Monday, March 30, 2015

Deli Man

The best deli in town may be a movie. Deli Man is as wistful as it is exuberant since it deals with both a vanishing cuisine and institution that once comprised a world. The  movie comes complete with a glossery of terms “stetl,” “meshugah,” “mitzvah,” and “challah,” because deli is and was a form of communication. Words like “gribenes," “cholent" and “lungen" are part of the vocabulary. “schmaltz" or chicken fat is referred to as functioning as a mixture of WD-40 and K-Y jelly in Jewish life. Famous communicators like Jerry Stiller, Fyvush Finkle, and Larry King all have cameos, in which they describe the broader appetites that deli satisfied. They’re Deli Man’s side dishes. Henny Youngman is remembered as singing for his supper to the extent that his joking paid his way.  Reuben’s, Lindy’s and the Stage are all nostalgically recalled along with Max Asnas, the Corned Beef Confucius, and Abe Lebewohl, known as "the Mayor of Second Avenue," who according to Steve Cohen the current manager of the Second Avenue Deli, “wanted to save the world a sandwich at a time” and whose mysterious murder in l996 has never been solved. The personification of Deli Man and the star of the show is David Ziggy Gruber. The guiding force behind Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant of Houston is described as behaving like an “80 year old Jew” from the time "he was a little kid.” Gruber remarks,  “When I cook I feel my ancestors and I feel my grandfather next to me…I’d love to bring my grandparents back one day… and I want that gravy recipe.” He's both loving and demanding as he exhorts an employee to “sweep good, you don’t wipe your ass half way.” Hobby’s of Newark, Canter’s and Nate ’n Al of LA, the Carnegie, Ben’s Best, Katz’s and Manny’s in Chicago all have their day in court. The lingua franca of Deli Man is Yiddish, but the movie’s delight derives from the memories conjured by the olfactory sensations it describes.

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