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Pastrami Lovers Rejoice: 2nd Ave Deli Opens on UES

By Amy Zimmer | August 16, 2011 4:01pm
Brisket and pastrami and other Jewish food delighted customers at the new 2nd Ave Deli.
Brisket and pastrami and other Jewish food delighted customers at the new 2nd Ave Deli.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — Instead of a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony, the 2nd Ave Deli celebrated the opening of it new location on First Avenue and East 75th Street by paying homage to Jewish food roots by slicing a "nickel shtickel" of salami links.

"Years ago, it literally cost a nickel for a salami link. Today, it costs $2 a piece," said Jack Lebewohl, who ran the restaurant after the 1996 death of his brother, Abe, who opened the deli on Second Avenue and East 10th Street in 1954.

Upper East Siders have been waiting three years for their fill of chopped liver, kasha varnishkes, noodle kugel and the “Instant Heart Attack Sandwich,” where pastrami, corned beef or turkey is stacked between two potato latkes. The deli has been working on creating the corner spot at 1442 First Ave. since its previous tenant, an Irish pub called the Wicked Wolf Restaurant, closed in August of 2009.

"During the construction people had been opening the door and asking when we're going to open," said Jeremy Lebewohl, who owns the deli with his brother, Josh.

They hope to carry the hamish — or homey — spirit of their uncle, Abe.

"When our customers walk in, we want them to feel like they're walking in to our living room," Jeremy said.

The brothers opened a 2nd Ave Deli on Third Avenue and East 33rd Street in 2007, a year after the original location closed over a rent dispute, and now they've crept even further uptown for this new location, following their client base, which has also left the Lower East Side.

"A lot of our customers live on the Upper East Side, which is one of the reasons we wanted to come here," Jeremy said. "The Upper East Side really needed a new deli. Manhattan is a funny place. People don't want to leave their neighborhood. Other than for work, they don't want to travel 30 blocks."

(While many Jewish families may have left the Lower East Side, Jeremy, however, still lives there. "A lot of their children are moving downtown again," he said.)

"A lot of people coming to 33rd Street were coming from uptown," Josh said. "They wanted to save on cab fare," he joked.

Mark Blecher, 64, who lives nearby and came for matzo ball soup and a brisket sandwich, would drive to the 2nd Avenue Deli downtown when he first moved to the city decades ago, but hadn't been in years.  "I don't need a fix that bad that I'm willing to give up a parking spot," he said.

But the deli's dishes happily reminded him of the meals he grew up with.

"It's comfort food," Blecher said. "It's great that they could make a go of it in this economy and with people wanting to eat healthy. Once in a while I'll make a go of it here."

The deli's regulars include such celebs as Jon Stewart, Sarah Jessica Park and Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser — two comedians who made a New Year's Day tradition of coming to the old spot. The actor Fyvush Finkel showed up to the opening to cut the challah, calling the new location a "great" thing "because even uptown people want to eat great kosher food."

Mark and Dianne DiNardo were in the area from New Jersey for a visit to Lennox Hill Hospital. They were going to stop off at Starbucks when they saw the deli.  She ordered an egg salad sandwich, he got the matzo ball soup.

"We're not Jewish, so we don't know the names on the menu," Mark said. "I got the matzo ball soup because it sounded more Jewish than potato soup."

He sampled it: "It's delicious."

But the prices gave some customers indigestion.

"It's too expensive. It's completely out of a line: $16 for a hamburger, $3 for coffee?" said Brigitta Blum, who has lived on the Upper East Side for 40 years and runs a skin care salon.

"I looked for the cheapest thing on the menu," she said, ordering a hot dog on challah for $4.50. When it came, she sent it back to warm the challah.

"People will try it, but I don't know if they'll come back," she said. "Before you come here you have to rob a bank."