I come from Minneapolis, and back when I was growing up, that Midwestern metropolis knew deli the way New York knew deli. Maybe it still does.
Much as I love the Bay Area, it’s always been tough to find that wonderful, deadly food here, the luscious provender that cut my ancestors off in their prime. When I lived in Marin, I would occasionally go to Max’s in Corte Madera for almost-authentic chopped liver, matzoh ball soup, flanken. So on Valentine’s day I called Max’s for a lunch reservation, only to find out it was now a Mexican restaurant. I love Mexican food, but not when I want chopped liver.
Googling brought me to Yelp which brought me to Miller’s New York deli, in San Rafael.
This is not a restaurant review. This is a love song. Because it’s not a review, I won’t talk about the corned beef, the flanken, the chopped liver, the matzoh balls, the smoked sturgeon.
This is a love song to real, crunchy-crusted, Jewish rye bread. The real thing my parents bought every weekend. The kind of loaf my father would hold against his chest and cut, toward him, with the big bread knife. I guess so it wouldn’t escape? I don’t know. The picture remains vivid in my mind.
It was nothing like the fakery that comes in packages now. This was bakery bread the way it was made in the shtetls. The deep taste of rye. The crunch, the al dente bite of it. Bread you could live on. That packaged stuff? To my father, it was all “Kleenex.”
When we’d finished our romantic meal, or about a third of it, I asked timidly, hopefully: “Do you sell this bread by the loaf?” A real deli would, I knew. But a restaurant in San Rafael?
“Sure,” the waiter said. “Sliced or unsliced?” I was transported back to Plymouth Avenue, to smoked fish and pastrami and enormous dill pickles.
The thing must have weighed five pounds. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. We schlepped it home with the leftovers.
Next visit we’ll get bagels.
For the longest time, I thought my taste buds had deteriorated with age.
Not true. It was the food.
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