What's going on at Saul's?
Went there last night.
They were out of corned beef.
They are now charging for pickles.
I ordered my pastrami "jucy" and it was almost totally devoid of fat; I mean, really dry.
A friend we went with ordered the chicken plate and got one tiny half breast. It was so small that he complained and they brought him a leg to go with it. (He said the chicken tasted great.)
1475 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709
I know they've been smoking their own pastrami for a little while now, ever since Niman's pulled theirs off the market. Reports on the results have been mixed. I haven't tried it since the change.
The charging for pickles is part of the new "artisan" deli approach - have people pay more for higher-quality stuff instead of giving them free junk that mostly just gets thrown away. Places like Wise Sons (and, from what I hear, Mile End in Brooklyn, and Kenny and Zuke's in Portland) can pull it off; I don't know if the food (and the pickles, specifically) at Saul's is good enough for them to -- especially with their predominantly older customer base.
What's happening at Saul's? It's getting more expensive for less and for less good. I went out with friends who wanted lunch and I had a blintz which was tiny and unflavorful and greasy and about $4-5. The knishes have become miniscule and underseasoned/too few cooked onions for $2.50. The coffee is pretty lousy and the pickles are not as good as they were when they were commercial. Pickles are easy to make, too, but for best flavor you have to leave the cukes in the brine for more than an hour.But no matter how mediocre it is, sheer habit makes people return in droves as if Berkeley were deficient in restaurants.
Cucumber pickles in an hour? Maybe sliced pickles, but any deli worth their salt will prepare pickles whole, which can take over a week. Half sours or new pickles seem to be less popular, but even those take a couple of days.
The times I've been there, I've never had the impression that Saul's is getting droves of people, and if they are, it's because of a lack of competition. The quality of their ingredients is solid, but their Ashkenazi American foods can be a little blander than they should be. That said, the delis I ate at during my last trip to NY were pretty awful but for opposite reasons. Not sure if their quality declined, or if the Bay Area has tainted me against their crap ingredients.
I've eaten at Saul's on and off for the past ten years, and the food has rarely wowed me. And, as you mentioned, with so many food options in the Bay Area, I rarely gravitate to their Ashkenazi American fare, their Sephardic/Mizrahi offerings, or their California influenced specials. Maybe it's just a matter of marketing--- I would guess that 99% of people who go to Saul's don't go there for their sustainable vision, and the people who would are busy eating as hip, fancier, or less family friendly places.
Perhaps you didn't read my post the way I intended--slightly sour Ashkenazic humor implying that they have to leave their pickles in longer. Of course you have to leave pickles in longer than an hour.
If someone in my house buys a good jar of pickles, I add little cukes (the ones from Costco are great) and extra vinegar/salt/garlic and that pickles them over the next few days.
Saul's just doesn't taste good to me and I only go if someone else drags me there, as I hate to insist on only eating at the restaurants I like.
A few months back, there was a good talk about the future of Jewish delis and the owners of Saul's spoke, along with Joan Nathan, the owners of Wise Sons, and some other modern deli owners. It was illuminating and you can watch it online: http://fora.tv/2011/05/19/Deli_Renaissance_Unpacking_the_Deli_Concept
At Chapter 11, they talk about pickles. The free pickles, which often wind up in the garbage after one bite, don't quite jibe with Saul's sustainability vision. They've opted for more varieties of homemade pickles, but that's at a financial cost to the consumer. I'll say this--- it's more justifiable than charging $2 for five cents worth of steamed rice at a restaurant whose cuisine uses rice as a staple.
In Chapter 4, they discuss pastrami and how it's an inherently inconsistent product. At the time, they were going through a no-pastrami phase as they shifted from Niman Ranch pastrami to a new supplier (not sure who they chose). I had a killer pastrami sandwich there a few weeks ago (the Ruskie), but have also had ones like you described above.
Saul's is in a difficult place. I would guess that, like me, most people have tunnel vision at a Jewish style deli, and don't look beyond the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on the menu. I'd written them off years ago after being unsatisfied with a corned beef sandwich, but have begun going back to try their other options.
I go there (against my better judgement) twice a month because my best friend likes it (he lives in Pleasanton).
Last time I was there I ordered a turkey sandwich on a kaiser roll. The waitress told me that they had kaiser rolls but that she couldn't give me one because they were saving them for burgers. My 2nd choice was dark rye. My sandwich came on caraway rye. When I pointed out that the bread was not dark rye, she answered that it was the darkest that they had! One of the slices of "dark" rye was stale at the crusts.
They have done that kind of bait and switch on me before. Once I ordered chocolate cake and they brought me mocha cake, and not a very good version either. They did make a great cardamon soda, but they don't make it any more.
I'm going to have to go there again Saturday. I wonder what kind of Newspeak I'm going to encounter this time.
Saul's and most other places in the Bay Area dishing up Ashkenazi Jewish food and I'm including the cardboard fare at Grand Bakery are why I thought I didn't like (Ashkenazi) Jewish food. Several trips to L.A. And NY later I know I don't like everything but the places here are a poor excuse - id rather not have it or made it myself.
I think the folks who go there go for nostalgia rather than taste.
I haven't had their icicles in year but they were the single thing I liked. When they'd give you a whole bowl of very garlicky half sours we'd eat every one and leave most of the food we ordered. If the pickles are still good I wouldn't mind paying for them. And btw traditional Jewish pickles are made in brine with no vinegar.
My maternal grandmother used vinegar with the salt and water sometimes and they were devoured before they got soggy. She was VERY Jewish. Born in Romania. Maker of gehackte leber and kasha knishes and tongue and etc. My grandfather ate raw garlic with his meals, bite by bite. He was, by profession, a baker of bagels and Jewish rye and Russian black bread. Born in Podolny, outside of Odessa.
So who is the arbiter of what is traditional Jewish food? I'd say if you didn't like Ashkenazi Jewish food, you probably didn't have a Jewish bubbeh who made delicious Jewish bubbeh food, including pickles. .
Bubbeh made green tomatoes, too. Much better than cucumber pickles. But adding a little vinegar can be fine to hasten the sourness. Otherwise, the brine and cukes make vinegar over time by fermenting. How else would they be sour pickles? What is wrong with adding good quality vinegar to sour them more quickly?
OY! Everyone's an expoit, as my bubbeh used to say. And she didn't live to get a gander at what's online.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickle.... Have a read of this or Wild Fermentation so you too can become an expert on pickles.
Brined pickles get "sour" from lactofermentation - the brine and cucumbers do not turn into vinegar. You can certainly add vinegar as your bubbe did - brining can be more tricky and they don't last as long. Or maybe she just liked vinegar.
<<What is wrong with adding good quality vinegar to sour them more quickly?>>
Potentially lots of things, depending on the recipe specifics. Lactic acid bacteria are by their nature acid-tolerant, but I'm certain that there is some pH low enough to interfere with their growth. Adding acid beforehand is going to cause that point to be reached more quickly.
And this will alter the taste of your pickle. Lactic acid and vinegar (mostly acetic acid) are both sour, but they don't taste the same. Try making your own sauerkraut or pickles with only brine and compare them with store-bought (these usually have vinegar added). One bite will be enough to convince most people that vinegar-free is far superior.