Sunday, February 23, 2020

Zabar’s Deli Mustard | Lefsetz Letter

I’m rationing it. And lamenting the bottle I gave to my physical therapist.

Judy Tint hooked me up with Scott Goldshine of Zabar’s and he sent me a care package last week. There were bagels, rugelach, pastrami and nova.

And a babka.

Yes, that delicacy featured in “Seinfeld.”

To tell you the truth, prior to last week I don’t think I could pick a babka out of a lineup, or at least a pastry case. But when it arrived, memories came back.

Actually, Thursday night I was at dinner at Amy’s house, and she’d purchased a babka, but it was a pale imitation of the real thing, a loaf of cake with some chocolate swirls, that looked better than it tasted.

Unlike Zabar’s babka.

Now this is the tip of the year. I want you to run online immediately and order this babka, you’re going to experience a treat, your mouth will water, tears will come to your eyes as you slice bite after bite, unable to help yourself, at least I wasn’t.

So the package came.

Two hours later I returned to find almost all of it in the freezer.

My father froze bagels, but this stuff is best when it’s fresh.

But Felice did not grow up in a family like mine, where food was a highlight, along with travel. My dad constantly said we may not live in a big house, but we experienced the finer things in life. Everybody else had moved to Skytop Drive, everybody else had graduated from their cookie-cutter domicile to a custom home. But my father just added an addition, built by a cheap contractor, the ceiling tiles were constantly falling, but when it came to food, nothing was off the table, nothing was too expensive, nothing was too good for our palates.

And we gorged. Especially my dad. I didn’t find out he had gastric bypass surgery until two years ago, when my older sister Jill told me. He constantly exclaimed that they cut out two-thirds of his stomach as he grasped his belly and ran to the bathroom, but I thought the operation was for something else, it was way before my time.

And we were not dainty eaters. We did not hold back. You could never run out of food and you enjoyed what you ate, knowing that eating enveloped the essence of life. My mother may not have been a great cook, but when my father bought the food, when we went out to dinner, we were gourmands.

I freaked out. Reached into the freezer. Extracted all the goodies.

I waited for the bagel to defrost. Then I toasted it, which I’ve learned is anathema, but when it’s golden brown and the top is crunchy, mmm… I spread the cream cheese upon it and took bite after bite, being brought back to my youth, marveling at how good it was, how it lived up to my memories.

But then I attacked the babka.

I waited for it to defrost, at least a bit, it had only been in the freezer briefly. Bu I couldn’t really hold back. It was staring me in the face, ALL THAT CHOCOLATE!

That’s why you want this babka. You slice it and don’t see veins of chocolate, but entire minefields! Sometimes it’s chocolate all the way through. It’s the best thing I’ve eaten all year.

As for the mustard…

Mustard was never a drippy, yellow gunk in our household. As far back as I can remember, it was Grey Poupon. We didn’t need no man in a Rolls-Royce to convince us. Mustard had to have zing.

And when the seventies hit, we added Pommery, with its red wax atop a cork seal and its grains in the mustard.

Stunningly, in the foodie twenty first century you can buy Pommery on Amazon:

Pommery Meaux Mustard

To tell you the truth, you can eat Pommery straight from the jar, it’s just that satisfying. But it’s not good on everything. It overpowers too much food. And even though Grey Poupon is even sharper, it’s a quick bite that does not sustain, and it’s easier to spread.

And those two were enough until I experienced Zabar’s Deli Mustard.

I mean that’s why I gave one away, who needs this stuff? You know, a variation on what comes out of the pump at the baseball game. Or that crap they put on the table at delis. Declasse, not for me.

Yup, Heinz ketchup is definitive. The alternative when I was growing up was Hunt’s. If you went to somebody’s house and they served Hunt’s, you wondered why their parents didn’t get the message. Heinz was thick, Hunt’s was runny.

And along with the Heinz, in most houses you saw French’s mustard. You even see it in plastic packets at drive-ins. It’s yellow like you don’t see in nature and it’s got the tiniest of zings. It’s mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich.

But Zabar’s Deli Mustard…

It doesn’t look like much in its plastic bottle, it seems unnecessary, but it makes meats COME ALIVE!

I kid you not, I don’t know how it does it. I was always into the exotics, like Pommery above. But now I can’t live without Zabar’s in the house.

It’s thick, not runny. But unlike Pommery, it’s easily spreadable.

And unlike Pommery and Grey Poupon it never drowns out what it covers, it just accents it. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s far from harsh. You will never put French’s on a hot dog again. And pastrami that often goes naked, to experience its full, pepperized taste, gains new flavor with Zabar’s Deli Mustard. The sauce brings out something hidden in the pastrami, they go together like husband and wife, bagel and cream cheese.

So here’s you assignment for today. It must be completed. You must go online and order Zabar’s babka right now:

Zabar’s Homestyle Babka

I don’t care if you’re Tara Westover who grew up in a Mormon household far from Jews.

I don’t care if you think most Jewish food is heavy and oftentimes dry, which it frequently is.

I don’t even care if you’re anti-semitic. Because after eating this babka you will be unable to hate Jews. That’s right, Zabar’s babka could engender peace in the Middle East… Well, I don’t want to get carried too far away, but it sure would bring us closer together over here.

And when you get it, cut a slice.

Now don’t be on a diet, don’t be one of those people who say something can be too rich. Don’t be thinking about calories. Just dig in, savor. And keep slicing and keep eating. This is a peak experience, what you live for. Trust me.

And while you’re clicking order the deli mustard too, it’ll make you smile every time you use it:

Zabar’s Deli Mustard


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