Erik Greenberg Anjou's entertaining new documentary recounts the history and current state of Jewish delis in the United States. Eastern Europe is the ancestral home of some of the deli's staples, but it's not that simple. As Jewish immigrants assimilated into a new country, the "traditional" deli was born of melting-pot cities, exposure to new cuisines and changing lifestyles. Where they did have roots was in family, with many delis run by successive generations, and loyal patronage from customers. (And there's Henny Youngman, who at the Carnegie Deli reputedly only ever "paid" with jokes.)
In the 1930s, there were more than 1,500 Jewish delis in New York City alone; today, there are approximately 150 nationwide. Anjou checks in with a handful, from well-known eateries in New York to new venues in San Francisco and Toronto. For a hands-on spiritual guide, Anjou taps Ziggy Gruber, a third-generation New York deli man committed to keep the culinary and cultural traditions of the deli alive — in Houston, Texas. Gruber is a lively host, and Anjou supplements his tales with deli remembrances from such noted connoisseurs as Jerry Stiller, Fyvush Finkel and Larry King. There's some filler on this platter, to be sure, but it's not hard to stomach the extras.