Jewish Comfort Food

I've just returned home from a week in Boca Raton, Florida, where I was visiting family. My mother's side, the New York Jews. Besides making the rounds with my aunt, meeting my cousin's 1 1/2 year old twins and visiting my 86 year old grandmother in her new little apartment at an assisted living facility, it was important to eat a few times at Way Beyond Bagels.

It was there that I had my first authentic bagel and lox outside of New York City.

Not to mention Black & White Cookies, super almond-extracty Rainbow Cake, a pure, uncut version of smoked whitefish salad, the full line of Dr. Brown sodas, including the intriguing celery pop, and a delightfully familiar, and maybe a little grating, noise of thick lower New York accents.

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Like any comfort food, when we re-experience it again, it is cause for a celebration and of memories. And like all memories, their arrival is bittersweet. Memories arrive because something's been lost. Or we've moved to a place where our tribe does not band together and make what we grew up with.

Luckily I moved mere blocks from Saul's when I came to live in the East Bay a year ago. It's here I can find chopped liver almost as good as what I remember. When I want to conjure my late grandfather, Samuel Gordon, I buy a few chubs and eat them alone. Shiny and wrinkly gold, the chub arrives wrapped in white paper, with all its parts except for the guts. Smoked whole, they're slick with a distinctly fatty fishy smoky taste and scent. I've never taken part in cold herring from a jar but my legs go weak for smoked fish and I was once graced by homemade gefilte fish.

But bagels? It is my ultimate opinion that there are no real bagels in the Bay Area. I have tried and retried them all. I've been cajoled by hopeful and starry eyed non-Jews as well as other deperate New York Jews. Nope, they do not exist here. Just because bread is round does not mean it's a bagel. When a bagel is a bagel, every gram of your being knows it. It's taste and texture, the smell of your grandmother's kitchen. It's whipped butter, freshly sliced red onions, and too much cream cheese.

So, nu? I just don't eat them here. I reason to my born-again-Californian self that bagels need to be eaten in their own climate. They need to be in season, and although Northern California is home to many an agricultural delicacy, bagels just do not thrive in this soil. Bagels must be eaten where there is a predominance of kvetching weather, schvitzing heat, and other New York Yids.

And Way Beyond Bagels cures this homesick itch. Even though it's in Florida.

I have a whole carry on bag full of 2 dozen said bread product to prove it. Now it's just a matter of sharing them with those who understand the gravity of such luggage...

If you're looking to cure your Eastern European and/or New York Jewish deli food cravings, I give you this small list of places to start:

California Street Deli
Moishe's Pippic
Saul's Deli & Restaurant
Old Krakow

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Or if you want to read more about what those who long for Jewish deli food do in the Bay Area, check out this article in The Berkeley Monthly written by John Harris, a man who has even gone so far as to make a movie about the lost Deli. I'm excited to say I'll be privy to a screening of the movie this Thursday!

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