Walk in to Saul’s Delicatessen on Shattuck on any given lunchtime and it’s likely to be packed. You’ll probably see Michael Pollan at one table, tucking in to some Middle Eastern delicacies and, if he’s in town, Dave Winer enjoying a bowl of their superb borscht at another.

But there’s some kvetching going on. Owners Peter Levitt and Karen Adelman reckon about a fifth of their customers don’t approve of their sustainable menu which is grounded on the principles of local sourcing, homemade and seasonality.

Why? It mostly boils down to nostalgia, says Levitt, a Chez Panisse alumnus. “We have so many culinary memories under one roof.”

It’s reached a crunch point and the pair have decided to hold a “referendum on the deli menu” on Tuesday next week. On the panel: Pollan, as well as Willow Rosenthal, founder of City Slicker Farms; Gil Friend, author of “The Truth about Green Business”, and Los Angeles chef and radio host Evan Kleiman, who will moderate. Read more about the blintz and bagel brouhaha in my New York Times story, published today on their Bay Area blog.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. Born and raised in Berkeley I have frequented Saul’s now and again. While I certainly have my favorite dishes over the years, I much prefer a menu rooted in the principles of sustainability and local-sourcing – even if this means limiting the size/quantity of items available. It’s important to remember that a smaller menu doesn’t necessarily imply less variety, given the concept of seasonality, especially for regular guests. For example, Cheeseboard Pizza right across the street has the smallest most limited menu in town (only one type of pizza/day) while simultaneously having the most varied (switches daily and seasonally).

  2. Rachel: I’ve been a host at Saul’s for four years, pre and post Turkey pastrami. I miss it too!

    Basically, taking turkey pastrami off the menu was a move to maintain quality and consistency. We have a big menu. Though not nearly as vast as the suburban Deli model. (In terms of urban density, North Berkeley is somewhere in between the Lower East Side of NY and the suburbs. Think Jerry’s Deli in LA. Interesting that the size of the menu also falls somewhere in between!)

    It’s a challenge to prepare and maintain high quality of so many deli meats at one time, plus our changing seasonal specials menu, plus everything else on the regular breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. To monitor quality, an executive chef or kitchen manager really ought to be able to regularly taste _everything_. And that’s hard with a big menu.

    Consider contemporary menu trends, especially in farmer’s market driven restaurants. Fairly small menus, as compared with the classic diner/deli.

    Saul’s turkey pastrami was from Diestel, though! Hormone-free and antibiotic-free range grown turkey.

    But as Tracey says: sometimes meats are not on our menu because there isn’t a local, sustainable, humanely raised source. Like beef salami.

  3. Rachel: I know they source their turkey from Dietsel but it could be they couldn’t find turkey pastrami that met their standards which are pretty high. It’s a tricky one because people seem to expect a full menu with all the old standards in a Jewish deli and are not necessarily thinking of sourcing issues.