Flashback Friday – Pickle Barrel Deli, 1978

Sy has the original newspaper article photo engraved and mounted on a plaque in his office.

Sy has the original newspaper article photo engraved and mounted on a plaque in his office.

Pickle Barrel Deli – mistakenly referred to as the Pickle Barrel sometimes – wasn’t Sy Ginsberg’s first. That honor goes to Mister Deli on 7 Mile near Evergreen in Detroit. But Pickle Barrel – his second – would make him a star in the Detroit deli scene, and ultimately lead him down his true path as a processor of the finest corned beef in the country.

Located at 12 Mile and Evergreen in Southfield, it was the embodiment of everything that a classic Jewish deli should be. It was open almost 12 hours every day of the week, and the menu was huge. If you could find it in a Jewish cookbook, you could find it at Pickle Barrel.

It was the grueling hours and work of running a successful restaurant like Pickle Barrel that made Sy dream of doing something else  – like make a better corned beef. So he ultimately sold out and became the corned beef king we know today.

But we thought it would be fun to share some memories of what Pickle Barrel was. So we are recreating the review of the store by the “Anonymous Gourmet” at The Detroit Free Press, which was published on April 20, 1978. Yes, it’s about a specific restaurant, but it offers a lot of insight into what a customer could expect at a top-notch Jewish deli. “Thanks, Mrs. Ginsberg” is recreated here exactly – including the misspelling of Faney Ginsberg’s name.

This deli’s long on taste but short on cost

      The AG got a tip on a delicatessen last week from someone who, at a glance, looks like the type to order a corned beef with mayo on white, untoasted. Having checked on the tip, the AG learns an old lesson once again – namely, that the proof of the pudding is not in the glancing but in the eating.

The pudding at the Pickle Barrel, solid rice and moist, plump raisins in an indecently creamy custard invigorated with grated orange, is ambrosial. It ended a gargantuan Sunday noon feast that left both diners packed to what they guessed were the armpits. Still, when it arrived in its frosty stainless parfait cup, the click of spoons dipping in for “just a taste” never stopped till the self-styled tasters reached bottom. Was it orange? Or was it lemon? Maybe both? And so it went. And so the pudding went.

Before the pudding, there were an order of blintzes, a dressed-up tongue sandwich, gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzoh ball and who knows how many slices of new pickle, cut thick enough to crunch and offered by the mini-barrel at each table to keep the diner’s mouth busy while he tries to make up his mind.

     THE PICKLE BARREL is not the place to go for a quick pastrami on rye. It is a place that requires one to make decisions. Pastrami on rye ($2.30) or pastrami, corned beef and tongue with eggs, pancake style ($2.80)? Pastrami, corned beef, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on an onion roll (Pickle Barrel Treat, $3.15), or pastrami, liverwurst, Swiss cheese, tomato, onion and Russian dressing in a four-decker on rye ($3.40)?

The pastrami predicament is typical. The Pickle Barrel’s menu is enormous, featuring all the standard delicatessen items and then a few, in several alternative combinations.

Once the decisions have been made, the food comes lickety-split and, since the open kitchen sits smack in the center of the C-shaped dining area, most customers can watch their orders being assembled.

The chicken soup (75 cents a cup, 95 cents a bowl) shows up the way children like it, not quite salty and peppery enough for adults, but with a matzoh ball that spans the taste of generations by giving way at the slightest pressure from the side of the spoon. The correct building of a matzoh ball – from matzoh meal, chicken fat, egg and soup liquid – is no mean trick. Miss something in balance or timing and you may as well use the thing next time you tee up.

   GEFILTE FISH ($2.50), a formed but still fluffy mousse of carp, pike, whitefish, stock, onion, egg and carrots, is even trickier. The stuff from jars is leaden and devoid of sublety compared to what one gets from home kitchens and the Pickle Barrel. The AG wondered aloud how such homey gefilte fish got to the restaurant. The waitress smiled knowingly.

“This IS a home kitchen,” she said.

Fannie Ginberg’s home kitchen, to be precise – Fannie being the mother of Sy, one of the restaurants owners. That would explain the featherweight matzoh ball the and delicate gefilte fish, the way the outermost layer of blintz (delicatessen’s answer to crepes, cannelloni, and egg rolls) stays crisp while the inner folds go noodly and soft, the crackling crust on bread with spring-back fresh innards, the rice pudding’s zesty citrus accent. Just like home – on a good day.

          GO HUNGRY and be prepared to wait – before the meal and after. The Pickle Barrel is a big place, but it also has a big menu and offers big portions, both of which take some time to digest.

In addition, its patrons have a golden opportunity to revive the time honored Two Cents Plain ritual. Two Cents Plain (seltzer water, for the uninitiated) is imbibed during and especially AFTER the meal, as an aid for the overfed faced with having to get up and walk to the door.

And midday feast for two, from soup to pudding, came to a measly $12 at the Pickle Barrel. For two cents more, as listed on the menu, a person has a right to sit and sip and digest – or so Fannie Ginsberg, bless her, still believes.


Do you have a memory of Pickle Barrel – or maybe Mister Deli – that you could share? How about another old fashioned deli?

Deli and Pickles – A Love Affair

BY: Joan Ginsberg, social media marketing specialist

New dills.

New dills.

The first week in February is “Shape Up With Pickles Time” (no, I did NOT make that up), and what better food to discuss on a Jewish deli blog than pickles? We’ll just skip the “shape up” part. 😉

Every lover and eater of Jewish deli food knows that it doesn’t matter if you prefer corned beef, pastrami or tongue on a sandwich – what really matters is that they are all served with a slice of heaven called a pickle.

You might ask – like Tevye did in the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof – when did this tradition get started? My answer is the same as Tevye’s – I don’t know. Neither does anyone else, it seems.

The pickle – more properly a pickled cucumber – has been around since at least 2400 BC, according to the New York Food Museum, and their health benefits were praised by Aristotle in 850 BC.  When the Israelites left Egypt in their wandering quest for Caanan, they bemoaned the loss of the pickled cucumbers they had enjoyed.

Eastern European Jews, who immigrated to the USA in large numbers in the latter part of the 19th century, brought their dietary habits with them, and one of those habits was eating black or dark bread with pickles. It is only reasonable that when those food traditions began to expand to the masses through deli restaurants, they included the pickles that were also commonly manufactured by Jewish immigrants.

Today, only a small number of Jewish delis exist when compared to 100 years ago. But those that remain still serve pickles with their sandwiches. In the USA, dill pickles are preferred to sweet pickles by a roughly 2 to 1 margin, and dill is what you will find in any respectable deli.

What may differ – often by geography – is what kind of pickle the deli uses. In Detroit, our home city, there are “old dills” or “new dills”. On the east coast, these same pickles are called “sour” and “half sour”. We have seen them called “ripe” or “green” in Cleveland. All have been barrel cured, the old (sours or ripe) longer than new (halves or green). Some delis use both and will offer you a choice, but many restaurants – especially outside of the older east and midwest markets -don’t use a barrel cured pickle at all. Their pickles are cured with vinegar, and do taste quite a bit different than a barrel cured pickle.

Besides manufacturing Sy Ginsberg’s Corned Beef, United Meat & Deli also acts as a distributor of certain deli-related items to our customers. Naturally, that includes pickles. UMD sells pickles made by Hermann Pickle Farms in Garrettsville, Ohio. We think they make the best food-service pickle available. My personal favorite is Dick’s Perky Pickle – a horseradish dill without equal.

The next time you enjoy a selection from your favorite deli, pay attention to the pickle. 

What’s your favorite – sour or half sour (old or new)? Tell us in the comments.

For National Soup Month – Chicken Matzo Ball

BY: Joan Ginsberg

There is only one way to write about the intersection of National Soup Month and deli:

 Chicken Matzo Ball Soup

A simple looking dish, this soup was full of wonderful flavor.

A simple looking dish, this soup was full of wonderful flavor.

Whether you call it matzo, matzoh, matza, or matzah – this soup is a constant among Jewish delis everywhere. I believe that matzo soup is the standard that all Jewish deli should be judged by. No matter what their corned beef or pastrami tastes like, a true deli has to be able to serve this soup and do it justice.

Here are two things we think you should look for –and find- in a good chicken matzo ball soup.


Rich, chicken-y tasting broth. The broth can be as clear as a bell or full of bits and pieces of chicken and vegetable from the stock-making process, but it absolutely needs to taste like the chicken simmered for hours in water full of vegetables. No actual chicken or vegetables are required, and some delis serve chicken soup with vegetables and/or chicken separately.

Some restaurants also add a food color called Egg Shade to their stock in order to give it a visually appealing, bright yellow appearance. But as Duke Ellington said in 1931, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

The distinctive yellow is food coloring.

The distinctive yellow is food coloring.

Perfectly balanced matzo ball. The matzo ball doesn’t have to be huge, although many delis do make them so large that there is barely room for broth in the bowl. It does have to be flavorful – you should able to taste the matzo meal, chicken fat, egg, and soup liquid that went into the making. It should be tender and easily sliced with the side of a spoon, without the sphere falling to pieces after removing the first chunk. Miss something in the balance – not enough flavor or too soft/hard – and your soup has failed.

While this soup is visually appealing, the broth and matzo were very bland.


Do you have a favorite place to eat matzo ball soup? Tell us in the comments or post a picture on our Facebook page.

Mile End – A Deli Done Different

BY: Joan Ginsberg, United Meat & Deli marketing specialist

Imagine what it was like eating from a pushcart at the early part of the last century. The food wasn’t fancy or trendy, but it was all fresh and made by the vendor with local ingredients.

It was that type of food delivery system that Noah Bernamoff envisioned when he opened his Mile End Deli in Brooklyn, New York. Indeed, the pushcart analogy is his own.

Today’s foodie would say that Mile End is an artisanal deli, a word that by itself is so trendy and overused it doesn’t quite capture the eating experience that Noah and his partner Max Levine are aiming for.

Whatever you call it, Mile End delivers excellent deli food, focusing on Canadian specialties like smoked meat and poutine. Noah is a Montreal native.

Sy and I paid a visit to Mile End last week, to get a taste of the differences between smoked meat and the American alternative of pastrami.

Their menu is deliberately simple, to avoid those trendy things like special salads. Even though it’s New York, they don’t have grouchy deli men shouting at each other and the customers. They have smart and attentive waitstaff that couldn’t have been more pleasant.

It’s still a Jewish deli, so chicken matzo ball soup is in evidence.

Their signature item is a smoked meat sandwich, with red cabbage slaw and pickles as a perfect accompaniment.  Mile End has their own commissary where they cure their own meats, and make all of their breads and baked goods.

The sandwich was split between me and Sy, so there would be room for poutine.

Their hot dog was delicious! Sy had to be physically stopped in the middle of eating it long enough to get a picture.

It’s a shame that there are no pictures of their house-made mandelbrot (Jewish almond cookie) or rugelach, which were equally delicious, and are the type of Jewish deli item that is hard to find made in-house. Sy and I agreed that the mandelbrot was the best we had eaten. Ever.

We support delis like Mile End, even when they don’t buy or use our corned beef, salami, or pastrami, because they keep the Jewish food culture alive and well. Est gezunterhayt!


The Care and Feeding of The University of Michigan Solar Car Team

United Meat & Deli frequently gets hit on for donations of food. After all, it’s a universal truth that people have to eat. And we try to be a company that gives back to the community when it’s possible and feasible for us to do so.

So when the University of Michigan Solar Car Team asked for help, we were glad to respond.

Eric Hausman (L) and Noah Kaczor, Operations stand next to panel with sponsor names

The U of M Solar Car Team (UMSCT), is an entirely student-run student organization that designs, builds, runs, and races electric solar cars. Each year the team enters a vehicle in the American Solar Challenge. This year, the race starts in Rochester, NY, and runs for over 1650 miles of open road through every single state that borders the Great Lakes. Prior to the official race, the team goes through a qualifying, closed track event called the Formula Sun Grand Prix. This is the first time that the race has run through Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan.

All of the work from these dedicated students requires ingenuity, planning, money, and  . . .food. According to student Eric Hausman, an operations project manager on the UMSCT, a team of 20 students accompanies the car at all times, traveling in a 5 car/1 truck caravan (provided by sponsors). During the time they are not in a campsite or fixed site, they are on the open highway. Because it’s a race, stopping at McDonald’s is just not an option. 😉

So it is necessary for crew operations like Eric to plan meals in advance. The team depends heavily on portable food like sandwiches that can be pre-made and stowed in the vehicles for consumption on the road. In prior years, Eric states that the team lived on PB & J sandwiches for lack of a healthier, quicker option.

So when asked for a healthy, tasty deli meat that could be easily stored, sandwiched, and stowed, UMD was there with its Farmer Sy’s All Natural Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast.

UMD was asked to provide enough product for 4 lunches for each team member during the practice race held in early June, and to double it to 8 lunches each for the actual July event. That’s 240 lunches! In all, the UMSCT will consume approximately 65 pounds of turkey and 16 pounds of swiss cheese donated by UMD.

Cereal is usually eaten for breakfast.

Here’s the race route. Join us in support the UMSCT

Check out more pictures from pre-race preparations on our Facebook Page under Photos.

Does a Deli Need to Offer Public Wireless to Survive?

Let’s face it. We’ve walked into many a restaurant, deli or otherwise, and brought out our cell phones and tablets looking for a public wireless network to check our email or check into Facebook places. We’re not alone, either. This is a trend anytime the public is going to be sitting in one spot for more than a few minutes.

While most customers are not at the point where they will leave if there is no wireless – will they come back? Will the availability of free wireless be a tipping point for customers in the near future, actively figuring in their dining choices?

Apparently some restaurants and coffee shops think otherwise, claiming that having patrons lingering over their laptops or other electronic devices actually impedes their business by having the customers tie up the tables for too long (it’s called “turning the table” in the industry jargon).

While we know that every deli owner has to decide this issue on an individual basis, taking a lot of different factors into account, we wonder if banning laptops or otherwise trying to turn tables quickly is the right way to go. Can a deli maintain an old-fashioned atmosphere and sensibility while embracing new trends and techniques to attract customers? It’s good advertising for the restaurant to have patrons check into Foursquare or Facebook places, right? Should the restaurant provide them with the wireless means to do so?

What’s your answer?

Deli and the Movies

The movie “The Five Year Engagement” opens in theaters today. We obviously haven’t seen it yet, but we know that it was partially filmed in Ann Arbor and that Zingerman’s Deli has a supporting part.

We are always happy to see deli depicted in the movies, and we are particularly happy to see our friends from Zingerman’s onscreen.

We don’t know yet how funny any scenes at the deli in “The Five Year Engagement” will be, but we are pretty sure of this: they will not be able to top the best movie scene ever to take place in a deli. Yes, we mean the fake orgasm scene from “When Harry Met Sally”,  set in Katz’s Deli in New York City.

But not everyone can be the best, can they? Being the best means that sometimes perfectly good seconds or thirds get shunted aside and forgotten.

We don’t want to forget any good scenes of deli in the movies, so tell us: what’s your second or third or fourth best? All comments made by 5:00 pm EDST on April 30th that list a movie deli scene besides WHMS will be entered to win a $25.00 movie or Amazon.com gift certificate and a UMD T-shirt.

(p.s. Our second favorite is the Carnegie Deli scene of borscht belt comedians in Broadway Danny Rose. Extra prize will go to anyone who lists our third favorite in the comments!)


So Who’s A Deli Maven?

Hopefully you read that title with a Yiddish-type accent, which is how it sounded in our head when we wrote it. 😉

That question came to mind while we were perusing a copy of the recently releasedThe Deli Maven’s Cookbook. We wondered what actually qualified the author, or anyone who might define themselves in this way, to lay claim to the phrase “deli maven”.


The word “maven” comes from that peculiar mash of Hebrew with Yiddish that most English-speaking Jews listened to while growing up.  The word wasn’t popularized until the 1960’s, and even some modern dictionaries do not recognize its validity. Most definitions, though, as well as the authority that is Wikipedia, state that a maven is a “trusted expert.”

But that begs the question, doesn’t it? Because what makes someone a trusted expert about deli?

We looked into The Deli Maven’s Cookbook for answers. Surely if the author is claiming expert status, his expertise is listed somewhere. Sure enough, in his chapter titled “I’m A Deli Maven”, author  David W. Cowles lays out his expertise in one sentence: “Years of dining in delis on a regular basis.” The rest of the chapter disintegrates into a discussion of the history of cheesecake, and why LA has better deli than New York City.


We think it takes a lot more than eating deli regularly to call yourself a deli maven. In fact, we think that the phrase should be reserved only for those whose life was or is immersed in all things deli.

If you ask Sy Ginsberg if he’s a deli maven, his answer is “so I’ve been told.” He started working at Lou’s Deli in Detroit at the age of 15, opened his own deli at the ripe age of 23, and morphed into the wholesale distribution/meat processing side of deli at 35, where he remains to this day, more than 30 years later. That is more than 50 years of direct deli experience.

Sy is a deli maven because he is as close to a “trusted expert” as anyone is going to come. But what do YOU think makes someone a maven? Who do you trust for advice about any and all things deli? We’d love to hear your comments.



Is Corned Beef Irish or Jewish?









St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and we love it! We have shipped over one million pounds of corned beef in the past 3 weeks, as restaurants and consumers alike gear up for the traditional St. Paddy Day dish.

But . . . wait a minute! Isn’t corned beef a Jewish delicacy? After all, our personal roots are in the Jewish deli business, and it is sold every day at Jewish or Jewish-style delis across the country.

The truth is, most historians agree that corned beef is not a purely Irish dish. It was adopted by Irish-American immigrants as a cheap alternative to bacon. In Europe, the American fervor for corned beef on St. Pat’s Day is almost unknown.

The same is true for corned beef in Jewish culture – it was largely adopted by Jewish immigrants to America in the late part of the 19th century. It is theorized that the close proximity of Irish and Jewish immigrants in New York City is largely the reason that corned beef seems to be a mainstay of the descendants of both groups.

There is a flavor difference, though, between different manufacturers of corned beef. Some makers use a decidedly Irish flavor in the brine; a more aromatic flavor dependent on spices like bay leaf or clove. UMD counts itself among the meat processors whose corned beef has a distinctly Jewish flavor – a more sweet, garlicky brine. (Our recipe is a secret so we can’t tell you more! :-))

Whichever flavor you prefer, we hope you enjoy a great St. Patrick’s Day with some corned beef as a highlight!

5 Tips For Cooking Corned Beef.

Last week a woman emailed us and asked for instructions on how to cook corned beef in her pressure cooker. She specifically asked about where to set the jiggler, and how much time it would take.

We were all stymied by that question because we come from the restaurant/deli end of the cooking operation, where no one had ever used a pressure cooker. We didn’t even have a clue what a jiggler was.

In fact, if you ask Sy Ginsberg how to cook corned beef, he will generally answer “until it’s done”. While that sounds a bit snarky, the truth is that it is very hard to give generalized instructions for cooking corned beef. Corned beef, although a processed item, is still fresh meat. That means that proper cooking depends in large part on the size and cut of the meat. A whole corned beef brisket that weighs 10 pounds is just not going to cook for the same time and in the same way as a 3 pound piece of first-cut (the thinner, smaller “point” of a whole brisket).

But with St. Patrick’s Day looming and people anxious to make a special corned beef dinner, here are 5 tips we can offer.


Corned beef should always be cooked in water. Whether you use a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or a pot on top of a stove, you need to have a container large enough for the corned beef to fit in. Then you must cover the meat entirely with water, but only enough water to just cover the meat. If you are cooking on the stove top, you will probably need a stock pot.


Don’t try to cheat by slicing the meat if your pot isn’t large enough. Cutting a whole brisket in half to fit inside of a pot is acceptable, but that’s about the only pre-cooking cut that’s safe. Otherwise your beef will fall apart into a shredded mess. The picture at the top of our blog is a corned beef brisket, sliced after cooking whole.


If you are using a slow cooker, only cook on low. We can’t tell you how long, because it depends on the size of the meat and every slow cooker is different. Plan on 8-10 hours. If you are boiling on the stove top, once your water has reached boiling, turn it down and keep on a s-l-o-w boil or simmer the entire time. It will likely take several hours.


Hey, we love a boiled dinner, too (corned beef, cabbage, potato, carrots), but we aren’t a big fan of cooking the vegetables in the same pot and at the same time as the meat. It varies the cook time of the meat too much, and they take up precious water resources in the pot. If you like the taste that the cooking meat imparts on the vegetables, cook the corned beef first and then use the cooking water to cook the vegetables.


When Sy says “cook until it’s done”, he means that the thickest part of the meat should be easily pierced with a fork, and the fork removed without lifting the meat. So besides a large pot, you need to have a meat fork with long tines to pierce through a thick piece of beef.

The USDA recommends that corned beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 158 degrees as a safeguard against pathogens, but we recommend a higher internal temp – 165-175 degrees.

By the way, we answered the question about the pressure cooker by pointing her toward this blog. It features a picture of our competitor’s product, but it made our customer happy. :)