By: Addison Wylie
There have been so many recent films catered to the foodie crowd, you expect Erik Greenberg Anjou’s Deli Man to do the same. Luckily for audiences wanting something new, this love letter to Jewish delicatessen is more focused on the history behind the food.
The film coheres to the logic of its main subject Ziggy Gruber (owner of Houston, Texas’ hot spot Kenny and Ziggy’s), and agrees there’s more to a delicious corned beef on rye than meets the eye. The delicatessen has always been an escape for people, most notably a core Jewish culture. It was a place for those who immigrated from European countries to take a break from their newly acquired laborious professions. To have a hearty meal after accumulating minor compensation, served by those who were working equally as hard.
Deli Man uses magnetic interviews with eatery owners, who are ecstatic to issue substantial stories behind the food as well as proclaim how insane they are to take on such a career. Increasing inventory costs have added economical weight to restaurants and paying customers have never been more chary and picky. One owner recounts the time a finicky customer described a matzoh ball soup as being “too salty” just by looking at it. Larry King – in an interview that screams “impromptu star power” – states that if a deli drops the ball on quality, he’ll never visit again.
Ziggy Gruber is the perfect host for Deli Man. He started as an impressionable kid and has grown up to be a sensible sage of his craft. The audience sees first-hand how particular patience, social skills, and fine attention to detail has great influence over the quality of a lucrative business. When he speaks to the camera, we never doubt his knowledge. We also believe his sadness when he worries that the culinary’s culture won’t be properly preserved for future generations.
Deli Man is a lighthearted romp. It’s entertaining as it is enlightening. The documentary could afford to be a little leaner though. Anjou has the tendency to overstate Ziggy’s personal life for no real reason, except to induce some kind of tacked-on charm. To use a term I learned from Deli Man, Anjou could’ve used a “European style” technique to scrap some of those detours.