Jew

New York Press' Gut Instinct: Where's the (Kosher) Beef?

Given the manhood-shriveling weather last weekend, I would've happily cocooned myself at home had I not been tasked with ferrying 25 folks on a journey to intoxication. I was slated to lead another homebrew tour, wherein I usher attendees to three different area brewers' homes. There, everyone meets the beermaker, samples the liquid wares and, as the afternoon wears on, listens to me slur.

"Is it OK for tour guides to be drunk?" I asked my friend Matt, a licensed New York City guide. "It might be frowned upon," replied Matt, who, in a reversal of roles, was taking my tour. "Maybe it'd be a good idea to eat a big lunch beforehand."

This was easier said than done. The tour's first stop was Marble Hill, in the Bronx. It was once the northernmost neighborhood on the isle of Manhattan till the Harlem River was rerouted, thus attaching a chunk of the 212 to the 718. I asked the Marble Hill brewer for a lunch recommendation. "Unfortunately, Marble Hill is not known for its cuisine," he wrote. "You basically have three options: Arturo's Pizzeria, McDonald's or Applebee's. If you are down for crap food, then those are your best bets."

I've devoured my share of crappy grub, but I prefer to be totally trashed before I shove a Big Mac into my mouth—it's shame food, best forgotten by morning. I decided to spread my lunchtime search farther afield, to neighboring Riverdale. My dad grew up in the heavily Jewish 'hood and as a kid, my clan took numerous pilgrimages to Riverdale to visit my Grandma Helen and Grandpa Moses' apartment, where I ate garlic-studded roast beef and fork-tender brisket and drank tons of Tropicana orange juice. It was my grandfather's favorite drink, and in time it became mine. In the case of nature versus nurture, my preference for pulpy OJ is clear-cut.

My grandmother passed away in 1985, my grandfather in 1991. I have not returned to Riverdale since. Without familial love to lure me to the Bronx, the neighborhood became a dim, distant stop on the Metro-North, seemingly on another continent. Heck, I've been to Beijing twice since I last visited Riverdale. But that's another tale, another time.

After some Internet sleuthing, Matt uncovered Liebman's Delicatessen (552 W. 235th St. betw. Oxford & Johnson Aves., Bronx, 718-548-4534), a circa-1953 Jewish deli located a 20-minute walk from the Metro-North stop at Marble Hill. "See, I could do this food write-y thing," Matt said. "And today I'm the tour guide," I replied, as we arrived in Marble Hill. Some neighborhood names refer to a distant past. For instance, Greenwich Village was once a rural hamlet. Brooklyn's

Boerum Hill refers to the Boerum family's colonial farm. But Marble Hill remains, most definitely, hilly. When we reached Riverdale Avenue, we huffed up what felt like a 45-degree incline—dozens of kids were sledding down the abutting Ewen Park, screaming whee and glee.

We arrived at Liebman's, panting and sweating beneath bulky clothes. The restaurant's name was illuminated in red neon, and through the plate-glass window I watched kosher hot dogs grow plump and blackened-crisp on the grill. After sliding past grandparents purchasing cold cuts and salads, we slid into a booth and perused the menu. Like a good Jewish deli, Liebman's crafts its own knishes, corned beef and pastrami: my holy trinity of kosher cuisine.

Unlike other Jewish delis (namely Katz's and Carnegie), only the food, not the prices, will cause a heart attack. A pastrami on rye runs $9.99, and a buck-fifty will super-size the sandwich to a half-pound of flesh. "Should I get it overstuffed?" I asked the waiter. He sized up my 5-foot 4-inch, 140-pound frame. "Not you," he said. "You'll be fine."

I settled on pastrami. Matt opted for a brisket-pastrami combination. We both received a complimentary mountain of coleslaw and a platter of pickles, a mixture of half-sour and sour pickles so profoundly garlicky, they'd stop the Twilight vampires at 50 feet. The coleslaw was also winningly crisp, not a gloppy nightmare. And the sandwiches? Though the rye bread wasn't as pungent as I prefer, the thinly sliced meats were masterpieces of beef, tender and peppery and fatty in all the right places. With a smear of coarse-ground mustard, and sips stolen from Matt's can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda, my sandwich disappeared on the double.

I patted my belly, full and round, an impregnable fortress against the boozy onslaught to come.

Read--and vote for--the original story on the New York Press website!

Gut Instinct: What Would Jew Do

When I squirmed from my mama’s belly, I was about as Jewish as a Christmas tree topped with honey-baked ham. Dad was a Yid, with grandparents driven from Russian shtetls. Mom was Catholic, right down to Easter-egg hunts and rapped-knuckles education. Since the mother’s religion dictates her child’s Hebrew-rating, I was a certified circumcised gentile.

We both converted. She learned to make potato latkes. I learned (then forgot) the Hebrew language, celebrated a bar mitzvah and honed my peculiar blend of Jewish neuroses and Catholic guilt, two great quirks that keep psychiatrists gainfully employed.

Food-wise I turned out fine. Like a good Heeb, I hanker for knishes, kugel and matzo-ball soup. However, my religiousness is diet only: I avoid synagogue and the mobile-home Mitzvah Tanks in favor of shacking with a shiksa, eating cheese steaks and totally blowing off Passover.

For eight days, Passover proscribes eating leavened bread. That means no pancakes, PB&Js or dumplings. Sweet jelly beans, I possess less restraint than Augustus Gloop lapping up Willy Wonka’s chocolate river. Instead of curtailing my unbearable bread urges, I embraced the illicit eats. My sacrilegious behavior started at Paris Sandwich (113 Mott St. betw. Canal & Hester Sts., 212-226-7221). This Chinatown bánh mì shop is classier than jammed-in-a-jewelry store Bánh Mì Saigon (138 Mott St., betw. Grand & Hester Sts.). Paris bakes its baguettes (including cinnamon and garlic-onion) and sweets, such as cream puffs and the heretical pork-roll cake. Color photos depicted a dozen sandwiches, including sardines, meatballs and fake chicken (all about $4). Indecision iced me over.

“What do you want?” the counter girl inquired.

“What’s good?” I asked.

“Whatever you want.”

“In that case, give me grilled pork.”

“Spicy?”

“Doubly.”

I despise permanence so much that I typically change my socks twice daily. Still, I’m seriously considering acquiring an indelible forehead tattoo reading, in blocky black script: i’m not ethnic but i like it spicy. My cleaved-in-two sandwich was gobble-gobble good. The generous porcine bits were as shellacked as a Porsche’s factory-fresh paint job, while the pickled carrots and daikon radish softened the bread’s crusty crunch. Nonetheless, the sandwich was innocuous enough for an infant: not a single jalapeño pepper.

My carbohydrate rebellion continued days later when I biked to Radegast Hall & Biergarten (113 N. Third St. at Berry St., 718-963-3973, B’klyn). The sprawling suds emporium’s ceiling panels have opened, ushering in clouds, sun, sky—which is the limit for beer cost: $13 buys a liter of dark, wheaty Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weisse.

“But it’ll make you drunk and, as a by-product, happy,” my co-drinker said, clinking glasses large enough to lobotomize a man via blunt force.

“Yesh, yesh,” I mumbled, feeling wobbly and newborn weak. “I need food.”

I needed Endless Summer (N. Seventh St., at Bedford Ave.). ’Tis a taco truck co-owned by a member of hard-rockers Bad Wizard. Big whoop: Are the tacos Roosevelt Avenue amazing? I queued behind twentysomethings with ratty jeans and natty manners. “Hurry up and order, dude, ’cause I’m hungry,” one guy grumbled.

My 10-minute wait netted me a pork carnitas and a pollo taco ($2.50 apiece), served as lukewarm as a heat-lamp Whopper. My first drunken bite created cottonmouth: The fillings were kindling. I reached for a spoonful of green salsa, only to find dregs.

“Please?” I whispered to the truck girl, handing her the empty bowl.

The cilantro-y salsa was little salve as I choked down the faux-ican food. Finished, I marveled at Endless’ line, now stretching a dozen deep. Imagine the line’s length if the taco truck actually got its south-of-the-border act in order. As I pedaled home, my hunger returned. Its cure glowed bright, like a bad-idea beacon: White Castle, selling burgers pygmy in price and size.

“Four burgerzzzzz,” I ordered from a woman with a splendidly flamboyant Afro. Note to self: grow a Jew-fro next winter.

I exchanged $2.59 for four burgers the width and thickness of Post-It notes. They were sodden and oniony, but my alcohol-addled brain perceived, Yum. More. I shoved in one, two, three and then dropped four on the blackened-footprint floor. I looked around my Castle. The counter lady looked at me. Then I grabbed the ground burger and inserted it into my eating hole.

“Three-second rule,” I mumbled, gnashing my teeth on bun and meat like a rabid animal. Though gobbling bread’s a Passover sin, an even bigger crime is wasting a single crumb.