A deli that is all about authentic New York

Eating on the Edge: For his I Love New York Deli, Jon Jacobs has to have the half-sour pickles exactly right. And have you heard the one about the two guys who drive cross country with the things that you can't get anywhere but New York?
Jon Jacobs, owner of I Love New York Deli

Jon Jacobs, owner of I Love New York Deli Hugo Kugiya

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.

"We're giving people something they have missed for so long."
— deli owner Jon Jacobs

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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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 16, 7:44 a.m. Inappropriate

This region doesn't just need more sprightly and tasty Jewish food, which basically is central European peasant fare - central Europe stretches from the Urals all the way to the Rhine, and includes the Baltic brine and their herring, it needs a lot more Jews and Mexicans to get some pepper into its sluggish Nordic mind.

mikerol

Posted Fri, Apr 16, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I love this place! It truly is the closest thing I have found to the almighty Katz's in NYC. Pastrami, corned beef, matzo ball soup...YUM!

Posted Fri, Apr 16, 11 a.m. Inappropriate

Jacobs does have fine deli, which I've tried at the U District store and the Pike Place kiosk. His half-sours are good, as are those at Goldbergs deli in Factoria Mall. But what we still don't have here, and won't until someone starts making them locally, are "new" pickles, which become half-sours by the time they get here from New York. If you ever get a chance to taste one (Guss Brothers or the Pickle Guys in NYC are the best), you'll know: the pinnacle of pickledom.

Posted Fri, Apr 16, 8:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, there used to be good Jewish food around here — Matzoh Mamma's, New York Bagel Boys, Kosher Delight. Not sure what happened — maybe it was a health thing. (Not as if there aren't plenty of other fatty foods being consumed on a daily basis around these parts!) I went to the 52nd & Roosevelt location the week it opened — incidentally, it took over the space of the Continental Store, a lovely old German deli who had moved into the Sagamore Building a few years earlier from its old spot a block south on Roosevelt — and had a decent chopped liver sandwich, but I was disappointed that not only were the kasha varnishkes advertised on the menu board not available (they hadn't quite gotten up to speed on everything yet), but that the girl behind the counter had no idea what they were! Ah well. You can't win 'em all!

Posted Sat, Apr 17, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Awesome. Any chance we'll see an I Love NY Diner?

Sean

Posted Sat, Apr 17, 11:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Oy vey, you're right, Quinn. Goose pastrami. There's even salmon pastrami which would not be too good.

For anyone making gefilte fish next year, do not even consider using a combination of salmon and halibut. Even the cat wouldn't eat it.

sarah

Posted Sun, Apr 25, 1:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Now that my son has moved from NYC back west to Seattle (which is a good thing), my trips to the Big Apple are much less frequent. Thanks for the heads up; it will be my next lunch spot the next time I'm in the city.

Posted Wed, Jul 14, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Any idea of the exact location? We looked at all four corners of Boren and Madison and there was no construction activity to be seen . . .

seadevi

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