a Turkish Field Breakfast

We love hosting Camp Kee Tov campers learning about where food comes from. It’s one of our favorite parts of summer each year.

Matzo ball soup

This year Kee Tov campers visited Terra Bella Family Farm, one of our purveyors, then came to Saul’s the next day and tasted summer tomatoes with zhoug. Their very own private farm-to-table tour.

Co-Owner Karen Adelman and Chef Tu Phu talk tomatoes. Camp leader Rachel Harris in green also works the land at Terra Bella Family Farm.

Mmm

What is zhoug?

Referendum on The Deli Menu

Can a retro cuisine be part of the avant-garde?

A sold out audience of over 250 attended our February 9 discussion. Feedback and debate in the restaurant (and online!) has been tremendous.

We brought together Michael Pollan, Evan Kleiman, Willow Rosenthal and Gil Friend. We chose panelists with the credibility of loving Deli (they all eat meat, and they all eat at Saul’s) and who are also driving sustainability.

 

 

Here’s the original billing.

Panelists:

Michael Pollan, Journalist, Author: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food
Gil Friend, CEO of Natural Logic, Author: The Truth About Green Business
Willow Rosenthal, Founder, City Slicker Farms
Karen Adelman, Co-Owner, Saul’s Restaurant and Deli
Peter Levitt, Co-Owner, Saul’s Restaurant and Deli
Moderator: Evan Kleiman, Host, KCRW’s Good Food, Owner-Chef, Angeli Caffe

Proceeds benefit The Center for Ecoliteracy

**Venue has been changed from Saul’s to the JCC of the East Bay just around the corner. To accommodate demand.**

 

Can the Jewish Deli be sustainable?

What does sustainability mean for the future of Deli cuisine and culture?

Many expectations of “real” Deli conflict with sustainability and today’s economic realities. Even “authentic” cuisine can obstruct progress toward more just, sustainable food. How does a business committed to being part of the solution persuade traditionalist customers of the importance of change?

For example, towering pastrami sandwiches once signified success, security and abundance, an immigrant’s celebration of the American Dream. But given the realities of meat production in America today – 99% is factory farmed – how can we continue to stand by this as an icon?

Even the factory farmed pastrami sandwich has become an unsustainable business model, because of its tiny profit margins.

How can we look at our nostalgia and expectations critically?

How might we evolve a shared cuisine together? How can Saul’s bring more people into the conversation?

There’s much more conversation to be had beyond the conversation we had on Feb 9 . . . come in and chat with us.

Check out our blog post on the (sometimes controversial) changes Saul’s has made over the years.

And please do stay tuned for future discussions at Saul’s. We’re thinking about the intersection of food, culture, identity, change, evolution, memory, the challenges of local, sustainable sourcing for a 100+ seat restaurant with a large, set menu . . .

Some of the press coverage of Referendum on the Jewish Deli Menu:
New York Times Bay Area Blog Organic or Authentic? The Saul’s Deli Debate
Diablo Magazine Deli Debate
KQED’s Bay Area Bites Who Owns the Deli?
San Francisco Chronicle The Thin Green Line Deli’s Efforts to Go Green Stir Up Controversy
Civil Eats Referendum on the Deli Menu at Saul’s: What is Tradition?
Ethicurean Saul’s Got SOLE: The Jewish Deli in Berkeley Evolves
Jewish Journal Foodaism A Sustainable Deli?
Jewish Daily Forward Can the Jewish Deli Survive the Sustainable Food Movement? Pass the Homemade Pickles
Berkeleyside Another Bite of Saul’s
EcoSalon Can Sustainable Restaurant Food be Democratized?
Treehugger Michael Pollan, Saul’s Deli’s Secret Pastrami Hawker?
Moment Magazine Yum! Burp! Delis, Pickles and Pastrami!
and finally:
New York Times Can the Jewish Deli be Reformed?

“What kind of a Jewish Deli is this?”

Can the Jewish Deli change?

Or must it always stay the same to be good and authentic?

Anthony Bourdain opposes change in the Deli:

It’s a classic refrain of Deli Mavens.

Here are some changes to Deli that Saul’s has made over the years. They’ve been a bit controversial . . .

Smaller sandwiches – not twelve or eight ounces, but six. Those mountainous pastrami sandwiches were made possible in the postwar deli heyday by cheaply, industrially produced meat. A typical Italian Deli sandwich has 2-4 ounces on it. But a “real” NY deli does towering sandwiches.

No more Dr. Brown’s sodas. Cream and Celery is scratch-made in house, and Black Cherry is made only when black cherries are in season. One of the saddest changes in Jewish deli history has been consolidation of the soda industry, from hundreds of small-batch, regional and local soda alchemists in the New York area alone, to just a few brands recalling that era and those flavors, in name only. For example, Dr. Brown’s is made from high-fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients, and owned by Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group. Plus, shipping it to Saul’s logs lots of food miles. We won Best of the East Bay in the East Bay Express for our seasonal housemade sodas.

Seasonality, a changing menu. Vegetables, legumes, grains, seafood back on the plate. And often at the center of the plate. Sephardic-inspired dishes. Deli heresy!

Smaller, regional menu – Chilled borscht only in summer and when beets are in season – “What kind of a Deli are you that doesn’t have borscht!?” Gefilte fish is housemade, fresh. We have it for the holidays, not year round.

Grassfed flavor and texture: Our brisket, corned beef and cabbage rolls are made with local, grass-fed beef. Americans hadn’t tasted corn-fed beef until after WWII. But today’s palates are accustomed to corn-fed flavor, texture and fat content, so for some customers, grass-fed doesn’t seem quite right. More here on the challenge of sourcing local, grass-fed pastrami to replace the not-as-sustainable Niman Ranch.

Handmade Acme rye from rye flour and sourdough starter, not the white flour “rye” that has evolved as “real Jewish rye” because it works better in bread machines than sticky rye flour. More here.

Wanted: Local, clean salami – Salami has been taken off the menu until we know where it’s coming from. We have many loyal customers who love salami, even industrially produced salami, and are very upset that we don’t serve it.

Is the HUGE pastrami sandwich killing the deli?

A "Real" pastrami sandwich

Many beloved delis have disappeared over the last few decades.

Believe it or not, the huge pastrami sandwich is a big reason why. It is no longer a profitable business model.

Here’s an excerpt from Save the Deli by David Sax on the subject:

Investigative Deli Reporter David Sax's blog

Pastrami is most commonly made from a cut of beef known as the navel . . . until recently, these cuts of meat were inexpensive . . . This meant that the deli meats were cheap to buy and sell. But several factors have increased demand and prices for traditionally Jewish cuts of meat: the rising popularity of Texas–style BBQ brisket . . . Tongue prices, driven by exports to Asia, have shot up ten times since 1980. Domestically, new pressure is coming from the energy sector, where the rising cost of oil has created a boom market in corn ethanol, increasing the price of cattle feed

And customers expect deli and sandwiches to be cheap. Diners are happy to pay $20 for a steak dinner. Put the same amount or more beef between two slices of rye bread – with all the time and energy of curing – and customers expect to pay less for it.

. . . [E]ven with pastrami sandwiches at fifteen dollars and up, most New York delis are breaking even or losing money on their namesake item . . . Customers also have a perceived expectation that Jewish Delis have always been, and will always be, cheap places to eat. Were delicatessen customers asked to pay the real cost of their sandwich, they’d surely revolt.

Saul's Pastrami Ruben

Wanted: Salami

We’ve stopped serving salami until we know where the beef comes from.

99% of meat in this country is produced by factory farms.

Help us find salami that is:

Humanely raised – Let’s not support confined animal feeding operations.

Sustainably raised – Protect our air, water and soil from pollution. Reduce petroleum use in agriculture.

Hormone and antibiotic free – Protect our public health.

Locally made is preferred, to support local production, food skills, craft, and local commerce.

Saul’s customers love salami. We have the demand. Help us procure the supply.

Is this real Jewish rye?

What is authentic Jewish deli rye? White flour flecked with a few caraway seeds, or colored a darker brown, with rye flour?  A bit sour, made slowly from starter? Artisanal? Cheap in a hedonistic, guilt-free gluttony and unhealthy-just-today-late-night-at-the-diner kind of way?

Acme organic rye

Acme organic rye

Like it or not, we delis aren’t just expected to serve good (Jewish) comfort food. We are in the business of reproducing memory. And authentic doesn’t necessarily = good. Or locally sourced, quality ingredients.

How was it, we ask our customers. Just how it’s supposed to be.

Many customers come to Saul’s searching for Authenticity. That all-important barometer for deli enthusiasts is based on some other meal in another time in a far off place. Usually New York. Usually many years in the past.

And usually at a deli that enjoyed its heyday in the 1950′s and hasn’t really changed since. Or doesn’t exist anymore. Because that business model doesn’t work today. It’s a socioeconomic approach to food that isn’t sustainable.

Famous towering pastrami sandwiches hit their peak at the same time in history as the highly mechanized “efficient” industrial food system was most celebrated. That’s the main point of reference for the deli.

Given all that, dominant notions of authentic, good deli expressly does not include local sourcing, local production, relationships with small family farmers. Or ingredients that require hands and time instead of machines. In fact, the tastes and textures of industrial deli runs completely counter to these things.

Take rye bread.

Turn of the century rye bread was made with rye flour. It gives rye bread a brown color. Our bread is an 18 hour process at Acme Bakery down the street. It organic, and the bakers know the farmers who produce and mill their flour. Since it is handmade, sometimes it has air holes in it.

Most rye in New York today isn’t made with rye flour. It’s made with white flour. Production, industrial baking took out rye flour because it sticks in the machine. Industrial bread never has holes, it looks all the same.

Hundreds of delis have disappeared using cheap, industrial ingredients, trying to reproduce that 1950′s experience.

We believe deli food is only authentic it is good, and it’s only as good as it’s sourcing. That values local, organic, sustainable. Small business and farmers.

It’s our bittersweet philosophy. Memory is not Saul’s only master. That fixed, narrow point in Jewish culinary history does not define our deli.

Progressive Jewish Alliance Food Justice: It’s What’s for Dinner

The Progressive Jewish Alliance event Food Justice: It’s What’s for Dinner on September 9, 2009 was incisive and inspiring.

And we had a chance to talk about a taboo subject: meat.

Why was meat taboo? For many progressive, observant Jewish eaters, eating meat at all is ethically and environmentally questionable. Some eat meat, but only meat that they have slaughtered themselves, carefully and mindfully. The Eco-Kosher movement seeks to reclaim the meaning of Kosher, with concern for the environment. And ensuring that factory farms, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and industrial agriculture have no place in a “Kosher” diet.

The audience seemed to share the same basic understandings about our troubled, industrial food system. And how difficult it is to find consciously raised meat, when 99% of America’s meat is factory farmed.

So veganism was sort of a benchmark, or ideal, for many participants in this conversational context.

Saul’s has a very strong meat-loving Jewish demographic, however. Karen brought up this reality. She talked about how Saul’s works hard to raise awareness about meat production. How we serve smaller sandwiches – 6 ounces instead of 8 or more ounces as is standard in New York. With humanely and sustainably raised meat. How at the deli we’re encouraging changes in consumption, with more seasonal vegetables at the center of the plate, instead of just animal-based protein.

The panel featured

  • Adam Berman (moderator), founder of the Adamah Fellowship at Isabella Freedman
  • Zelig Golden, Attorney for the Center for Food Safety
  • Emily Freed, Farmer at Jacobs Farm
  • Willow Rosenthal, Founder of City Slicker Farms
  • Chaya Ryvka Diehl, Chef at Living Vision

Plus, Mollie Katzen, best selling author of the groundbreaking “Bible of vegetarian cooking” The Moosewood Cookbook spoke.

Proceeds went to City Slicker Farms: Growing Affordable Fresh Produce for West Oakland.

Alexander Sharone of the Progressive Jewish Alliance gave this inspiring speech on Jewishness
and the sustainable food movement:

So, in a world rife with injustice, where do we start to balance the scales of justice?  Tonight we will begin with Food… that which provides us with the vital energy and nourishment to live and is one of the most fundamental ways in which we interact with the natural world and with each other as individuals, families, communities, tribes, cultures and a global species.

I’d like to thank the David Brower Center for hosting us in this magnificent space and I hope that you enjoyed the delicious locally sourced organic vegan buffet dinner catered by the Berkeley Student Food Collective and their amazing crew. . . . Proceeds from tonight will be donated to this amazing local organization that increases food self-sufficiency in West Oakland by creating organic, sustainable, high-yield urban farms and back-yard gardens . . . .

A little taste of PJA . . . We serve as a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice in the progressive community.  We are inspired by our Jewish tradition and the voices of our prophets to seek the well being of the place in that which we dwell.  Justice, Justice we are called on to pursue.  Judaism, with its many laws and rituals surrounding food and agriculture, reminds us to pay close attention to the food we eat, the manner in which we prepare it, and to always take a moment to give thanks and offer gratitude.  We are called upon to be guardians of the earth, to prevent the suffering of all beings, to provide food to those in need, to avoid the wasting of our precious resources, and at times to allow ourselves and the land to rest.

We are just beginning to fully realize that food as presented in the modern industrial system has been debased to a point where the ingredients are unrecognizable and completely devoid of nutritional value, the farmers and workers are routinely exploited in unbearable conditions, and the agricultural, chemical laden practices threaten the health and well-being of all the species on this earth. This system has to a large extent disconnected us from the source of our food and redefined the very meaning and essence of what Food is. We find ourselves in a complex global economic system where food in under lock and key and third world countries are forced to grow cash crops for export rather than subsistence crops to support their own communities.  One of the great ironies of our time is the simultaneous abundance of food and great hunger that persists.

In a world that often seems incredibly chaotic and where many essential decisions about the way we live are made without our input or consent, food is a fertile starting ground where we can empower ourselves and our communities to recreate and re-envision our world in a way that supports, sustains, and affirms all life on this planet.   The choices we make about food can be very powerful and have far-reaching effects.  There is a growing movement and increasing awareness on this planet, at which we in the Bay Area are at the forefront, of reconnecting with the food we eat and taking into careful consideration the ways in which food reaches our plates and pallets. Our panelists and speakers tonight will explore various dimensions of food justice.  They will guide us along the path food takes and ways we can restore justice to our food such as: protecting the genetic make-up of the seed itself, growing food in a way that honors the bio-diversity of the land and honors the people who work the land with fair and equitable conditions, building local food systems and access to healthy fresh food, and bringing our consciousness to the source of our food.   I invite you to join us in this journey tonight, to open your hearts and minds, since you have already opened your mouths and are still digesting, and to share what inspires you about these issues with those around you.  There are many ways to get involved, with many great organizations here to connect to and many people around you to learn from and collaborate with as a community.  And all it takes to start is to plant a seed, as literally or metaphorically as you like. We hope that after tonight your will consider food with a new understanding.  Food Justice: That’s What’s for Dinner.

Eat Real Pickles

We loved selling locally grown, locally cured pickles out the back of a pick-up truck at the Eat Real Festival!

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Pickle plates for $1. Half-sour, pickled green tomatoes, sauerkraut, bread and butter style. Drawing together artisanal producers in the deli again. David Ehreth of Alexander Valley crafts our pickles.

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We took turns exploring and bringing back amazing food to share.

From pushcarts to delis to truck-carts. Old World, New Country, and the future of food. Full circles in the history of Jewish cuisine, here we come.

Fresh screening at Saul’s benefits People’s Grocery – working to bridge gaps

We were so honored to provide a space for People’s Grocery to raise awareness about the need to create self-reliant, socially just and sustainable food systems.

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For People's Grocery

Brahm Ahmadi, Executive Director of People’s Grocery, spoke on how income should not dictate people’s access to healthy food. On how health disparities and access to healthy food are directly related. On building a local food system to promote the health and economic well-being of the West Oakland community. On opportunity, empowerment, and the beauty of vibrant local economies by and for all. People’s Grocery was able to raise over 600 dollars from the audience.

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Brahm Ahmadi

What sparked the idea: Karen saw Brahm on a panel speaking a sold-out crowd at the Roxie in the Mission. We were struck by his ability to expand the thinking of an already savvy and converted audience. It is important to widen the social justice concerns of the food revolution.

In co-hosting a film screening with People’s Grocery, Saul’s had an opportunity to help bring North Berkeley’s attention to food justice.
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Full house for People's Grocery

We can celebrate the good food choices that we can make in this glorious food corner of the world. We can also contribute space here to help cultivate a more comprehensive vision of progressive food politics.

Housemade soda

Some of our housemade sodas: celery, blueberry, cream, strawberry, ginger

Back-to-local, small-batch processing with our scratch-made sodas syrups. Cream and Celery is scratch-made in house, and Black Cherry is made only when black cherries are in season.

One of the biggest changes in Jewish Deli history has been consolidation of the soda industry, from hundreds of small-batch, regional and local soda alchemists in the New York area alone, to just a few brands recalling that era and those flavors, in name only. Dr. Brown’s, for example, is owned by Pepsi and made with high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients.

Herbal extracts mixed with mineral water were popularized at the turn of the century, conceived as health-inducing concoctions.

While people seek these flavors for their enduring timelessness, and to revisit memories, the experience of them being made by small local purveyors has been lost. We want to put the authenticity back into these classics by making them ourselves from scratch.

Our classic, heritage flavors include celery, cream, cardamom, ginger ale. Our seasonal flavors have included strawberry, cherry, blood orange, mandarin, and meyer lemon.

We’ve eliminated demand for nearly 20,000 bottled beverages a year, displacing out-of-season, corn-syrup sodas with seasonal, natural flavors, and 360,000 plastic straws a year by offering cardboard straws.

Here’s to the movement towards seasonal connectedness, more local processing, lower carbon emissions, fewer cans and bottles wasted, fewer commodity crops (high-fructose corn syrup), and fewer heavy fossil-fueled bottled beverages transported across the country from centralized facilities owned by conglomerates . . . [glasses 'clink'].

Waste Not, Want Not: A Pickle Story

Our summertime and autumn pickles are now locally grown, locally cured cukes, pesticide-free, salt-brined, not pasteurized. Handmade in small batches by David Ehreth of Alexander Valley Gourmet. Saul’s pickle money now stays in the local economy.

Alexander Valley pickles

The Story

Peter and Karen, owners of Saul’s, loved the tradition of serving pickles straightaway. It represented a shared appreciation of pickles and deli so deep, you didn’t even have to ask. Why have to ask? Of course you want pickles.

But Peter was weary of feeding his worms and chickens pickles. You see, Peter takes Saul’s food scraps to his backyard five blocks away. The hens providing some of Saul’s eggs enjoy the leftovers, and the worms the chickens enjoy grow fat turning Saul’s food scraps into compost.

We digress.

The wasted pickles were once cukes grown south of the border, hauled to Los Angeles, trucked up the freeway to Oakland, and picked up by Saul’s twice a week in a fossil-fuel vehicle.

Guilt and tradition seemed at odds.

Meanwhile, Peter and Karen loved the local pickle scene. Cukes grown in Brentwood and Sonoma without pesticides. No artificial preservatives or colors. Not heated or pasteurized. Fermented, with an all-salt brine. Crafted in small batches, old-world style. Sustainable style.

Could Peter and Karen divert the tens of thousands of dollars they were spending on pickles into:

the local economy
supporting small farmers who protect our soil, water and air by not using pesticides
enhancing food security
an existing delivery to Saul’s by a small, local distribution company committed to sustainability?

Yes. At least in summer and autumn, when California grows cucumbers.

And the price more than doubled in cost. 

Besides, not everyone is interested in, much less obsessed with pickles. Not everyone savors every bite of pickles as they should.

Discuss: Which won, guilt or tradition?

We think there are many winners in this tale: guilt, tradition, pickles, the future of Deli, authenticity, fermentation and probiotic health, local farmland, flavor . . . tell us what you think. Feel free to kvetch about our current food system. We sure do.

Hummus, zhoug, heirloom tomatoes from Terra Bella Family Farm and side of locally grown and cured pickles from Alexander Valley

Grass-Fed Adventures of a 100 + Seat Diner

Two weeks ago, we were finally able to switch our brisket, steak, hamburger and cabbage roll sourcing to 100% grass-fed beef. From Marin Sun Farms. Extremely local.

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Grass-fed brisket, butterball potatoes and riverdog chard

It’s so much more flavorful, the texture more real. It’s amazing. Higher in omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene and CLA, another “good” fat, and Vitamin E. It’s leaner, so our kitchen is adjusting to new cooking methods. Our diners are advised that well-done might be too, well, done.

American had never tasted corn-fed beef until WWII. But now, most beef eaten the US is corn-fed, with a very different flavor profile and texture. Since grass-fed beef predates most of us, taste memories are made of corn-fed flavor. So it’s an adventure in revisiting and redefining authenticity, too.

What was the hold-up in going grass-fed? As a 100 seat diner, we source beef at a very high volume. Marin Sun Farms is now able to supply us at that volume.

And why not 100% grass-fed pastrami and corned beef . . . yet?

Pastrami and corned beef come from a small cut of muscle – the navel end of the brisket. Each cow yields just two briskets. And as a cut of meat with high fat content, corn-fed brisket has only a 40% yield of usable meat. So far, we can’t source that many grass-fed cows locally.

But we’re working on it. For the future of Deli.

In our Re-plating Pastrami post, we discuss the huge impact of beef on the environment – well over and above poultry, pork, and fish.

Indeed, grass-fed and local beef still has a much higher impact than other sources of animal protein, but is a significant improvement for environment and human health over grain-fed and grain-finished.

Grass-fed patty melt on grilled rye

Grass-fed cattle ranching is far more of a closed-loop ecosystem. Grazing helps sequester carbon. From the Rodale Institute via Treehugger:

. . . well-managed cattle can greatly enhance the growth and propagation of grasses. These grasses can sequester huge amounts of carbon annually, especially when grazing practices include high density, short-term exposure efforts with the cattle eating the grasses down and moving on to let the grasses grow back. On just one acre of biologically healthy grassland soil, there can be between 0.5 – 1.5 tons of carbon deposited in the soil annually.

Grass-fed cattle and pastured chickens live symbiotically. Chickens can follow up on cow patties, which are full of worms, pecking and breaking patties apart and spreading them, fertilizing the grass. Check out this entertaining video of Joel Salatin, celebrity sustainable farmer, on his process.

Michael Pollan – a regular customer to whom we owe many thanks for inspiration in our persistence and ongoing quest for grass-fed sourcing – described the beauty of grass-fed cattle ranching at Salatin’s Polyface Farms for Gourmet Magazine.

And we haven’t even gotten into the petroleum inputs demanded by grain-fed cattle ranching. The synthetic nitrogen fertilizing corn and soy monocultures used to produce feed, polluting our water supply and killing marine life. The food miles required to transport grain to centralized, massive feedlots. The energy required to drill and transport these oil-based inputs.

The costs of feeding cows, antibiotics, other cows, M & M byproducts . . .

Yes, we much prefer the taste of grass-fed, local beef.

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Marin Sun Farms Delivery

Survival guide for the Jewish Deli: Re-Plating Pastrami

In 1936, there were an estimated 5,000 delis in New York City. Today, only a few still exist.

The Jewish deli will not survive on nostalgia alone.

To stay relevant, Jewish deli cuisine cannot be frozen in time. Our culinary direction/choices must:

  • Value local commerce and local economies
  • Revive local food security
  • Provide for contemporary tastes: greater appetite for fresh vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits
  • Acknowledge modern science: the relationship of food to health, and
  • Recognize food production’s impact on the environment
  • Humanely treat the animals we eat: know slaughter methods, quality of life.

These are issues to which we are accountable, even when upholding cherished traditions and cherished dishes. Our menus cannot continue be vast and unchanging year-round. Menus must respect season, time, and place.

Of course, tradition and social/environmental responsibility are not always at odds. Sourcing from local, small-scale food producers is one path to reclaiming our cultural roots, as we discussed in our post on authentic Jewish food.

But stewarding Jewish cuisine responsibly is more complicated than that. Beyond organic? Beyond local.

Beyond “the pastrami sandwich was THIS big!”

Meat, especially beef, contributes greatly to global warming.18% of global greenhouse gases come from livestock production. As ruminants, cows produce methane, 20 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon. Livestock also plays a large role in water depletion and pollution, energy use, land degradation, oil demand/petroleum-based fertilizer use and biodiversity destruction. Americans eat about eight ounces of meat a day, about twice the global average, and growing global demand is expected to accelerate the damage. Click here for one of Mark Bittman’s hilarious and compelling rants against the amount of meat we consume.

What about grass-finished beef? Shockingly, grass-finished beef has the potential to generate as much as 50% more GHG emissions than grain-fed beef. Albert Straus of the Straus Family Creamery points out in this op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle that raising 100% pastured dairy cows isn’t always possible or sustainable even for small, organic family farms, depending on location and climate.

(Of course, there are still many environmental and health benefits to choosing grass-fed over grain-fed beef, and we are aiming for local and grass-fed as much as possible at Saul’s.)

And eating vegetarian has a lower carbon footprint than eating local meat – no matter how many food miles those veggies, soy, legumes and grains have traveled. Full study here.

What’s more: Pastrami and corned beef come from a small cut of muscle – the navel end of the brisket. This cut of beef is __ pounds on average, and each cow yields just two briskets. At this rate, a single deli potentially requires 10, 20, 30 cows a day.

Oy, Gevalt.

What is Saul’s doing? Redefining “Jewish Cuisine”

Pastrami not the centerpiece of Saul’s or Jewish cuisine: More chicken, turkey, seafood, legume and grain-based dishes. Poultry are not ruminants, and do not have as severe an impact on climate as cows. Poultry production is also more efficient, because of reproductive cycles and grain conversion to meat. Substituting all beef production for chicken would cut meat’s projected carbon footprint by 70 percent, according to a recent study. Responsibly farmed seafood is a more efficient source of protein than all meat, both in terms of reproduction and grain conversion.

Reasserting Jewish cuisine’s rich vegetarian history: 1930’s Poland gave rise to more vegetarian dishes. Sephardic influence emphasizes vegetables, legumes, grains and seafood.

Offering smaller sandwiches: Not the traditional ten or eight ounces of meat on a sandwich – instead, six or four. Though we are purchasing less pastrami and requiring fewer cows, more sandwiches are being served. More Saul’s customers are enjoying and sharing the pastrami experience. Images of towering pastrami sandwiches may dominate the popular deli imagination. Many might argue that mountains of pastrami define authentic deli. But Saul’s is re-plating pastrami. We are sheparding a new presentation for pastrami. We are reducing authenticity’s carbon footprint.

Offering grass-fed beef where possible: we serve Marin Sun Farms grass-fed brisket and ground beef – hamburgers and cabbage rolls. We serve Niman Ranch pastrami and lamb, which is also significantly more sustainable than factory farmed.

Surviving: We want to be a cultural home for years to come. We want to stay viable as a business and a member of the local and global community. To continue serving Jewish cuisine, we seek culinary inspiration from many sources: our shared roots, our history; classic dishes; diasporic influences; the tastes and demands of our customers; social and environmental responsibility; public health . . . . . and the revelations of an evolving food consciousness. We take what is relevant from the past to the future.

To survive through the growing food revolution, Jewish diner cuisine cannot continue to be a purely nostalgic cuisine.

The Authentic Jewish Deli: Reconnecting Jewish cuisine to its roots

What is an authentic Jewish deli? At Saul’s, we believe it is much more than a mountain of pastrami. Saul’s is engaging in a larger story than one generation’s mid-20th century New York experience, which is only one stage in the evolution of our cuisine.

Saul’s connects to our Jewish roots all along the timeline of that evolution. The recipes of Old-world kitchens grew out of pre-industrialized food supply systems, local economic partnerships, community self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and hearty pragmatism. Our immigrant cuisine of the late 1800’s, which gave birth to the American Jewish deli, owed its robustness to these cultural mores. While we all might have different opinions of exactly how this or that classic Jewish dish should taste or look, the core of authentic Jewish cuisine can be traced to these roots.

In an effort to reconnect to these mores, Saul’s partners with local organic producers wherever possible, avoids industrial pre-processing, and embraces sustainability as the ultimate pragmatism. This is how Saul’s holds true to the hearty, authentic culinary traditions of Jewish culture.

This is our Jewish restaurant and deli. This is Saul’s.

Because Jewish culinary history is so rich, because there is so much work to be done to return authenticity to our food system and cuisine, Saul’s mission is quite ambitious.

We are a resource for shared culinary traditions, taste memories, and progressively, ethically
sourced and influenced dishes. We strive to re-establish the food systems of our roots,
and we are a place where diverse and intimate community congregates to eat a familiar and vital cuisine.

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For the record, the nostalgic “New York style delis” of more recent memory came to represent radical changes in Jewish food values mirroring changes in American food production generally.

To name a few:
Factory-produced rye bread replacing old-world style rye from artisanal local bakeries each with their own ingredient sources and special variations in texture and flavor.

Intensive, confined feeding operations and routine use of antibiotics and hormones for smoked and cured meats.

The consolidation of the soda industry, from hundreds of small-batch, regional and local soda alchemists in the New York area alone, to just one brand recalling that era and those flavors.
Dr. Brown’s– which originated as a small producer — is now sweetened with high-fructose
corn syrup and owned by Canada Dry, which is owned by Dr Pepper/Seven Up, a unit of Dr
Pepper Snapple Group.

All this centralization brought more food miles, more fossil fuel inputs, and diminished the integrity of the neighborhood deli experience. Close relationships between local purveyors, restaurants, and customers were lost, existing more in memory than in the present.
No wonder delis conjure so much unapologetic nostalgia, so much searching to re-live memory and re-assert shared experience.

Inaugural Bash at Saul’s

We knew hosting this party would be exciting, but were overwhelmed by what an emotional/amazing experience it became as the day unfolded.Watching the inauguration at Saul's

We were packed, standing room only, guests sharing tables with new friends and not-so new friends, to watch President Obama’s inauguration together. We wove through the dense, ecstatic crowd to bring food to tables, an absolute blast.

We broadcast the celebration and analysis all day long. Cheeseboard Collective partied across the street – DJ and dancing. Our next door neighbor, Masse’s Pastries, was in D.C.

How incredible to spend this day with so many friends/customers and colleagues. Words can’t express how much it brought the community – and Americans across the nation – together.

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Latkes, Latkes, Latkes

latkes_togoBites of contrast – crispy and soft, sweet and savory.

Our annual latke tent this past Hanukkah celebrated the tradition of neverending servings of latkes.

Latkes are delicious after Hanukkah, too. Our latkes won a place on Diablo Magazine’s The East Bay’s 101 Most Delicious Things to Eat

We fry them in California-grown rice bran oil, as an alternative to corn oil.

On the grill at the latke tent

Family hands