Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Viewers would be advised to eat and eat well before attending a screening of Erik Greenberg Anjou’s charming, if a bit long, documentary Deli Man. With copious shots of deli menu staples, if they take nothing else from the film, it will likely be a craving or two. Fortunately there is more to like in the doc than just the matzo ball soup.
Deli Man follows the cultural and economic origins of this Jewish food institution at time when they’re fading out in America. More importantly it follows the quirky characters behind and in front of the counter who are around to make sure it doesn’t despite all obstacles. Anjou’s assembled a broad range of deli aficionados of authors and celebrities including Jerry Stiller and Larry King (the newsman hilariously credited instead as a “Deli Maven”) who gleefully extol the virtues of the perfect corn beef sandwich while peppering in plenty of Yiddish—don’t worry if you’re not of the Jewish persuasion Anjou helpfully has plenty of lower third definitions to keep you up to speed.
More specifically the doc follows one Ziggy Gruber, the affable owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen in Houston Texas. Gruber, himself a Cordon Bleu trained chef, opted to forego high class restaurants in order to uphold the traditional foods of his grandparents. He’s a fun character to be around and his passion for the food and his heritage is contagious. In a touching sequence he returns to the church where his grandparents were married. Gruber is also surrounded by plenty of loving enablers who, while not in the deli business themselves, respect its importance to Ziggy.
The history side of Deli Man is extensive and interesting (those crazy 1900s kids craved more spices than their elders!) though sharing the screen with Gruber leads to the film to feel divided in focus, making the runtime seem longer than it is. Still, the film is extremely likeable and like the delis themselves, sustained by the impassioned characters in front of the counter.
Deli Man begins its limited run on February 27th and expands further on March 6th, for a complete list of cities visit the film’s website.