Chef Jeremy Umansky counts visiting his local Jewish deli on Cleveland’s east side among his most powerful childhood food memories. And stepping into Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, which opens in Cleveland this week, isn’t unlike the experience Umansky would have had on his after-school trips to grab a black-and-white cookie, a few flaky rugelach, and a chocolate phosphate.
But, Umansky’s eagerly anticipated modern-day version of an old-world delicatessen isn’t as much a reproduction as it is a revival, with all the sights, smells, and flavors of the long-vanishing breed of eatery. “We see a demand for a good Jewish deli,” says Umansky. “But more than anything, what people want is inspired food — food that is made from scratch from start to finish in one location.”
After Umansky left the Culinary Institute of America just three months shy of graduation, he was active with Slow Food Hudson Valley, worked on a 40-acre vegetable farm, and studied under author and fermentation guru Sandor Katz. But it was while working alongside James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer at Cleveland restaurant Trentina that the pair developed one of the leading programs in the country for culturing koji, the mold most known for its role in creating fermented products like soy sauce and sake.
Given Umansky’s deep knowledge of practices like foraging for wild edibles, smoking, fermentation, charcuterie, and koji-culturing, diners at Larder can expect a deli that does things a little differently. “We’re doing some newer spins, but we’re preparing food that replicates that nostalgic product,” the chef says. “If someone were to come in here and eat, most of the food would look, feel, and taste the same as what they’re used to seeing at a deli. What’s really modern about it are the ingredients and techniques we’ll be using to produce the food.”
The traditional method of making pastrami takes seven to 10 days, but Umansky knocks it down to 48 hours at Larder by using koji enzymes to cure and tenderize the meat. That meat is then layered into house-baked buttermilk bread or smoked rye (rye bread that has been proofed in a smoker). The deli’s house-cured lox isn’t made from salmon, as is tradition, but from fresh-water fish, like trout, and is one of a rotating roster of sustainable fish that comes in the “Daily Catch” sandwich. Umansky garnishes crispy potato latkes with house-made bottarga and serves them with applesauce made from foraged wild apples. And, to give the stuffed cabbage the proper tang, the kitchen uses fermented cabbage leaves.
Larder isn’t a kosher eatery, but instead “kosher-style,” says Umansky, adding that while he won’t be following those strict dietary laws, diners will never encounter pork, shrimp, or lobster. They will, however, come across “bad-ass” matzo balls floating in a rich chicken-foot stock and a bread and butter plate that combines spreadable schmaltz, beef-based charcuterie, house-baked breads, and assorted pickles.
A grab-and-go deli case is stocked with seasonal pickles and ferments like sauerkraut, pickled smelt, pickled radishes, and giardiniera, all available by the pound. Whole loaves of babka and challah, made by Umansky’s wife, pastry chef Allie La Valle-Umansky, are available every day, and on Sunday mornings, Larder serves blintzes and breakfast knishes alongside the ubiquitous bagel and schmear. The drinks, meanwhile, adhere to classic deli tradition and include egg creams, phosphates, sassafras beer, and nonalcoholic shrubs made with Manischewitz vinegar.
Larder’s space also recalls history, and Umansky, La Valle-Umansky, and chef de cuisine Kenneth Scott (all owners) say they’re lucky to have found it. “It was serendipitous finding the space,” says Umansky. “Right off the bat I thought to myself, this place has the aesthetic, the charm, the romance and allure.”
Built in 1854, the handsome red-brick building long housed the neighborhood fire department. Roughly 80 percent of the interior fixtures are salvaged or reclaimed, either from the building’s own storeroom or a decommissioned high school. Wooden shelving stocked with jars of ferments, bags of dried beans, and sacks of flour — all accessed by a rolling library ladder — evoke an old-time general store.
There are 25 seats for now, with more outdoor seating to come this summer, and Umansky describes Larder as “more deli than restaurant.” Located in the burgeoning Hingetown neighborhood of Ohio City, it’s already primed to cultivate the next generation of delicatessen fan.
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Douglas Trattner is a New York Times best-selling cookbook author, dining editor, and freelance writer in Cleveland.
Karin McKenna is an editorial and commercial photographer in Cleveland.
Editor: Monica Burton
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