Jewish deli in San Francisco is a pretty non-existent cuisine; there’s Saul’s in the East Bay holding it down on traditional front, Miller’s on Polk and Shorty Goldstein’s for quick and dirty sandwiches, and Wise Sons taking up the torch in more inventive ways like with pastrami cheese fries.
While delicious, the Jewish food scene in SF is nothing like in New York, where delis proliferate, held down by Katz’s Delicatessen, which has been around for 128 years and counting. Known for its pastrami sandwiches, Katz’s is the top dog in Jewish deli, and its pastrami is considered the standard bearer in the industry.
Owner Jake Dell is in town this weekend for some pastrami partying, teaming up with chef Danny Bowien for a sold out late night fete at Mission Chinese. He also took some time this afternoon to chat in front of an audience with Wise Sons’ Evan Bloom about the evolution of the Jewish deli. Here are the top takeaways.
For Katz’s, consistency is key. Dell says that he’s responsible for making sure that the pastrami is the same today as it was the first time a customer tasted it, whether that is 60 years ago or last week.
Both restaurateurs agreed that authenticity isn’t always the main agenda. While Dell’s business is focused on keeping tradition alive, Bloom is introducing his own style of deli food to a younger audience, based on what he calls “the pillars of Jewish food” (nostalgia and taste).
Both guys feel the pressure of keeping the dying cuisine alive; while Dell is tasked with the paradox of keeping an institution familiar for regulars, yet relevant to newcomers, Bloom is trying to represent Jewish cuisine in this city — albeit in a more modern style — in a way that all Jews can get behind.
Wise Sons hopes to eventually be the Katz’s of San Francisco, becoming the city’s iconic go-to for Jewish food. (It’s only got 125 more years to go.)
- While some Jewish food purists don’t understand (or agree with) what Wise Sons is doing, Dell finds it incredibly important, pointing to the need for Jewish food to exist in a craveable way to the next generation, no matter the form.