Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Loss of the Old World















Second Avenue Deli is now closed. A glance at any given Wednesday's 'Dining In, Dining Out' section of the New York Times will provide you with a listing of restaurants' comings and goings. That's New York for you. Sometimes it's just that a restaurant doesn't generate enough traffic to pay the overhead. More likely, a restaurant's lease expires and a landlord realizes that they could be making a lot more money thus offering a new lease at thousands of dollars more a month. Second Avenue Deli was the victim of the latter. An increase of $7000 a month while still owing tons in backrent wouldn't be good for any restaurant. But it's sad that an Institution - and that's what the Second Avenue Deli was - is now closed. Yes, they say that they are looking for new space but it's not the same. Especially if it doesn't stay on Second Avenue.

I first went to Second Avenue about a year and a half ago. I had heard about the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sandwiches years before but heard that it was a "fake Kosher" deli to the likes of Carnegie or Katz's. But when Shai - my orthodox buddy - told me that he knew the family and that everything was truly Kosher, I decided to make a trip downtown to nosh on some tasty Kosher cuisine.

Those who know me know that I'm not such a big fan of "Jewish Cuisine." Yet at that time I was meat deprived, and Dougie's and all the other Glatt Kosher Upper Westside Eateries were just so unattractive. But rather than Menupaging the deli, I assumed that it would be on Second Avenue in the Lower East Side. Why? Because on Essex is where the Pickle Guy's is, on Hester is where Gertel's sets up shop. So Second Ave down there would be the perfect place for a deli, right? After a bit of a hike Jon and I realized that it was instead much closer to St. Mark's Place than anything, and cold and our legs were tired. And then the smell of the pastrami hit me. The seasoning wrapping the cured meat. The warmth reminiscent of my Bubby's apartment. We were seated at a booth with some sour pickles and cole slaw (standard Jewish Deli cuisine) and by the time the waiter came we knew what to order. A chicken soup, a meat knish, two overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and Dr. Brown's Diet Black Cherry soda. Kosher meat is generally tougher than regular meat (or so I've heard) because it has to be soaked and salted. But this pastrami was so tender, so soft, held together in the sandwich yet fell apart in my mouth. We each left over half of our sandwiches because they were THAT big and then used the remainder of the meat the following day for "pastramlettes." A year later we returned, same waiter, same food, same satisfaction. I remarked that it was one of the few reminders of Old World New York (in the sense of Eastern European Jewish cuisine, not the German and Irish influences). And now it's gone.

A week ago Jon and I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and walked from Union Square to the East Village to the West Village. While on a quest to find Veneiro's bakery we passed the remains of what once was Second Avenue Deli. It was tragic. To mourn for this institution, it is only appropriate to provide a recipe for a dish that cures everything: that's right, Matzoh Ball Soup... it's Jewish Penicillin, but not, since I'm allergic to Penicillin and not to this soup.

Matzoh Ball Soup

for the soup:
- 8 chicken legs or a chicken cut into 8ths
- an onion, peeled
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 stalks of celery
- a sweet potato (my mother swears by this but it's fine without)
- a small bunch of parsley
- a potato
- salt and pepper to taste
**some stores carry a "soup vegetable" package that has a couple of carrots, celery stalks, potato, etc. this is totally fine to use**

for the Matzoh balls:
- Matzoh Ball Mix (Manishewitz, Rokeach, etc... it's basically seasoned Matzoh Meal so get that if you can't get the mix)
- eggs, water and oil according to the package directions

1. In a stock pot, fill water about halfway and put in the chicken. Heat water to a boil. Once the water is boiling turn the heat down to medium-low and add the vegetables. Cook for 2 hours.
2. At the two hour mark begin with the Matzoh Ball mixture. Refrigerate it fifteen minutes while bringing a saucepan of water to boil (don't cook matzoh balls in the Soup because they'll absorb the soup like a sponge and you won't have much liquid left). Once the water is boiling wet your hands and shape the Matzoh meal mixture into balls and place them into the water. After about 15 minutes they'll rise to the top of the pan. Cook according to package instructions (it's just as good as making them from scratch - I promise). When the Matzoh balls are cooked remove them from heat.
3. Season the soup mixture to taste and cook another hour. Then drop in the Matzoh balls and serve.

You can make this to cook all day and your house will have a pleasant aroma. My mother sometimes would have it simmering for six hours. Three's been fine for me though.

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