Last week I had a taste for some hot pastrami. It was cold and windy, and me and my wife found ourselves on New York City's Lower Eastside, historically a bastion of the Jewish deli. Some little voice told me that it may not come up to expectations. But a hankering for "old favorites" won out. Safe to say, things have changed. The delis aren't, themselves, specifically the famous Katz's, one of my favorites, had changed. Its free pickles on every table are no longer the same. Even its aging, cranky waiters that somehow inspired fondness (if not love) were noticeably gone.
I felt like a tourist visiting a shell of history in food, tradition lost. My old world neighborhood's goût terroir (a French wine term meaning "taste of the soil") has disappeared. And yet there are new places, like the latest wave of artisanal wood oven pizzerias sprouting everywhere in New York. Their new but old approach to making pizza, gives hope for those tired of the standard parked pies pies sold by the slice behind the counter.
I wolfed down a pastrami sandwich, feeling more full than satisfied. So afterward's, my wife and I meandered over to get some Bialys, another lost ethnic art. Again, it proved different from what I'd remembered. In fact, its basic toppings of onion and poppy seeds were missing! But, then my wife stopped at Doughnut Plant, who had rightfully earned a line of people snaking out the door. They make the most delicious old school – new school (organic) donuts that I love.
There is still promise and hope in these bright lights of the city. I guess it will take good chefs and bakers to re-visit, re-vamp the old into the new…still a good Deli is in need! Can this new generation of chefs, bakers be the guardians of lost traditions of taste, or am I just an old school nostalgic?