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Taste: Deli Delights

Houston's Kenny & Ziggy's keeping the New York style delis alive

Can you handle a chocolate babka after this piled-high sandwich of corned-beef and turkey, with Swiss? (Photo courtesy of Patric Schneider)

By Lori Moffatt

In a recent conversation with a friend, a fan of Reuben sandwiches who once frequented Austin’s now-shuttered Katz’s Deli, I discovered that authentic, New York-style delis aren’t as common in Texas as I imagined. In fact, according to third-generation deli man and Houston restaurateur Ziggy Gruber, they’re disappearing across the United States, a culinary sea change that has seen the pool shrink from some 3,000 in New York alone in the Deli Heyday of the 1940s and ’50s to roughly 120 in North America today. “What happened is that a lot of immigrants came to this country during that period, and like many new immigrant groups, they opened restaurants,” says Gruber, who opened Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant in 1999, just east of Houston’s Galleria.  “Then over the years, new generations sought out other ca-reers and gave up the deli business.

“Lots of places serve corned-beef sandwiches,” Gruber continues. “But a true New York deli is about Jewish cuisine. Take a look at the menu, and you should see Eastern European specialties such as Hungarian goulash, stuffed cabbage, and blintzes—and everything will be made in-house.”

Is a Jewish deli necessarily kosher? The answer is no. “Kenny & Ziggy’s, because we have dairy as well as meat products, is not technically kosher,” says Gruber. “Plus, we are open on Fridays and Saturdays; a kosher deli would be closed those days.”

That means, in the case of Kenny & Ziggy’s, that diners have more opportunities to explore both the decor (the walls are plastered with Broadway playbills and signed caricatures of such famous clientele as Phyllis Diller and John Leguizamo) and the menu—which is chockfull of specialties such as grilled liver-and-onions, Romanian chicken fricassee, noodle kugel, and a grain-and-pasta dish called kasha varnishkas. For dessert, K & Z’s offers temptations like Russian chocolate babka, black-and-white cookies, and a chocolate blackout cake that pays homage to the revered Brooklyn bakery Ebinger’s, which closed in 1972 (and of which fans still speak with revered, hushed tones).

“Our number one dish is the pastrami sandwich,” says Gruber. “ We cure the meat for 45 days, roll it in spices, smoke it for about five hours, then steam it for another six hours until it is soft. At the end, it has this savory, smoky, almost sweet flavor that is unbelievable.”

Kenny & Ziggy’s is at 2327 Post Oak Blvd. in Houston. Call 713/871-8883.


From the August 2012 issue.

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