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?

Corned Beef or Pastrami? Three Differences

BY: Joan Ginsberg, United Meat & Deli social marketing

UMD Gold Label Pastrami


Today is National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day according to some, so we would like to celebrate by answering a frequently asked question:

What’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami?

I can hear some of you snorting sarcastically, because you are a fan of Jewish deli sandwiches, and the difference between the two classic fillers is like the difference between mustard and ketchup. But read on . . .


1. Different cuts of meat. Traditionally, corned beef is made from beef brisket, which comes from the lower chest of the steer. Pastrami traditionally is made from beef navel, which is a small piece cut from the muscle known as the plate. I emphasize the word “traditionally” because pastrami in the 21st century is also made from other cuts of beef and poultry, including the ubiquitous turkey pastrami. United Meat & Deli, although widely known for Sy Ginsberg’s Corned Beef, also makes Gold Label pastrami. While navel pastrami is our best-seller, we also make and sell brisket and 1st cut brisket pastrami. The word “pastrami” was originally borrowed from the Turkish word “pastirma” by the Romanians (“pastrama”), who made their dish from pork and mutton.






Courtesy of Chicago Meat Authority, one of UMD’s raw beef suppliers.








2. Different cooking methods. Both pastrami and corned beef are cured meats, meaning that they have been injected or otherwise infused with a solution of salted water (brine). But then they travel different paths. Corned beef is ready for cooking and is generally cooked by boiling. Traditional pastrami has additional flavors added (see #3), and is then smoked. A smokehouse or smoking oven is used by most manufacturers (including us), but some may add artificial smoke and then water process their pastrami.

The room at UMD where navels and briskets are injected.









3. Different flavor profiles. Corned beef gets its flavor from whatever spices or flavors the maker puts into the brine. At UMD, our uniquely flavored brine is a guarded trade secret. Pastrami may have similar flavors in the brine, but then the maker of traditional US pastrami goes a step further by rubbing the outside of the meat with various seasonings – a “cocktail of spices”, according to Sy Ginsberg – before it is smoked. There may be regional differences to the flavor profile as well. New York City/east coast pastrami and corned beef often tastes very different than the type made in the midwest.

Compare this pastrami with the corned beef at the top of the page.



So what’s YOUR preference – corned beef or pastrami? Enjoy either today!

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!


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.