Love Song to A Heart Attack

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.



8 Responses

  1. What a lovely ode to a basic food group! I’m so glad you found a place to take you home.
    I grew up on the store brand version of Wonder Bread and American “cheese.” Ick. Then I lived in France for a while and discovered the soul-heartening delights of real bread and real cheese. Now I’m in NH, baking my own breads. And when I don’t have time for that, there is always When Pigs Fly, bakers of fabulous sourdoughs.
    Life is too short to eat Kleenex.

  2. I moved to Davis from NJ three years ago and am still looking for smoked salmon that doesn’t come in a package. Do I really have to go to San Rafael to get it? And what’s up with these CA bagels? Is it really the water?

    • Not even in Sacramento? San Rafael, Maybe Santa Rosa, definitely LA. I agree–the bagels are wrong, and the corned beef is mostly just too lean to be real. I think Jew genes weaken as they move west. And maybe it’s the water, too.

  3. There’s also an authentic deli on Santa Monica Boulevard in teh citof that name–a New York deli, I believe.. I recently found credible crunchy-crusted Jewish rye at a Foodtown in Houston a couple of years ago, but I never foundit there again. It’s a rare and precious commodity.

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