I've been a huge fan of the much-loved Second Avenue Deli since I first ate at the old location years ago, and I miss it very much as I live far away in a town without a single real deli (sacrilege, I know! the entire town should be razed for that ... or maybe someone could just open a deli). I look forward very much to visiting the new location when I return to Manhattan, but until then I will have to be satisfied with these words from Jeremy Lebewohl, one of founder Abe Lebewohl's sons and the current owner/operator of the deli. Many thanks to Jeremy's brother Joshua for helping with this interview.
New York readers should also note that the city has recently named the small triangular park in front of St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery (at East 10th and 2nd) "Abe Lebewohl Park."
Qu3stions: Have most of the recipes you use evolved from family recipes over time, or have you held onto original unaltered recipes for much of the life of the Deli? If they've changed over time, has this been more in response to the availability or cost of ingredients, or chefs' or customers' changing tastes? Were many of them originally Abe's? That cholent is absolutely terrific - I've never had another so perfect - I guess I'll have to buy the cookbook to learn how to make it myself, since I live so far away!
Jeremy Lebewohl: Abe devised the recipes based on his mother’s home cooking. We have remained true to the recipes, except rather than cooking for a family of 4, we now cook in a much greater quantity. (Editor's note: below the interview is Abe's original cholent recipe, which I can attest is excellent.)
3Q: Will the Yiddish Walk of Fame ever be moved, recreated, or expanded at the new location?
JL: For legal reasons, we are unable to remove the Yiddish Walk of Fame. We currently do not have sufficient room to re-create the Walk of Fame.
3Q: What do you see as the major differences between the West Coast and New York deli traditions?
JL: Every true diehard deli afficionado will tell you that nothing compares to 2nd Ave Deli.
3Q: a bonus question - can you tell us a little bit about Molly Picon and her special connection with the Deli? Was she friends with Abe, or a regular? I've always liked the playbills and photos on the wall - it was something to read and gave the room interesting character.
JL: Molly Picon was a Yiddish theater legend, and a long-time friend and customer. She graciously gave us a great deal of her personal memorabilia, which we are proud to display in her honor and memory.
Abe Lebewohl’s cholent (serves 8)
Cholent was probably conceived in Europe many centuries ago, though some Jewish historians claim it’s even more ancient, dating back to the days of the Second Temple. A complete meal in a pot, it is traditionally made in advance and enjoyed on the Sabbath when cooking is forbidden. In the Europe of our great grandparents, every Friday afternoon, in cities as cosmopolitan as Cracow and Pinsk to lowly shtetls like Debreczin and Pinchif, Jewish housewives would prepare their choIent “tup” (pot) with all its wonderful ingredients, and then, off to the baker’s oven it would go. There, the kettles would remain warming until the next day when they were retrieved for a hearty lunch after morning synagogue services (the word "cholent" may be derived from the easily translatable German words, shule ende). In modern times, observant Jews leave their Sabbath cholent to simmer all night on the stove or in the oven.
Though cholent is a traditional Sabbath meal, there’s no reason not to enjoy this scrumptious stew at any time. The Deli version is what Sharon’s grandmother used to call “am g’naiden!”—a taste of heaven.
Note: If you are preparing cholent as a Sabbath dish, and plan to keep it warming on the stove, or in 225º oven, overnight, you don’t need to cook the potatoes in advance as this recipe does.
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 pounds stew beef (after fat is trimmed) cut into 3/4" pieces
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 1 cup yankee beans
- 11 cups cold water
- 1 cup red beans
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 3 cups chopped onions
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped or crushed fresh garlic
- 4 pounds potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces, cooked, and drained (don’t use Idahos / russets, which fall apart during the long cooking process)
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 cup derma stuffing (optional), chopped into 1/2" pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- In a large bowl, thoroughly mix paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, tablespoon of salt, and teaspoon of pepper. Toss beef cubes in mixture, coating thoroughly. Cover bowl, and refrigerate for 4 hours or longer.
- In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons corn oil, and brown beef cubes (it’s best to do it in batches, so all pieces brown evenly). Set aside.
- Place yankee beans and 11 cups water in a large stockpot, and bring to a boil. Add red beans and stew beef, and simmer uncovered for 75 minutes.
- Preset oven to 300º. While beans and beef are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in a large frying pan, and sauté onions until brown. At the last minute, add garlic and brown quickly. Set aside in a bowl.
- Toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons corn oil and paprika, coating them thoroughly. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Add onions and garlic to the pot. Continue simmering for another 40 minutes.
- Add derma, salt, pepper, and potatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes more, or until everything is fully cooked and almost all the liquid is evaporated. Add a little water, only if necessary to keep from burning. Cholent is a very thick stew.
Note: You can prepare cholent several days in advance and keep it in the refrigerator.