Here, on the grim streets of Manhattan, finding a Jewish deli is about as hard as coming across a Subway train that runs on time or an affordable ticket for a Broadway show. Carnegie Deli’s shuttered. Artie’s dearly departed. We had four thousand delis in the city eighty years ago, and now we’re lucky if the number’s 20.
Not so in Los Angeles, where the weather’s lovely, the people tanned, and the pastrami piled high. From Canter’s to Nate ‘n Al to Langer’s, LA’s got an embarrassment of smoked meats riches. And it’s about to get some more.
Freedman’s, a stylish and promising new deli, will open soon in a drab strip mall in Silver Lake. It’s the brain child of siblings Jonah and Amanda Freedman, who grew up in Toronto eating the city’s fluffy little bagels and dreamt of one day teaching the rest of the world that there was more to bageldom than New York versus Montreal.
“Committing to a bagel style is important to us,” Jonah Freedman told Food & Wine magazine this week. “We’re the black sheep of the deli community.”
To start preaching the gospel, and to give their sunny new hometown another shot of Jewish food greatness, the Freedmans enlisted the help of Liz Johnson, who helped make New York City’s MIMI, a trendy brasserie, a hit. They put oak on the floors and mutton on the menu, but not everything in Freedman’s is going to be devoutly traditional. The brisket, for example, will come with roasted bone marrow and fried potatoes, and if you order the pickles, prepare for a salad of half-sours with avocados, nasturtiums, and furikake.
“Tradition plays a big role in the way I cook; it’s usually the starting point of a great idea. But I wasn’t raised Jewish, so I don’t feel bound to any rituals,” Johnson told Food & Wine. “The lack of sentimental commitment gave me the freedom to keep an open mind and reassess or reinterpret dishes where I thought they needed it.”
Amen to that, and may we huddled masses in New York soon taste such wonders as well.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.