If the thought of a pastrami on rye gets your mouth watering, “Deli Man” is for you.
An interesting look back at the history of the delicatessen, this documentary is laden with personality and signature dishes. Filmmakers peek inside modern delis around the United States and in Toronto, and talk to owners intent on preserving an Eastern European-Jewish culture.
Today, only 150 delis remain in North America. Most owners carry on family traditions. David “Ziggy” Gruber, a third generation owner, is highlighted here, shown running one of the best delis in America, in Houston, Texas.
Ziggy, who was 8 going on 80 when his grandfather took him under his wing, is a colorful character with a prestigious culinary degree and a desire to perpetuate his heritage in food. He schmoozes with customers, talking Yiddish and serving up nostalgia — noodle kugel, chicken soup with matzoh balls,
We glimpse inside the most famous delis in the United States, including Carnegie, Stages and Katz’s in New York, and Nate ‘N’ Al’s in Los Angeles, and discover running these restaurants is a labor of love, hard work for families intent on dishing out memories.
Most of the conversations are restaurateurs being realistic about current demands, but there are a few customers that enliven the film with their enthusiasm about corned beef, pumpernickel, pickles and potato salad.
The documentary leaves you hungry for more and wistful for a piece of the past that might disappear if we’re not vigilant.