The best thing on the plate was my very own latkes

The best thing on the plate was my very own latkes
Scott Daniels

Katz’s is one of the best-known New York delicatessens, and it isn’t difficult to find them mentioned all over the media. It’s an icon of Jewish delis.

                        

I wonder if we realize the great leaps our society has taken in 2020? We have vaulted over several evolutionary steps out of necessity as we’ve adapted to working around a spreading, ravenous pandemic in some new way at every turn. Every category from real estate to education has been forced to change in dramatic ways, and it is doubtful we will ever return to the way things were just one year ago.

Our demand for “open concept” structures has led us nose to nose with the reason older buildings had so many dividing walls: They allowed people to isolate themselves when necessary. All that open space means free-roaming contagion, and designers are quickly moving away from open plans, at least in public buildings, for the future. The market for Manhattan office space has gone bust overnight as companies have learned they can get by much, much cheaper, and with happier employees, by letting people work from home.

Uber and AirB&B were rapidly growing upstarts whose survival is now in doubt. Getting into a closed car with a stranger has turned out to be risky on several fronts, and staying at a strange home with an unknown sickness history could be a death sentence.

The way we get and eat our food has seen perhaps the greatest upheaval and most of the attention. Restaurants shifting to carryout overnight dragged services like DoorDash, which picks up your dinner and drops it off at your house, front and center. Shopping for food online and picking it up at the curb was marginal four months ago and common now. At least half the people I see filling shopping carts at the grocery store are wearing employee shirts.

At our house we resisted the delivery trend of the last year or so, aside from my wife’s penchant for hard-to-find healthy snacks. But all that changed last week as we poked around books and websites looking for recipes. We had just that morning been reminded by social media of our trip to New York City two years ago.

“Hey, wait a minute,” she said. “Did you know Katz’s Deli will ship anything they have?”

Katz’s is one of the best-known New York delicatessens, and it isn’t difficult to find them mentioned all over the media. It’s an icon of Jewish delis.

“Ha!” I reacted with my always ready first defensive weapon. “That can’t be cheap.”

Her deflection of my cheapskate nature is automatic by now. “No, it’s not bad for what you get, really.” She listed off some of the options: house-made pastrami and corned beef, which could be paired with everything to make a Reuben at home, and whole cheesecakes, pastries, soups — just as she said, pretty much anything they offered at the New York location, boxed up and sent to your house within three days.

And then she sprung the trap: brisket. I’ve been wanting to try to make brisket from a good Jewish recipe for ages, and this could be the chance to find out what the end product should taste like. I was in.

She ordered the brisket, some bagels, a jar of full-sour pickles and a few pastries, and the total, with shipping, came in at just under $50. I balked. “That’s enough to fill both cars with gas and then some,” I protested, too late. Her phone pinged the payment confirmation, and there was nothing to be done but wait for the box.

And waiting for that box was half the fun, I must admit. True to promise, it arrived three days later, and the reason for the expense was immediately evident. It was a specially made, insulated box stuffed with cold gel packs. Inside, the brisket was in a 1-pound frozen package with detailed instructions for thawing, warming and serving. I got to work right away, making potato latkes for a full late deli lunch.

And we were reminded once again that the best restaurant in town is our own kitchen. Everything was delicious, but you know what? There was nothing we couldn’t do ourselves. We’ve gotten pretty good at making pickles. She makes amazing bagels already stuffed with the schmear. And it turns out baked brisket is just pot roast. She didn’t care for it, and I ended up having brisket for lunch and dinner for three days. The best thing on the plate was my own latkes.

So we won’t do that again, not because it wasn’t worth the money or that it wasn’t tasty or because it wasn’t the fun we expected it to be, but because we can make close enough right here in Strasburg, no shipping required.


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