A Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, Atheist and Pagan walk into a bar…and they drink (alcoholic and virgin), laugh, exchange ideas and become good friends. It’s not a joke. It’s what happens when you’re not a jerk.
I’m a stovetop Jew. I’m in it for the food. I’ve sorely missed NYC deli for almost three years, since we came here to ski. And never left (thanks, Cody Derrick). Yet a stubborn, provincial, downtown laziness kept me from driving all of 12 traffic-free minutes into the schmaltz-scented arms I grew up with: Salt Lake’s peerless, Feldman’s Deli. A mass exodus from major cities has propelled the SLC food scene onto a brighter stage. Where there is a dynamic food landscape, cities pop like champagne corks, and the influx of various cultures are broadening Utah’s horizons and offerings. It’s the new Utah. But a taste of home goes a long way in that extra bit of comfort in laying down roots, and feeling settled. Every major city has at least one authentic deli where all walks of life meet to kibitz (chat, converse, offer unwelcome advice) and groan happily over lush, bursting plates of food. Utah has Feldman's, courtesy of a tremendously dedicated duo of New Jersey transplants, Michael and Janet Feldman. Theirs is a glorious, edible bridge for transplants and tourists, while steadily seducing locals.
My intentions were to rhapsodize about the holidays, the history of Jewish food, its origins, its roots in America, immigrants, the first deli in Utah, the similarities between Jews and Mormons being chased out of their homelands. Their pilgrimages to find their rightful territories. But during a few exploratory visits to Feldman’s, my intentions changed. I descended deep into a J-Hole of bagels and blintzes. Mile-high Reubens slathered with cream-drenched coleslaw. Buttery lox, chicken-liver-smothered bialys, steaming cheese-stuffed blintzes and NYC cheese cake as dense as Putin’s politics. I have yet to discover what trumps food in mining the fertile essence of sharing. We constantly mine the city and state for people and businesses that expand the reach and impact of our metropolis. It’s why we covet and pant over fabulous kitchens: nothing brings us together like a meal, cocktails, anecdotes, shared ideas, open minds, and a good joke. Jewish cuisine is imbued with thousands of years of rich history, love, suffering, humor, and triumph. Food and conversation are the foundation of Jewish culture, and the portions are big and rich (my personal belief is that it forces the family to shut-up for a few minutes and take a breather). Of course, with so much strife and persecution, heaping portions of food are never to be taken for granted. Leftovers are revered. Meals comprised of intense flavorful food can spark intense debates. But a great meal, like the sun, can soften the edges, warm you, and open up your mind like a blooming flower.
Jewish food is not a simple, thrown-together endeavor, and frankly, Janet Feldman is a Goddess. Time consuming, ingredient driven, breaking down bones, boiling, stewing, grating, chopping--this stuff is as joyous as it is intensely fragrant and bold. But it’s a helluva a lot of work when it’s done right. The ultimate symbol of love when prepared with zero shortcuts. Janet leads every single move in the kitchen, watching like a hawk. All food is prepared in the traditional fashion. I make hand-grated latkes once a year during Chanukah. Once. They are delicious, and they are a huge pain. I’ll take Janet Feldman’s renditions any day. To relegate these lavish pleasures purely to the December holidays is a mild crime. I will pile this food into my mouth (with little to no decorum) any time of year. Only 30 ethereal bagels are made here each day. Step away from Einstein’s. Please. The menu in its entirety is dangerously easy to consume, and consume quickly. Your belly has made a tacit pact with your brain to terminate all communications. It's the legal gateway drug to the complex slow pleasures of, “that which you do not know.” Saucer-sized potato latkes, tiny, golden droplets of sizzling oil clinging to its lattice crust, blanketed with a pillowy mound of creme fraiche, lox, and a delicate squeeze of lemon. Gefilte fish with beet-stained horseradish, chicken liver pate thickly schmeared across black bread, strawberry blintzes--crepes heavily stuffed with cheese and fried, warm fresh berries lusciously oozing over the top. I needed to share Feldman’s, and I was failing utterly to quiet the insatiable tug for their sloppy joe and latkes, so I enlisted some of my cityhomeCOLLECTIVE cohorts of varying backgrounds to join me in the lavish, comestible bacchanal. Feeding them this goodness seemed an excellent way to engage them in my Jewish heritage, and immerse them into deliriously ecstatic food comas. It feels good in there. We'd sit down for a sandwich and matzah ball soup and pass around loaded plates while discussing politics and panty lines.
Six opinionated, mouthy, non-practicing, very funny people of vastly different upbringings gathered on a perfect early winter afternoon, skies the color of Daniel Craig’s radioactive blue eyes. White-chocolate-dipped mountains poking through the clouds. Feldman's is situated in the ideal Millcreek location to hit every slope within 20-30 minutes. Even at our late arrival, it was packed with doctors, day laborers, ladies who lunch, office workers, and a Park City art maven who had driven down for takeout. Janet and Michael’s two sons, Joe and John, are often there helping out. Their steady trickle of young friends adds layers of youthful diversion. I gazed benevolently upon Cody and the CHC crew (my benevolence likely related to having shoveled in two extra large helping of latkes with salmon and whitefish salad an hour earlier). With joyous abandon, they wolfed down the food I grew up with, and always took for granted. Watching them gorge, eyes shining with delight and revelation. I realized then: Food brings peace. It seems Feldman’s is Utah’s stunning cultural microcosm. The High Mountain West sibling of the nitty gritty NYC deli. Patronized by a diverse group of food lovers, relishing gargantuan sandwiches and delicacies with no thought of religion or strife. Feldman’s is a restaurant for everyone. From every background. Share a meal, share an idea. Jewish delis are working-class restaurants…that every class loves.
I’m convinced you smuggle tobacco into your food. It’s addictive. What IS it about delicatessen?! What makes it so addictive and crave-able? Cocaine!!! No, seriously…immigrants in the 1880s used old, eastern European preservation and preparation methods (picking, smoking, etc.) to tenderize and flavor the tough, inexpensive cuts of beef used for Jewish deli. The spice mix is common amongst all delis, though there are subtle differences to create unique regional flavor profiles (N.Y. vs. Chicago vs. L.A., etc.), and these methods are still used today.
It always surprised me that the rest of the country loved Seinfeld. So much of it was NYC inside jokes about marble rye and parking spots. But it resonated. Has it surprised you how much the local culture has taken to classic Jewish delicatessen? Not at all. In the 50s to 70s, Lu Dornbush had a very successful deli downtown, so I knew that if we built it right they would come. Nowadays, more than 200,000 Utahans have settled here having been brought up with real deli. Also, there are 6,000 Jewish people and four synagogues in Utah. In addition, Mormons are well traveled and many discovered delis during those travels. Plus, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love great authentic ethnic foods.
Five people you’d like to eat a meal with at Feldman’s and why. At least two need to be from Utah. Former Mayor Ralph Becker, he has Jewish blood. Rabbi Benny, the recognized leader of Utah’s Jewish community, but he’s orthodox and kosher, so that may never happen. Mayor Jackie Biskupski, as a supporter of small business and a friend of mine. Mark Cuban, he’s Jewish and comes to town with his Mavericks. I’d like to show him my growth plans. Last but not least, Janet’s mother (RIP), she’d be so proud, and Janet would love to pick her brain.
What are the most Jewish, East Coast aspects of Utah? Jews and Mormons are very similar. We get chased away wherever we settle, and we both found our Zion in the middle of a desert…next to a dead body of water...on the banks of the river Jordan, no less! Seriously, both family and faith are important. Utah also has a great appreciation for culture and the arts, with a beautiful symphony orchestra, ballet, opera and theater.
Deli is evergreen. Suggestions for the best dishes to order in each season? Winter: matzo ball soup and latkes. Spring: golumpki (Polish stuffed cabbage) or kielbasa. Summer: chilled borscht and a bagel platter with smoked whitefish. Fall: meat loaf or brisket with mashed or parsley potatoes. But our popular Sloppy Joe double decker and the dozen different Reubens are what we sell the most of all year round.
You're coming up on hosting your 10th edition of Old Jews Telling Jokes on January 16th. Give us your best short joke: Sam was driving down Ft. Union Blvd when he gets pulled over by a policeman. Walking up to Sam's car, the policeman says, "I've come to tell you that your wife fell out of your car some 2 miles back." Sam replies, "Thank goodness, I thought I'd gone deaf."
Feldman's Deli | 2005 E 2700 S | 801.906.0369