August is notoriously slow in the restaurant world. Delis are no different, but as Ziggy Gruber of Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen tells it, "We were never asked to participate in any of the restaurant weeks because we were never deemed as a fancy kind of cuisine." The solution? Join forces with deli men across the country to create his own. On short notice, with no website and little preparation, the inaugural New York Delicatessen Month kicked off nationwide on August 1.
With Gruber as a unifying figure, 10 delis from have signed on. Besides Kenny & Ziggy's, they include Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in Newark, New Jersey; Lenny’s Deli in Los Angeles, California, and Ben’s Best Kosher Deli in Rego Park, New York; Woodro Kosher Deli & Caterers in Hewlett, New York; 3G’s Gourmet Deli & Restaurant in Delray, Florida; Artie’s New York Delicatessen in New York; Manny’s in Chicago, Illinois; Pomperdale in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Factor’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles, California.
Gruber says the goal is to showcase Eastern European-influenced delicatessen specialties beyond the corned beef and pastrami that casual diners think are the alpha and omega of the cuisine. At Kenny & Ziggy's, that means a $37 three-course prix-fixe of the most traditional dishes on the menu.
Appetizers, or forschspice, include chopped liver (prepared tableside, of course), matzoh ball soup, stuffed kishkas, a choice of knishes, or latkes. The second course features Hungarian goulash, Roumanian steak, roasted chicken, or brisket with potato pancakes. For shrinking violets, there's glazed salmon over risotto, too, but we all know that's beside the point.
Those main courses come with a choice of old-school sides from kasha varnishkes to noodle kugel. New York-style cheesecakes are among the desserts, but for those seeking a more holistically European experience, there are assorted rugelach or seven layer cake, a New World adaptation of Hungarian Dobos torte.
Each of the participating restaurants will benefit a local charity. In the case of Kenny & Ziggy's, $4 of each meal will be donated to the Jerome Robinson Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Houston.
But if the goal of the nationwide event is to drive sales, help regional charities and educate guests about the roots of delicatessen food, why is it called New York Delicatessen Month? Gruber admits that hearing the words "New York" is enough of a veiled reference to Judaism for most folks to get it. But ultimately, it doesn't matter what the message is. As long as Gruber is doing what he can to keep the delicatessen tradition alive.