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!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • 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.