Pastrami Divine

So the next day I zipped over to Cecil's, where I finally learned why so many people are so devoted to this modest little spot. Cecil's (pictured) was founded in 1949 by Faye and Cecil Glickman as a delicatessen only; the couple's grandson and Cecil's current manager, Brad Leventhal, says they added table service mainly because "all the delivery people would come by and my grandmother would always ask them: 'Would you like something to eat?' And eventually they all said: 'Open a restaurant! Open a restaurant!' So she did."

For years people had been raving to me about Cecil's and I never quite knew why. But suddenly I'm a convert to this dusky little sweetheart spot--and the fact that Cecil's carries one of the Oscherwitz family's lines of meats makes it that much sweeter. The only thing is, you have to know to order kosher, an option that costs an extra fifty cents a sandwich (on top of the basic price of $5.99 for a quarter-pound, $8.99 for half a pound, $11.99 for a hefty three-quarters). When you do, you get Best's Kosher.

Which, for my money, makes an excellent pastrami sandwich. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see the very meat whose making had mesmerized me in Divine Food, sitting all hot and steamy between slices of fresh-baked. Ribboned with spice and scalloped with just enough fat to make it moist and tasty, it was beef's answer to really good bacon.

Michael Dvorak

Which is what people have been clamoring for, Leventhal explains: "It seemed like there were a couple of years when it was all turkey and turkey pastrami. But recently we've had an influx of people who actually know what a knish is, people who purposefully hunt us down, looking for that authentic deli. We've started to reintroduce things we hadn't carried for years, like pastrami with fat on it. Some people call it Romanian pastrami, some call it the navel cut, but it's got a lot more flavor and people are asking for it like it's fifty years ago again.

"What people don't know is that when Cecil's first started in 1949 there were a dozen delis in Highland Park. The same as New York--every block had a deli, but over the years they all disappeared. Now maybe [the customers] are back."

Be warned, however: The corned beef from Best's Kosher is not necessarily what people would come back for. It's bone-dry--which makes a lot more sense after you watch the scene in Divine Food in which the Oscherwitz family's youngest son congratulates himself for winning a particularly heated battle with his father's generation over whether to include deckle, a relatively fatty cut, in packaged corned beef. The youngster won, and the corned beef became extremely lean. But he was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

That's another good reason to see this movie: You get to take sides in far-off family arguments. It will be screened in succession with two other Jewish-food short films, Gefilte Fish and Hot Bagels, so consider this your chance to take a quick graduate seminar in delicatessen. As an added bonus, the Jewish Community Center will be providing a post-screening "nosh and schmooze."

Speaking of family arguments: On my way out of Cecil's, I picked up a package of Best's kosher franks. A few days later, I popped them into the toaster oven and ate them standing up, staring out the window, worrying, just the way my father used to. I don't know that I can recommend this particular exercise to you all, but it left me unsettled all week.

Divine Food, Gefilte Fish, and Hot Bagels screen Saturday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Ninth Annual Jewish Film Series at the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Rd., St. Louis Park. Tickets are $5 general admission, $4 for JCC members, and $3 for seniors and students; call (612) 377-8330 for reservations or further information. Copies of Divine Food may also be ordered from the Deli Project Web site, www.deliproject.com. (The Deli Project is a group of writers and scholars exploring the culture of the Jewish delicatessen in America. They produced this film and are also looking to put together a book and museum exhibit on delis. Visit them, too, if you have anecdotes or memorabilia to contribute.) More information about the Oscherwitz family and Best's Kosher can be found at www.bests-kosher.com.

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