Thursday, May 5, 2022

Where Have All The Chicago Jewish Delicatessen's Gone?

As early as 1832, Jews coming from Eastern Europe settled in Chicago. Many sought to escape persecution and oppression in places like Bohemia, the Russian Empire, and Austria-Hungary. 

Chicago's earliest synagogue, "Kehilath Anshe Mayriv" (KAM), was founded in 1847. Fifteen years later, KAM had given birth to two splinter synagogues, the Polish-led and Orthodox-oriented "Kehilath B'nai Sholom," and the German-led and Reform-oriented "Sinai Congregation." These people spoke Hebrew, Yiddish, and Slavic languages like Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian. 
Jewish Market on Jefferson Street near 13th Street, Chicago, Illinois, 1907.
Jewish Market on Jefferson Street near 13th Street, Chicago, Illinois, 1907.


Enclaves of the Jewish population formed in Northern neighborhoods such as Lakeview, Edgewater, Albany Park, and on the South Side around Halsted and Maxwell streets. At one point, 55,000 Jews lived in the Maxwell Street area alone. 

NOTE: The 2020 estimate of the Chicago Jewish population is 319,600 Jewish adults and children who live in 175,800 Jewish households. An additional 100,700 non-Jewish individuals live in these households, for a total of 420,300 people in Jewish households.

From these strong roots, the Jewish community in Chicago today has grown to be the fifth-largest in the nation behind New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and number seven worldwide. 

During this influx of Jewish immigrants, many decided to open up businesses to serve their communities. These entrepreneurs started to produce classic Ashkenazi Jewish food from Central and Eastern Europe, like the bagel and the bialy, and to sell it in a traditional delicatessen setting—the deli. 
Kishkes with Brown Sauce.


Now a hallmark of the patchwork of American culture, delis are famous for their onion-y, pepper-y flavors, and served awesome lox, corned beef,  pastrami,  gefilte fish, kishkes, whitefish salad, rye bread, and bagels… the list goes on and on! Aside from the food, they are beloved across the nation for their counter service and commitment to quality.
Ashkenaz Restaurant, 1432 West Morse Avenue, Rogers Park, Chicago.
Over the years there have been a number of famous delis in the Chicagoland area that brought this good food to Chicagoans for years. While not all of them remain open today, a few greats include Leavitt's Delicatessen on Maxwell Street, The Bagel Nosh, on State Street in the Rush Street area, Ashkenaz Deli in Rogers Park, D. B. Kaplan’s in the Gold Coast, Mrs. Levy’s Deli in the Loop, Manny’s in South Loop, Kaufman’s Deli in Skokie, Fanny's Deli in Lincolnwood, and Morry’s in Hyde Park.
Kosher Corned Beef Sandwiches Piled High!


There certainly used to be more delis in Chicago than there are now. Why are the numbers of this classic institution dwindling? There’s no one answer—operating costs are high, tastes are changing, and the older generation of patrons is shrinking and moving. However, the enthusiasm for this type of food is far from gone. New concepts and ideas are circulating and with things like the slow food movement, the focus is returning to traditional methods and quality portioned-to-order ingredients.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

15 comments:

  1. My favorite was Mama Batts at Cermak and Michigan in Chicago.

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  2. Jewish deli's I have all ways loved them but I live in a town in TN nuf said

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  3. I miss it...a taste of childhood...cant even get a bagel 90% of time where I live

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  4. My family's bakery, Davidsons, is shown in the photo of Ashkenaz.

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    1. I was born and lived 30+ years at Devon & California. In the 1960s and 70s there were 10 bakeries between Western and Kedzie. The only two left are Levinson's and Tel-Aviv. From the Lakefront to Kedzie there were 15 bakeries.
      https://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/2018/07/1960s-70s-devon-avenue-bakeries-in-chicago.html

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  5. I have fond memories of going to Braverman's Deli, with their huge sandwiches and excellent potato pancakes and kishke.

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    1. Breverman's would give you so much corned beef, that they would not give you extra bread. People would have made two sandwiches.

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  6. I remember Mort’s Deli on Wabash with the pickles in a wooden bucket on the tables and counter

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  7. Wasn't there a Litberg's Deli in Rogers Park?

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  8. I believe the demise of the deli’s is mostly because the children of the owners became educated and did not want to work such long and hard hours.

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  9. Perry's on Franklin in the loop was one of my favorites

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  10. Fred, son of Gladys and LewFriday, July 15, 2022 at 11:55:00 AM CDT

    Klein's on Madison at Kedzie was a serious fave with people lined up at 7 AM on a Sunday from as far as Gary to the South and Antioch on the North for the take-home Sunday Jewish brunch or bagels and smoked fish (lox, cod, white fish). My Great Uncle Bill, my Grandmother Gladys, Grandfather Lew and (by marriage) My Great Aunt Sara owned and operated this 100+ seat fine kosher-style deli for decades with everything made in house - pickles, fish, brisket, corned beef, pastrami, kishka, matzoh balls, etcetera, etcetera! The building was sold in '68 and burned down sometime later during an "urban unrest."

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    1. So Klein's smoked their own Pastrami? And curred their own corned beef?

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    2. Fred, grandson of Gladys and LewFriday, July 15, 2022 at 7:32:00 PM CDT

      To the best of my knowledge, yes, everything done in house.

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