Celebrating Modern Jewish Living Through Food, Tradition, and Family
There are a few things in life that I can always count on:
- My mother will always complain that my hair is either too long, in my face, too light, or too dark (i.e. it’s some shade or shape of not right);
- No matter what size my jeans are, I’ll always want to lose 20 pounds (gee, wonder where the not-good-enough trait came from?)
- The moment my husband and I walk into the 2nd Avenue Deli, we feel like we are back to baseline, all is good in the world, and the perfumed air of pickle brine, deli meats, and knishes/latkes/fill-in-your-favorite-dish here, makes every bad thing in the world go away.
And then there’s the coleslaw. See picture above. The vinegary, no mayo-allowed, slightly tangy, slightly sweet perfectly-crunchy coleslaw that you just can’t find any place else. Not even anyplace else in New York. I can wax poetic about this coleslaw (and I have) and I start talking about it from the second my husband Rob and I touch down at LaGuardia and begin our trek to the city, knowing that lunch is less than an hour away. We start our rhetorical questions (nothing original, by they way) that only two Jews can entertain over and over again. Question like:
“How come in a New York deli they put down a bowl of pickles and coleslaw and then walk away like that’s what you’re supposed to do but they don’t do this anyplace else?”
“Remember the old with the yellow-gold smocks that never smiled and God-forbid you needed a straw or a spoon and they’d look at you like you asked them to give you a kidney?”
“What’s with schmaltz and the chicken liver on the menu? Who eat this stuff?”
This can go on for a good 20 minutes, until we get to our hotel, check in, literally shove the bags into the room and then high-tail it into yet another cab to 33rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue. Yes, the 2nd Avenue Deli is actually not on 2nd Avenue.
Once there, we kibbitz with the owner and catch up since our last visit, practically cry over the menu (“Why can’t we get this at home? Why? Why?”) and lament the injustice of it all. Even though we live outside Boston and Brookline has its heralded spots, there’s just nothing like this (and everyone back home knows it’s true) outside New York. Let’s not deny it, folks. Which is why we make this our first stop.
Two diet cream sodas. The requisite coleslaw and pickles. My husband wrestles with his conscience about a pastrami sandwich and potato salad (having recently lost over 20 pounds on Weight Watchers) and I tell him to enjoy himself and live a little. I mentally wrestle between eggs, lox, and onions (which usually wins) and a turkey sandwich (I’m not a big meat eater, so it’s an easy decision), and have my eggs with a toasted onion bagel, and miss my dad more than ever, as there are no onion bagels quite like his. Even here. Not even close.
The waiter comes back and forth. A Bensonhurst guy named Tony who shows us pictures of a Saturday Night Fever festival he’s going to in a few weeks and the cool Caddy he’s rented for the occasion. We’re the same age and so we talk about the music we grew up listening to on WKTU and we talk about playing stoopball in Canarsie (where both my husband and I were born and lived as children) and how Italians and Jews always lived side by side. Yup.
This is what happens in the 2nd Avenue Deli each and every time we visit. We come home.