REVIEW: Deli Man

17 03 2015

Deli ManErik Greenberg Anjou’s documentary “Deli Man” surveys the history and recent decline of the Jewish delicatessen in America from a very familiar vantage point to me: Kenny & Ziggy’s, a dining establishment located just blocks away from my childhood home in Houston.  I have made countless memories there … and probably consumed about as many calories of owner Ziggy Gruber’s food.

But the location alone can hardly account for how voraciously I devoured the film.  Anjou’s doc went down like a good pastrami sandwich – satisfying and extremely filling.  He weaves Ziggy’s personal narrative with the larger cultural and ethnic story with an ease that escapes many non-fiction filmmakers.  Furthermore, he manages to inform without ever boring the viewer.

I, for one, learned plenty from “Deli Man.”  The number of authentic Jewish delis in America has shrunk to about 150 from multiple thousands in their 1930s heyday; I would have thought the latter total was the accurate count (probably because my Jewish relatives always manage to find one in every town).  Most attribute the decline to ethnic assimilation, although there still exists a rare breed, like Ziggy, that persists in maintaining a connection to the ancestors who immigrated from Europe.

Ziggy takes the lion’s share of attention in “Deli Man,” though Anjou still provides a panoramic view of the delicatessen scene from Los Angeles to New York.  Each owner profiled has an interesting take on the business as well as a fascinating story as to how they managed to stay afloat.  If their dishes taste half as good as Anjou makes them look in the film, though, I cannot fathom any of them ever going out of business.  B+ / 3stars

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