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America's Classics: Andrew Carmellini on NYC's 2nd Avenue Deli

JBF Editors

February 25, 2016

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2nd Avenue Deli
NYC

The 2nd Avenue Deli was the first experience I ever had with Jewish deli food. It was at the original location in the East Village, with the stainless steel and the red booths and I went there with friends after I moved to New York in 1990. I probably ordered the pastrami sandwich. It was my first introduction to all that stuff, like knishes and gefilte fish.

My go-to order is definitely matzoh ball soup with carrots and noodles. Pastrami with a side of Russian dressing. A potato knish—warm. That’s very important. Definitely kasha varnishkes. Their matzoh balls are just super light, not leaden at all, and they're really schmaltzy. It’s still my go-to whenever I'm down or not feeling well: delivery of matzoh ball soup from 2nd Avenue Deli. There's a certain kind of craveable comfort to it, even though I didn't grow up with that type of food.

If I could find waiters or waitresses like that to work in one of my restaurants I would love it. There's an authenticity there because these guys are just old-school New York waiters, not a musician or an actor. You know that it's their job; it's what they do. It's not contrived hospitality, it's a "Honey, you want a bagel with that?" It makes the experience. With the New York real estate game, it's a shame the restaurant’s not on 2nd Avenue anymore, which is confusing to people. But if I'm getting deli cuisine, it's the only place I would ever go.

—Andrew Carmellini, JBF Award Winner

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