Yesterday’s lunch: Deli

January 18, 2020 • 9:30 am

On the recommendation of my friends’ friend, we drove to Brookline yesterday for a deli lunch at Zaftigs Delicatessen. (“Zaftig” means “plump or buxom” in Yiddish, but might also be the owners’ family name.) A secondary goal was to procure bagels at Kupels Bakery, a Jewish bakery just two blocks away.  Kupels is said by my friend Tim to purvey the best bagels in Boston. Perhaps he was right, but the bagels were, as is true with nearly all American bagels, too soft and puffy. (Brookline, a separate city abutting Boston, is the local mecca for Jewish culture.)

Here are my friends Tim and Betsy in front of Zaftigs. They are my oldest friends:  I’ve known them since 1967, when Tim lived on the hall of my dorm at William and Mary, and 1969, when Betsy transferred to William and Mary from Salem College. They got married (in Williamsburg) in 1972, and I’ve seen them at least once a year since. (From 1973 to 1976 we lived together in a basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston.) More than five decades of friendship!

The inside of Zaftigs, which looks like a deli:

You can see the menu here. (The “loaded latkes” are an unfortunate nod to goyishe tastes.)

My lunch was the biggest sandwich they had: the “New Yorker,” with 12 oz. of corned beef, pastrami, cheese, and Russian dressing on cissel bread (the bread was too insubstantial to encase the meat), served with potato salad as well as dill and half-sour pickles and pickled green tomato on the side. I washed it down, of course, with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic, a celery-flavored soda that is the perfect accompaniment to corned beef or pastrami.

Betsy exhibits a can of Cel-Ray tonic. You’ll either love it or hate it:

Tim had chopped liver (chicken liver, of course) with a Dr. Brown’s root beer (wrong choice of beverage) and cole slaw on the side. All sandwiches were pronounced excellent, but I still think the New Yorker should have been served on sturdy rye rather than fragile cissel bread.

I sent a picture of my sandwich to Steve Pinker, who of course grew up in Montreal, home of great Jewish food (Steve’s a secular Jew). His response was mixed:

“Mmmm….. though any Montrealer will tell you that pastrami is far inferior to smoked meat, especially from Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen (forced by the government to change its sign to Charcuterie Hebraique).”

Charcuterie Hebraique! The worst manifestation of Canada’s language laws!

This historic house was next door to the restaurant:

More on the Devotion House from Wikipedia:

The Edward Devotion House is a historic house at 347 Harvard Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. Built about 1745, it is one of the town’s few surviving 18th-century structures, and is of those the best preserved. The house is owned by the town and administered by the Brookline Historical Society as a historic house museum. The home also serves as the headquarters of the Brookline Historical Society. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

It’s a lovely old structure:

On to Kupel’s for bagels. They are popular, but I found the bagels okay but not spectacular, especially compared to the dense, chewy, wood-fire-cooked bagels at the Fairmount in Montreal (scroll down in my post).

I didn’t photograph those tori of air and flour, but I did see that the bakery had Hamantaschen on sale, a hard-to-find triangular Jewish pastry (mimicking a tricornered cap) usually sold only around the holiday of Purim (March 9-10 this year). They come in several flavors, but the classic is prune. I purchased prune and apricot, which were excellent:

The array:

An apricot Hamantasch.  They’re not soft, but crunchy like cookies.

Tonight: Dinner at Olé, one of my favorite restaurants in Cambridge (it’s upscale Mexican).

25 thoughts on “Yesterday’s lunch: Deli

    1. Yes, it all looks good to me also. I sometimes measure the goodness of a deli sandwich in part by the number of paper napkins i go through in eating it. Having to choose from Such an embarrassment of deli riches is really a first world problem. No kvetching on the yacht please.

  1. I’m salivating.

    There’s a Montreal smoked meat deli here in Berkeley, Augies. It was started by Alex Gopnik Lewinski of the illustrious Gopnik family – his mother is the meta meta psychologist-scholar Alison Gopnik and his uncle is Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker.

    I have yet to make it over to Augies and I’ve never had smoked meat but it must be something very special because Gopnik-Lewinski used to smuggle it back to Berkeley from family visits to Montreal but after this post, I think I’ll head over there for a BIG smoked meat sandwich.

    When I visit Augies, for a smoked meat sandwich, I hope that I’ll also be given the proper vocabulary and syntax with which to describe the smoked meat, and it must be Quebecois, because, horrors! until I’m presented with substantive proof to the contrary (as opposed to out-of-hand dismissals), I’ll hew to the weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I cannot formulate my thoughts about it until 1) I’ve tried it, and 2) I’m given the language to enable me to conceptualize it and describe it. Barring that, all I’ll be able to say is Mmmmmm!

    1. But I ain’t no lingamist and I gots linguistic anxiety which splains my inability to conceptualize without having the language with which to do so.

      1. I tend to agree about language being fundamental to thinking. Some people say thinking is independent of language. What would Pinker do?

        1. What would Steven Pinker do? He rejects the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, I’m sure both weak and strong,which is why I brought it up here, han?

          1. Pinker agrees with Chomsky about language being innate. But, I’d guess pure thought doesn’t get very sophisticated until language is developed. I’m not a linguist either.

      2. There a related idea that thoughts themselves are represented in the brain as sentences in some internal language — the language of thought hypothesis (LOTH) usually attributed to Jerry Fodor. I believe Pinker doesn’t agree with this either. It’s interesting to contemplate but it doesn’t make sense to me.

        1. Thanks. I’ll look into LOTH and see what Pinker has to say about that. I recently heard an interview with the psychoanalyst, Justin Frank, who wrote “Trump on the Couch” speaking about Trump (he’s one of the shrinks who thinks T. is dangerous — I agree with that!), and he made statements about Trump’s language and grasp of language re thought and expression that I thought were spot on, and he wasn’t simply speaking as a psychoanalyst. He bolstered his assertions with neuroscience. It’s the neuroscience that really interests me. Wonder what Pinker and John McWhorter have to say about that?

          Also, Bandy Lee, MD, who’s leading the charge of psychiatrists against Trump, wrote a piece saying that Dershowitz had succumbed to a shared delusion with Trump. In high dudgeon, he complained to Yale, her school. She said the same thing about Giuliani, as well as Trump’s base. I love it. Sometimes she seems over the top, even to me, but just when I’m ready to dismiss what she says, it proves out.

          1. Based on the abstract here, perhaps I am wrong about Pinker and mentalese. He evidently makes the case for natural language being inadequate as a representation for thought — that’s fairly obvious — but it sounds like Pinker does support the LOTH concept.

            “I don’t think so: Pinker on the mentalese monopoly”

            LOTH is correct in a trivial way as no matter what kind of representation the brain really uses, it could be expressed as a language. For LOTH to be interesting, it would have to be true in a much stronger way. I doubt it very much.

  2. I’m not Jewish, but am semi-horrified by the combined pastrami+corned beef sandwich. One or the other, folks, not both together. (I loath “marbled rye” – that ain’t rye!) My combo: corned beef with coleslaw & Russian dressing on dark rye. I’ll have to google cissel bread.
    On Language and Thought: I read in Psychology Today some decades ago that consciousness or thinking did not begin until the invention of language. If I remember correctly (decades!), until people agreed on the names of things and could communicate to others, concepts and ideas could not be formed. Individuals could not think until they had a language to express their thoughts to themselves.

  3. I’ve found opinions on “best bagel” to parallel those on pizza. Everybody is firm in their beliefs but none agree. I’m probalby with you on bagels. They need to be firm and chewy. I’m a big fan of bialys but, even if the place has them, I’m often disappointed in their quality. I had some good ones in NYC, of course.

    I often have the same problem as you describe with these hefty sandwiches put on rye that is not up to the task of holding the insides. I complained about it in a Yelp review last week. The bread is so important in these kinds of sandwiches. Actually, it’s important in all sandwiches but especially this kind.

  4. In the background of the photo of your sandwich there is another sandwich that looks to be pastrami or corned beef on dark rye. I wonder why that sandwich has the dark rye and yours is cissel? Next time you can ask for a more substantial bread I suppose. It all looks delicious though. The only “real” Jewish deli I’ve ever eaten at is NYC’s Carnegie deli, now sadly closed. Best (and biggest) damn Reuben I’ve ever had!

      1. I’d never heard of cissel either. I looked it up and cissel means caraway in Yiddish, so it’s a light rye, but simply not thick enough for the amount of meat you had.

  5. As a “foodie” I always enjoy your food posts, Jerry. Please keep them coming.

    That said, I have such an aversion to liver I’d literally have a hard time eating at the same table as someone having that liver sandwich!

  6. Iggy’s has an “outlet” in Cambridge, and their bagels should be more to your liking. (They ain’t soft and puffy!)

  7. If the place has fountain drinks, with chopped liver I’d take an egg cream over a root beer any day of the week and twice on Shabbos.

  8. My dear departed mother-in-law made the best prune Hamantaschen EVER! She was from Ukraine and emigrated to the US with her husband and oldest daughter after WWII.

  9. Back when I ate more beef, Montreal smoked meat was a treat I used to enjoy, particularly the very lean cuts. (Cheaper ones are fattier and that never sits right with me.) That said, although I grew up in Montreal (actually not far from where Pinker is from, as it happens), I never had Schwartz’s.

    I might add: only Quebec has the fascist language laws you (rightly) decry, though.

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