When I think of knishes, like most people, I think of New York Jewish deli-style discs of creamy potato or savory meat, enveloped by a flaky crust. Potato knishes are my favorite, because they act as a vehicle for as much good, grainy mustard as I see fit.
Chicago has always been teeming with Jewish and kosher-style delicatessens and restaurants–you”ll probably recognize some of these if you live there or grew up there. Some of the best noshings are had at old-school delis, or new delis and diners that are nostalgic for the past. There’s also a kosher diner, and a unique kosher butcher that makes the best sausages and hot dogs in town. These places serve up not only classic deli fair, but also several sandwiches, hot dogs, and burgers completely unique to Chicago.
I grew up going to Rein’s Deli outside of Hartford, Connecticut — almost exactly halfway between my home in Massachusetts and my grandmother’s house in New York. Stopping at Rein’s on a road trip was sometimes a treat but often a necessity for my parents (my sister, Jenny, and I were usually fighting loudly in the back seat). I remember liking the barrel of pickles, the endless menu, and the enormous, messy sandwiches at Rein’s. My dad always got the tongue sandwich with Swiss and I always got a kosher frank (no kraut). As I got older and my tastes evolved, I occasionally branched out to egg salad or a Reuben (or a Rachael, if I was feeling especially risqué).
Rye bread is on the rise, making headlines and appearing at farmers markets, upscale restaurants, and Scandinavian-inspired bakeries.
After spotlighting some of the Best Delis in the Midwest, the natural thing to do was start daydreaming about delis of the South. We imagined menus full of Southern-Jewish mashups, quirky regulars with southern accents, and noshing outdoors in February. Whether or not this fantasy represents the reality of Jewish delis of the south, we think these hotspots will satisfy anyone’s craving for matzah ball soup and a New York-style bagel with schmear.
When it came down to it, writing The 5 Best Old School Delis in the US was too much fun to stop at just five. We managed to include two Midwestern institutions, Shapiro’s in Indianapolis, and Manny’s of Chicago, but we wanted to talk about so much more! So here’s our attempt at whittling down the best Midwestern Delis to just seven. What makes Midwestern Jewish delis so special is their commitment to kosher-style dining (though they often serve non-kosher fare) in the land of meat and cheese.
When we wrote about the 5 best old-school Jewish delis, we couldn’t ignore our new-school favorites for long. From coast to coast, new-ish Jew-ish restaurants (not typically kosher) are cropping up, putting innovative spins on the classics. So here’s a list of our favorite new Jewish delis, many of which were opened by young, award-winning chefs who have built their careers by working with old-world recipes. Everything is made from scratch in these farm-sourced, waste-not kitchens, where schmaltz and gribenes are used generously and make for popular appetizers.
Jewish delis have played a huge role in shaping American Jewish food, delivering pastrami sandwiches, knishes, matzah ball soup, and latkes to the table for at least 100 years. Delis are not just about the food — they serve up Yiddish culture (knish, kugel, kishke, kasha varnishkes), and history with every briny bite.
Image from Carnegie Deli Facebook.