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?
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.