“DeliMan” is a delicious little concoction, a consideration of the history of the Jewish delicatessen and how it reflects Jewish culture in America.
The approach is wide-ranging and a bit wandering, but director Erik Greenberg Anjou does have a lively centerpiece in Ziggy Gruber, a third generation deli owner. He began working in his grandfather’s New York deli when he was a kid, then attended a prestigious British culinary school before deciding he wanted to return to his roots.
Now he runs Kenny and Ziggy’s deli in Houston (it’s never clear who Kenny is) and the film bounces back and forth from reminisces about the grand deli boom of the 1930s and ’40s in New York City to Ziggy’s current life — his stresses, his boisterous bossing at the deli, his weight problems and his love life. Assorted famous New York types — Larry King, Jerry Stiller, countless deli owners — discuss the joys and pitfalls of delicatessens while the cameras linger on mounds of pastrami and corned beef.
According to the film, delis were first popularized by Germans in New York. Immigrant Jews just sort of saw the low-cost business model and took it over. At one point there were literally thousands of delis in New York alone. Now there only a few hundred across the country (although some of this math seems suspect; a map of current delis shows none in southeastern Michigan. What?).
Still, you don’t go see a movie like “DeliMan” for hard-hitting facts; you go for the nostalgic sentiment, and there’s plenty of that here. With Ziggy as guide you get both a sense of history and the love of an institution and way of life. Also, beware: You can work up quite an appetite watching this film.
Rated PG-13 for some language
Running time: 91 minutes