Restaurant News & Reviews

Planned Jewish deli on K Street will be ‘a classic delicatessen for modern times’

A pastrami sandwich served at the annual Sacramento Jewish Food Faire.
A pastrami sandwich served at the annual Sacramento Jewish Food Faire. Bruce Patt

For 39 years, the Jewish Food Faire in Carmichael has helped fill a void. Volunteer home cooks make knishes, noodle kugel and cabbage rolls from generations-old family recipes. The fair’s organizers bring in Jewish corn rye bread from Canter’s deli in Los Angeles that people buy by the loaf.

This year’s fair, running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Congregation Beth Shalom, likely will draw a few thousand people – Jewish and non – to savor food otherwise hard to find in the Sacramento region.

Sam’s Kosher Style Restaurant and Deli in Fair Oaks closed in 2014. At the small Bubbie’s Love Deli and Catering in Citrus Heights – the only Jewish deli in the region, according to owner Stacie Shoob-Allen and The Bee’s internet searches – the beef is corned, and the bagels boiled and baked, in-house. But Bubbie’s, named for Shoob-Allen’s grandmother, opens only for breakfast and lunch.

For Jewish transplants from cities where delis are plentiful and some are open 24 hours, evoking food experiences from childhood can require lots of advance planning and a full gas tank.

Those in the know will hit the “Jewish Save Mart,” at Loehmann’s Plaza on Fair Oaks Boulevard in Sacramento, for its kosher offerings, before moving on to the Expo Parkway Costco for smoked whitefish salad. Sacramento’s (non-Jewish) Russian delis also can suggest the big-city Jewish deli experience “if you squint,” said Jami Goldstene, a Sacramento public relations specialist and Beth Shalom congregant who does outreach – and cooks – for the Jewish Food Faire.

Goldstene, 61, grew up in Los Angeles’ largely Jewish Fairfax District. Such pockets do not exist in the Sacramento region, where a population estimated to be 21,000 by the Jewish Federations of America is farther flung.

“There has to be a whole network of people helping you find these things,” Goldstene said. Like a caterer for bar and bat mitzvahs. “Usually a lot of us end up having the lunch and even the dinners catered by (non-Jewish) Middle Eastern restaurants.”

Tired of the piecemeal approach, Goldstene and Jewish Food Faire co-chairs Sheila Wolfe, 67, and Lydia Inghram, 73, two years ago began exploring the idea of opening a delicatessen in central-city Sacramento. They worked with a contingent that included Andrea Lepore, co-founder of Hot Italian restaurants, and food writer Elaine Corn.

Goldstene, Inghram and Wolfe all invested in the project, and have recruited outside investors. Things have gone so well in the fundraising phase that a lease just was signed for a prime space, on the 700 block of K Street, near the new Golden 1 Center, with a projected opening date of fall 2017.

The restaurant will be “a classic delicatessen for modern times,” Goldstene said. It will seat 120 people and likely have a retail component, for people who want to take home half a pound of pastrami or a dozen bagels. It will serve New York-style bagels, known for their chewy interiors, as well as lox that will be sliced to order rather than come pre-packaged. It will not be kosher, but will adhere to Jewish dietary law by not serving pork or shellfish.

The deli likely will incorporate farm-to-table elements, the women said, just by virtue of the “only the best” philosophy that fueled their families’ deli excursions and food-shopping expeditions.

“Jewish tradition was always about fresh and close to the Earth,” Wolfe said. When Wolfe’s grandmother shopped for Shabbat dinner, she would quiz the butcher about the chicken’s freshness – not how long it had been in the shop, but how long since feathers were attached.

Corn is likely to serve as a culinary consultant. Lepore, who shepherded the deli idea through its development stages, will not be running the restaurant: Members of the business operations team from midtown’s Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar will provide its behind-the-scenes structure.

The deli will be “absolutely the vision of the ladies,” said Lynn Mayugba, from the Red Rabbit team. “It is their passion, their family recipes and their culture.”

Mayugba said she has found, in her interactions with the deli’s planning team, that “when someone says ‘My mother made the best chopped liver,’ ” that very chopped liver is less menu suggestion than menu imperative.

Wolfe, Goldstene and Inghram said their roles on the deli development team have been to contribute “intellectual property.” Or as Goldstene put it: “We are bringing the Jew.”

Wolfe, an occupational therapist, grew up on Chicago’s South Side, where her father owned a grocery store and her family patronized local delis. “We didn’t call it Jewish food,” she said. “It was just food.”

The young Wolfe would “play a game called ‘deli,’ ” she said. “I used to have a little pad with carbon paper” with which she would “take orders” from neighborhood kids.

Wolfe attended graduate school in Los Angeles. A job with a state network helped bring her and her husband to Sacramento in 1989.

Goldstene attended Fairfax High School, near Canter’s Deli. She also moved to Sacramento in the late 1980s, for a lobbyist job.

Inghram grew up in a Boston suburbs. During summers and on holidays, she would commute to the city to work alongside her greeting-card-salesman father in his office. They ate lunch together at a deli every Saturday.

Inghram moved to Sacramento with her Californian husband in the early 1970s, after stints in San Francisco and Menlo Park. The couple liked Sacramento’s trees and its more open feel.

Inghram and the others said they have not found delis in the Sacramento area like ones with which they grew up. They’ve gotten their deli fixes over the years by visiting larger cities.

“When I went (to L.A.) to visit my in-laws, I would bring an empty suitcase, and go to Canter’s and Diamond’s bakeries and bring back breads and sweets.”

Inghram, a one-time high school teacher, started the gift shop at Mosaic Law synagogue and later owned a clothing boutique and Relax the Back store. She brings the most customer-service experience among the trio behind the deli. But all of them hope to contribute to its “haimish” – Yiddish for homey – quality.

They hope to attract Jewish people and “people from all over the United States who are not Jewish but grew up with delis, and are looking for the sandwich they remember,” Inghram said.

It’s the same mix of people that has made the Jewish Food Faire a success. Wolfe urges people to get to Congregation Beth Shalom early on Sunday, because many items sell out.

But the lox and knishes served on K Street are likely to hold the greatest meaning for the Jewish women behind the project.

“You can love it – people from every culture love it – but it’s our soul food,” Goldstene said.

The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this story.

Jewish Food Faire

When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18

Where: Congregation Beth Shalom, 4746 El Camino Ave., Carmichael

Cost: Free admission. Food, drink, books and arts and crafts are available for sale

Information: 916-485-4478.