Just as you can’t keep a light, fluffy matzah ball from floating to the top of a bowl of chicken soup, you can’t keep deli man Ziggy Gruber down. His New York-style deli in Houston, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen, isn’t just merely surviving the pandemic— it’s thriving. You know what they say in Texas: Go big or go home. And now, Kenny & Ziggy’s is getting even bigger and better than ever.
At the end of the month, the deli is moving up the street to a new, 10,000-square-foot space. They have doubled their seating, added two outdoor covered patios, installed a soda fountain, a coffee bar and, perhaps best of all, a “spritzer bar,” where you can get, in Gruber’s words, “some real fun Yiddishe-style cocktails.”
In the 21 years since the deli opened, this will be the first time cocktails will be on the menu. “You have to evolve in this world,” Gruber said. “And the younger kids, they drink like fish.”
The money they will make from alcohol sales will help lower their expensive food costs a bit, too. “It gives us a fighting chance,” he said.
You can get all the classics at the spritzer bar, like a martini, a Manhattan or a cosmopolitan. But there are also the drinks unique to the deli. Gruber’s team worked with Alba Huerta, a well known Texas mixologist, to come up with a “Hammeredtashen Spritz” — made with tequila, prune, apricot, raspberry and champagne — as well as “Rushashanah,” with gin, apple and honey. There are egg creams, of course: You can get a classic version at the soda fountain, complete with Fox’s U-Bet Syrup, but you also can get a boozy one, with added chocolate whiskey. The bartender runs the egg creams through their draft system so you get an ultra creamy bevereage with a big white head — kind of like a Jewish Guinness, as Gruber called it.
If you think this is a 21st-century version of the New York deli, readjust your expectations — Kenny & Ziggy’s is pure old school. “There hasn’t been a delicatessen that looks like this and on this magnitude of size since the 1950s with the [Miami, Florida] Rascal House,” Gruber said.
Here, you walk into a space with soaring ceilings, tiled floors, wooden booths and bar stools upholstered in red leather. The walls are covered with framed covers of Playbills, a homage to Gruber’s family who, in his words, built a “deli dynasty,” starting with the Rialto Delicatessen, the first kosher deli to open on Broadway in Manhattan. You can almost imagine a subway line rumbling underground.
The waiters — most of whom have been with Kenny & Ziggy’s since they opened in 1999 — sprinkle Yiddish shtick alongside the food. And if you talk to Gruber and close your eyes, you feel like you are on New York’s Lower East Side, not deep in the heart of Texas.
Food pilgrims come from across the state and beyond to enjoy what has increasingly become the lost art of the New York deli: pastrami sandwiches on rye, chicken fricassee with meatballs and pupicks (gizzards), kasha varnishkes and knishes. Order the “Fiddler on the Roof of Your Mouth,” made of corned beef and pastrami, Russian dressing and coleslaw, or “Give me Liverty or Give Me Schmaltz,” a triple-decker stuffed with chopped liver, pastrami, tomato and Russian dressing.
If none of these strike your fancy, don’t worry — there are 400 items on this Texas-sized menu. And, naturally, the portions are large. “If anybody left here hungry,” said Gruber, “I wouldn’t sleep at night.”
Just who, exactly, is eating all this delicious deli?
“When I first opened the deli, 70% of the clientele was Jewish and 30% was non-Jewish,” said Gruber. “Now it’s reversed. We haven’t lost any Yiddishe people, but our volume has grown so much. Everyone just loves our food. What some Yiddishe kids take for granted, other people think is esoteric or interesting cuisine. They’re eating kishke! And stuffed cabbage! And Hungarian goulash!”
“The food,” he added, “is good food.”