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Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  212 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
David Sax's delightful travelogue is a journey across the United States and around the world that investigates the history, the diaspora, and the next generation of delicatessen.

David Sax was alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen. As a journalist and lifelong deli lover, he watched in dismay as one beloved deli after another closed its doors, only to be reopened as s
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 19th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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May 17, 2011 Davida rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish, cooking
It's a testament to David Sax's writing that I finished this book since it is the most meat-centric thing I have ever read. I had a kind of idea going into it, as its subtitle includes the words "perfect pastrami." Sax spends a lot of time discussing the intricacies of pastrami, corned beef, salted meat, smoked meat, salami, schmaltz, you get the idea. And he eats a ton of it. However, beyond that part of the book, there is a lot to learn and enjoy. I learned about Jewish/Yiddish history, geogra ...more
Elwood D Pennypacker
Dec 16, 2014 Elwood D Pennypacker rated it really liked it
Did Fox News kill the good kosher or kosher style deli? I ask you. Probably not but provocative enough - especially in the Florida chapter of this book. But don't get me started on Florida.

This is a loving ode to a dying culinary experience. The pleasure of a salty, fatty piece of a cow prepared in succulent ways and all the to-do around it (Kishke, kasha, kugel, kreplach, knedelach, on it goes, without the letter K too).

I grew up (and out) on Adelman's, Empress, and 2nd Ave Deli in New York. So
Feb 10, 2015 Crystal rated it really liked it
Way more about deli than I ever needed to know, but hey, the Mel Brooks interview made my heart sing. Also, I've never eaten pastrami quite like the kind described-need to get my hands on some.
Aug 30, 2014 Nancy rated it liked it
Loved the tour of Jewish delis! As I read about corned beef, pastrami, and the "ks" -- knishes, kreplach, kugel, I could almost taste them!
Rogue Reader
Jan 25, 2014 Rogue Reader rated it really liked it
Have long wanted to read this 2009 book, and finally picked it up at Powells last year. While the author's passion for salted meat is clear, I'm not sure I share his exultation. Maybe I should have known that pastrami is cut from around the navel, and now I wish I didn't. I love though his search for the Jewish delicatessen, in its New York past and today, in New York still and all over the country. Amusing and useful appendices - on Yiddish food terms, the addresses of the delis mentioned in th ...more
Nov 25, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, travel, non-fiction
If it's about food, I'm probably going to read it. And while I'm not exactly a connoisseur of deli (although I do love me some pastrami), I thought reading about the deli would be interesting. And I was right, Sax leads us on quite the adventure in search of the remaining deli's in the world.

Sax has a mission. Save the Deli, or so the title of his book says. In reality, this book is an exploration of the delis that are left in the world. It is divided into three parts: New York, the rest of the
Chris Aylott
Jan 22, 2011 Chris Aylott rated it really liked it
A "world's foremost expert on delicatessen" -- I'm not sure what his qualifications are, beyond an obvious enthusiasm -- explores the history of the Jewish delicatessen, eating his way through as many delis as he can find around the world. Not a good book to read while hungry, since it makes you crave pastrami.

Aside from that flaw, the book is breezy and informative. There's enough economics in there to explain while the classic Jewish deli is a rare sight these days (short version: high rent an
Jul 20, 2011 Jeanne rated it liked it
On my first trip to NYC, my husband and I ate deli twice—Artie’s and Ben’s. We could not wait; there is nothing like it in the Twin Cities. Little did we know that the Jewish delicatessen is dying.

That’s right: according to Sax, delis have been closing in large numbers over the years. I guess it’s tough to get a good pastrami sandwich anywhere, not just Minnesota. So, our intrepid author tackles the dilemma of the dying deli and travels across North America (and even Europe) to find out whether
Dave Guia
Sep 27, 2015 Dave Guia rated it really liked it
What fun...a trip through some of the old delicatessens along with some new ones. I'm glad that the author decided against the title "the death of the deli" because I'd like to think that there will still be delicatessens for many generations to come. This book inspires me to try to get to visit more delis in the future...
Better to read this book when you're feeling hungry, as it will fill you up without adding a calorie!
Apr 15, 2010 Jessie rated it it was amazing
I strongly enjoyed this book. David Sax did an amazing job of putting history and feeling into this book. It isn't a novel, for me, it was just like ready a documentary instead of watching one. I'll be completely honest and say that I love the "Deli." From where I reside now, I can't get much of that whenever I please. Half of the time, people and classmates don't even know what I'm talking about when I discuss the craving of my pastrami on rye with a can of Dr. Brown. Anyways, this book was ver ...more
Gary Burk
Aug 14, 2010 Gary Burk rated it really liked it
This is the last book that I have read and I thorougly enjoyed it. I guess that was because I couuld identify. Although Pastrami wasnt my favorite I did chase a good corned beef sandwiche at quite aa few deli's in my day. As I recall I never visited any of the deli's in the book with the exception of the ones in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I still enoyed reading about Sax's experiences, The book was funny and poignant at the same time. It was a good summer read and well worth the time. I was cert ...more
Dec 22, 2009 Samira rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, judaism
I could also see giving this 4 stars, but I am feeling cheap.

This was an interesting book to read as a vegetarian--I generally have little use for delis, especially kosher ones, and I kept reading descriptions of food, aware that they were supposed to be appetizing, but instead basically being grossed out. But it also was a fascinating look into a culinary institution. The author loves deli the way that I love New Haven pizza and I can respect that, a lot. And it took me back to the days before
May 05, 2014 Nazary rated it liked it
This is a great book but ultimately it leaves the reader with an appetite for more. Sax spends too much time lamenting the old delis of New York and Toronto to give room for the truly exciting stuff happening literally anywhere else. His chapter on Europe could be a stand alone book, especially Poland. It's a quick read but you ultimately get tired of the same descriptions of pastrami and matzo ball soup. It makes sense that it was spun off a college paper. It reads like one, light and perhaps f ...more
Cario Lam
Sep 24, 2015 Cario Lam rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about one of my favorite subjects and that would be Jewish delicatessens.
Jun 18, 2014 Janet rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-studies, judaism
David Sax examines the history and decline of the Jewish delicatessen in North America and Europe. He gives several reasons for the decline; such as the high cost of running a deli, children who don't want to carry on the family business, a shift towards eating healthier foods, and the rise of new food trends. This book made me hungry for traditional Jewish delicatessen food. Sadly, the DC area delis mentioned in the back of the book have gone out of business. If I visit another city I will try ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Katie rated it it was ok
After 264 pages of MONOTONOUSLY detailing the demise of delis nationally and globally due to soaring rents, shifting demographics, preferences for healthier foods, the younger Jewish generation not eating traditionally… I cannot adequately express my complete surprise when straight out of left field Sax concludes that the “Nazi destruction of the Yiddish world…above all else, was the reason that the deli was dying.” (265) I guess that was easier than tying together the content of the book to dra ...more
Dianne Landry
Oct 14, 2014 Dianne Landry rated it really liked it
A fun look at the pastrami sandwich through history. This book also recalls the rise and fall of the jewish delicatessen. If you like deli food you will love this book.
Jan 20, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the book, which is a history/travelogue of "real" delis past and present, in this country and elsewhere. (A real deli is family-owned and -run, with countermen who fresh-slice pastrami, etc. to order, and that draws on Jewish culinary traditions.) The author is more than a little obsessed, and at times the writing is a little rough - but his heart, and his passion, are 100 percent behind the Jewish delis of this world, which he sees as a repository and a map of the culture.
Ilana Waters
May 03, 2013 Ilana Waters rated it really liked it
A breathtakingly informative, game-changing book about the past, present and future of deli. Sax truly went all-out in his global (yes, global) quest to find, sample, and explain the concept of deli and where it's headed. It's true that he goes on a bit too long in parts, and is more than a little disdainful in others. But overall, Save the Deli is both an homage and a call to action for everyone who loves Jewish culture, pickled meats, and well-crafted food. L'chaim!
Mar 09, 2010 Kristina rated it liked it
I don't live in a deli town and I am not Jewish so I don't have a deep personal history in New York Deli. Even so, Sax really makes you salivate for the traditional flavors of "Jewish" deli across NYC, the US, and the World. I could almost give this book 4 stars, but I found that occasionally the book felt a bit repetitive (there are only so many ways can you describe a kreplach or matzo ball soup). Very well researched and an interesting read- especially if you love pastrami!
May 27, 2010 Phil rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So, so - the story of the loss of real Jewish Delis. Sax travelled arond the country, but missed some big areas, like Boston - mmm- I can still picture (and smell) Jack and Marion's in Brookline when I was a kid. My folls would go on a Sunday afternoon for corned beef sandwiches! Interesting to note, though, that most Jewish style corned beef comes from one plant in the midwest!

Would have made a better long essay for the New Yorker than a book - too much repetition.
Aug 03, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
I loved this book! I am a deli fanatic and would die if the Jewish Delicatessen was no more. It was a journey into the heart of great food and the heart of the Jewish people. Someone get me a pastrami on rye, stat!
Aug 02, 2011 Lacey rated it really liked it
This book is a delightful trip around the world of deli. Growing up in a large Jewish family, we would often have family birthday parties and celebrations at delis, and I've grown up loving deli food. I definitely want to visit some of the delis mentioned (the listing at the end of the book is quite helpful). I also laughed at the glossary of terms. My mom and I particularly got a kick out of the definition for white bread.
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
As someone raised in the semi-rural South and a former resident of the very rural South, I have eaten what some would call strange things over the years. It's just what we do. So I couldn't very well draw back in too much horror over some things I discovered are traditional Jewish fare. Anyway, excellent read, awesome research, would definitely recommend it....but tongue?? sorry, no. lol
Aug 05, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
Canadian Sax puts together a lot of information and a lot of love, as he gives the history of the Jewish-American delicatessen, whether Kosher or not, and combines it with a tour of selected United States and Canadian locations and a foray into Europe for their take on delis. He also discusses the forces that are combining to destroy delis all over the country.
Jason Tham
Jul 27, 2011 Jason Tham rated it it was amazing
This book was a great mix of sociology and foodieology (whatever the actual appropriate word to describe that is). While I found the history of the Jewish deli to be fascinating, I must warn you, read this book on a full stomach. Sax is a little too good at describing Jewish deli, so much so that I found myself hungry unless I had eaten just before picking it up.
Jan 12, 2010 Kim rated it really liked it
Fun, passionate read. I'll forgive him for ignoring my section of the country (and regretting not going to the wrong place when he does - there is MUCH better brisket and corned beef and pastrami and knishes down the street) for what he says about elsewhere. Um, don't read this one while hungry or in a state where hungry is a possibility.
Harry Rubenstein
May 28, 2011 Harry Rubenstein rated it really liked it
Fun book about the culture of Jewish deli. Big personalities meet big appetites. Pastrami will definitely taste different from now on. Surprised Sax didn't hit Meyer's in Amsterdam and Israel's only mention was a throwaway line. Since publication there has been a minor deli revival. Interested in seeing where things are in another ten years.
Dec 01, 2010 shannon rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
"if the toilets dare exhibit a level of sanitation any less than a japanese nuclear plant, no Jew will ever eat there. Period."

in a word, awesome. and right before my trip to montreal, too. also given me a reason to want to visit friends in detroit, which is weird.
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David Sax is freelance writer specializing in business and food. His writing appears regularly in The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Saveur, The Grid Toronto and other publications. His first book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Sax’s work has also won a James Beard Award for Writing and L ...more
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