A New Generation of Pastrami Rises
Shared by Evan Bloom
Recipe Roots: San Francisco
In San Francisco, Evan Bloom’s team at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen slices and serves upwards of 350 pastrami sandwiches — a day. Unlike the legacy deli owners of the past, Evan wasn’t raised behind the counter. The town where he grew up, an hour north of L.A., didn’t even have a deli. Instead, he came to deli (professionally speaking) as an adult, joining a small cohort of dedicated Jewish cooks who have heeded the call to revitalize Ashkenazi cooking in America.
For Evan, it all started in his 20’s with a trip to Katz’s Deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side about eight years ago. He was in New York visiting his brother Ari. Having grown up in a kosher home, “we had always been 2nd Avenue Deli people,” he said. But, on a whim, he ended up at Katz’s and ordered a pastrami sandwich. He remembers thinking: “Oh my god, I haven’t had this in such a long time, let alone this good. How does this not exist in San Francisco?”
He wanted his father, who only eats kosher meat, to experience it and thought that he’d try to recreate Katz’s pastrami for Father’s Day. “I tried to get kosher brisket and couldn’t find anything and I gave up,” he says, but he decided to make pastrami anyway with his friend Leo Beckerman in a backyard smoker.
“The first time we made [pastrami], it was surprisingly good,” Evan says. But, in an effort to improve upon the recipe, “the next three times it was awful.” Ultimately, they found their groove, making pastrami regularly and hosting “tastings,” as Evan says, for friends at his apartment. And, what started as a small project, became an obsession with Jewish food that snowballed to include baking rye bread to go with the pastrami and making matzo ball soup.
When Evan was frustrated with a job in corporate construction, his brother offered him a template for a business plan. “Why don’t you do something to exercise your brain?” Evan recalls him saying. He had been making pastrami so often that the business plan was naturally for a deli. The momentum continued to build. Soon, he and Leo started to host deli pop-ups in the Bay Area. Finally, in February 2011 they opened their first brick and mortar deli in San Francisco.
Nearly seven years later, his father still hasn’t tried the pastrami Evan set out to make for him. Fortunately, Evan’s gone on to open three bagel shops, which his dad appreciates. “He’s a big smoked fish guy, so we keep him pretty happy,” Evan says.