The half-sour pickle is simple in preparation but has a very short shelf life before it becomes something other than half-sour. So to serve a true half-sour pickle in Seattle is a feat of logistics, especially since it appears none are commercially made here. Only one person in this city, as far as I can tell, has succeeded in bringing the half-sour to Seattle.
But before we get to the pickle, I will state the obvious, that for somewhat inexplicable reasons, Seattle has very little New York-style (for lack of a better term) deli food, the kind that is everywhere in that city, served in places with names like Ben's, Sarge's, Artie's, Katz's, Eisenberg, Mendy's and Barney Greengrass.
Many of us have eaten the stuff in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or maybe Cleveland, and most of us at least vaguely recognize it: pastrami sandwiches, chopped liver, bagels and lox, chicken soup with matzo balls, food that we associate with being Jewish because so much of that food and the culture overlap.
Anecdotally, there seem to be many ex-New Yorkers living in Seattle. You probably know one. Maybe you are one, living here because some software web-marketing company hired you. You brought your writer/artist spouse so now there are two more of you. And you've got friends. So why the dearth of delis?
Jon Jacobs, the owner of the young and quickly growing enterprise called I Love New York Deli, has some theories. "No one wants to do the logistics," he said, meaning the ingredients are difficult to procure. "And everyone wants to see visible lean."
In other words, here in the joyless, soy-vegan kingdom, fat scares us, and New York deli food is not exactly health food. The pastrami, made from beef navel, is streaked with tender, succulent ribbons of fat. The chopped chicken liver is cut with rendered chicken fat or schmaltz.
"We're used to bread sandwiches," said Jacobs, 56, who moved here in 1977 with his wife and then young children. "The main ingredient is the bread. You got your panini on focaccia whatever, or you order a ciabatta roll with ham. It's all bread with a little bit of meat. In my place, when you order a corn beef sandwich, it's mainly corned beef with a little bit of bread.”
Jacobs, who was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and grew up on the north shore of Long Island, opened the original I Love New York Deli in November 2007, as a stand in the Pike Place Market. Last summer, he opened a second, sit-down deli in the University District at NE 52nd Street and Roosevelt Way NE. This summer, he will undertake something unprecedented in the city, a full-service, authentic, New York-style deli on First Hill, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping fill the void in this city of around-the-clock dining.
"It's going to look just like this," he said pointing to a photograph on his restaurant's wall of the counter at the legendary Katz's Delicatessen on the Lower East Side. His third restaurant, near the corner of Boren and Madison, will be his largest by far at 6,300 square feet and will have its own bakery, the culmination of a long-held dream for Jacobs.
"I talked about doing this all the time, ask anyone," said Jacobs, who worked as a manager for Trader Joe's for 12 years before opening that first deli two and a half years ago. He guessed correctly that to make it, he had to start where he could not fail, in the market.
Tourists ensured foot traffic. A scene from the Jennifer Anniston movie, "Traveling," was shot with his stall in the background. Television hosts did stand-ups next to his place. He gathered instant buzz. Before Washington Mutual became Chase, its executives were in the habit of catering lunch from Jacobs. He quickly built a loyal following that followed him to the U-District and will presumably follow him, with others in tow, to First Hill.
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