Smoking Hot Kosher Delis Come to Toronto and Texas

Artisan Deli for the Kosher Community Arrives at Long Last

Proper Pastrami: Ben & Izzy’s in Toronto and Mastman’s in Austin, Texas hope to return kosher deli to its roots with housemade pastrami, tongue, cholent and pickles.
Courtesy of Ben and Izzy's Deli
Proper Pastrami: Ben & Izzy’s in Toronto and Mastman’s in Austin, Texas hope to return kosher deli to its roots with housemade pastrami, tongue, cholent and pickles.

By David Sax

Published May 15, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Just days before his kosher delicatessen, Ben & Izzy’s, opened for business in Toronto in April, Dino Venasio pulled a giant smoked brisket from his steamer and laid it on the cutting board. As vapors laden with garlic, coriander, cloves, fennel and half a dozen other spices blanketed the small space, Venasio began slicing methodically, slipping past the peppercorn crust to reveal the juicy, tender, crimson flesh.

Outside, a crowd began to gather, peering through the glass window, first with curiosity, and then, with the lunch hour upon them and a realization that the door was still locked, an increasing sense of frustration. They knocked on the glass, shook the door, mouthed queries and curses through the window and pointed at their watches, asking “When? When do you open?” as though demanding the very day and hour of messianic salvation itself.

A powerful revolution in Jewish delicatessens has occurred recently. After decades of watching delis decline, a number of visionary delicatessens, owned by secular Jews, opened around North America, with the idea to return deli to its roots.

They ditched the standard brands and sourced unique products, making as much as they could from scratch, from lox and bagels to schmaltz and pastrami. It began in the 1990s at Saul’s, in California, found a footing in Portland, Ore., at Kenny & Zuke’s, and continued quickly apace, from Caplansky’s in Toronto to Brooklyn’s Mile End, San Francisco’s Wise Sons, DGS Delicatessen, in Washington, D.C., and on and on….

These delis are the reason you see other restaurants selling homemade pastrami nowadays. Thanks to them, Jewish food is being embraced by a whole new generation and rediscovered by those who had previously left it for dead (or for the sake of cholesterol).

Up until now, however, not a single one of these new delicatessens has been kosher, and for observant Jews, the presence and popularity of these new delis, which I like to call “roots delis,” has generated every emotion, from jealousy to anger.

“My savta [grandmother] saw the family photos on our wall in an article in the L.A. Jewish Journal and called my father right away,” recalled Evan Bloom, co-owner of Wise Sons. “‘How could you let him hang those photos in the restaurant that’s not kosher? It’s disrespectful!’”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.