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 Compass Points

CornedBeefCompassPoints

BY: Joan Ginsberg

United Meat & Deli is a company with a Detroit head and heart. We are tough and gritty small business survivors in the take-no-prisoners food industry. We hand trim the briskets and navels we use to make corned beef and pastrami, succeeding in a market where large, over-processed, and machine automated food manufacturing is far more common.

Because of this, people often assume that we only sell our stuff locally, and are surprised when we tell them that we ship product all across the continental USA. So we thought it would be fun this St. Patrick’s Day to illustrate this by finding our current “compass points” – those restaurants and retailers that sell our corned beef at the furthest north, south, east and west locations.

 NORTHERNMOST

Restaurant/Food ServicePier 500 in Hudson, WI. (Finding this location actually required a map and some research, because it is in the greater Minneapolis, MN area, where we have many loyal customers, including Ward 6 Food and Drink, Mystic Lake Casino, O’Gara’s, and Crossroads Delicatessen.)

Retail/MarketCostco in Coon Rapids, MN. (Other Costco stores in the greater Minneapolis area stocking our corned beef are in St. Louis Park, Maple Grove, Eden Prarie, Maplewood, and Burnsville.)

 SOUTHERNMOST

Restaurant/Food ServiceThe Bagel Cove in Miami, FL. (Despite the stranglehold NYC has on the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market, several delis in the area, including The Pastrami Club in Lauderhill, do use our corned beef.)

Retail/MarketCostco in San Antonio or Houston, TX. (There is just a slight difference in latitude between Houston and San Antonio.  If you want to dispute who is more southern, leave us a comment. Many Costco stores in the Dallas area carry our product as well.)

 EASTERNMOST

Restaurant/Food ServiceThe Kibitz Room in Cherry Hill, NJ. (A longtime customer serviced by our New Jersey/Philadelphia-area distributor Foods Galore.)

Retail/Market McCafferys in several New Jersey locations. (We’re not sure if you can buy whole, uncooked pieces at this market or if you must buy it by the pound in the deli. Good either way!)

WESTERNMOST

Restaurant/Food Service Miller’s East Coast Deli in San Francisco, CA. ( They also have a location in San Rafael, but we were too lazy to check which one was actually the furthest west.)

Retail/Market Bristol Farms in several Los Angeles County, CA locations. (This is a by-the-pound market, except at St. Patrick’s Day time when they sell by the piece. Check out their website for a great looking piece of beef!)

If you are looking only for a cook-your-own retail piece, check out our Facebook page (click on “Notes”) for a list of the Costco, Kroger, Detroit and Cleveland area supermarket locations that sell Sy Ginsberg’s Corned Beef.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

Why A Deli Blog?

If you Google the term “deli blog”, the results are surprisingly sparse. One of the results is, of course, Save the Deli, brought to you by our good friend and author David Sax. But the rest of the results don’t have much to do with traditional Jewish deli at all. They are about topics as like indie music (huh?) or a Vietnamese noodle joint.

 

The sad reason for this, as many have noted, is that Jewish deli is a dying breed. As explained by David Sax in his bestselling book:

Traditional products are disappearing from menus and shelves because they don’t fit into the bottom line. As have gone the Jews, so too have gone their nearby delis.

This is clearly one of the reasons that there is a large hole  crater in the blogosphere when it comes to deli,despite the glut of food and cooking blogs in general. Deli is not a trendy topic, and most of the people who are excited about the unpaid act of blogging are not going to invest the time and effort into a deli blog.

So who better to help fill that hole than United Meat & Deli? After all, our two owners have a combined deli experience of more than a century, and are the manufacturers of some of the most highly respected deli meat products in the country. We are committed to the preservation and promotion of Jewish deli. Sure, it helps preserve our bottom line, but our biggest desire is to help preserve the deli legacy for future generations. We don’t want to imagine a world where a great corned beef sandwich or hearty matzo ball soup is only a wistful memory.

We are thrilled that you have chosen to join us for the journey and we look forward to discussing all things deli with you. We are also welcome to suggestions for future blog topics and guest posts; leave us a comment!