David's Brisket House Seemingly Bites the Dust; Early Jim Leff Find and Chowhound Fave
David's overstuffed brisket sandwich (with gravy) was legendary.
[Note: This post has been updated with more recent information. David's is now set to reopen the week of Monday, February 13, 2010.]
One of the city's best and most unique delis has apparently gone down for the count. On Friday I went to David's Brisket House for my usual bimonthly roast beef brisket sandwich on rye with gravy (a notably delicious mess) and found the gates pulled down. At first I thought it might be closed for Friday afternoon Muslim prayers, but then I asked an African guy working at the haberdashery next door how long the place had been closed up tight. He replied with apparent sadness: "Two months, man."
I arrived on Friday to find the gates pulled down.
A call to the phone number triggered a mumbled answering-machine message: "David's Brisket House. We apologize for the inconvenience. We should be opening up shortly, if not this week hopefully next week. Just keep calling back. We're waiting for a fire department inspection of the hood. Thank you, have a nice day. Happy New Year." The tone of the message was anything but reassuring.
Located on Nostrand between Fulton and Atlantic in Bedford-Stuyvesant -- a neighborhood that has been mainly Caribbean and African-American for the last few decades -- David's really stuck out. While most cafés offered rotis and fried chicken, this place slung some of the best Jewish deli meats in Brooklyn, in huge sandwiches that cost a fraction of what you'd pay at Katz's or Carnegie Deli
Photo taken June 11, 2010
Slathered with mustard, David's pastrami sandwich was also wonderful.
David's Brisket House was one of Jim Leff's original "finds," from a sainted list that also included Di Fara Pizza. (Yes, without Leff, no one would have ever known about Dom DeMarco.) In a visionary move, Leff, a jazz trombonist by trade, went on to found Chowhound.com, and left after it was bought by CBS. He's now living on a farm somewhere in the Carolinas.
He had a theory about the place. At the time, it was run by Jamaicans, and Jim had the wacky idea (he was famous for his wacky ideas) that the staff had been inspired by some Jewish deli out on Long Island. As he wrote in his 1999 Eclectic Gourmet Guide to Greater New York City, "David's Brisket House is one of New York's greatest food mysteries. Who are these guys and where did they learn to slice meat like this?"
My theory was more straightforward: Founded in 1970, when there was still a Jewish and Italian presence in the immediate neighborhood, the place was an actual Jewish deli. It was probably also dependent not only on neighborhood patronage, but on businesspeople who traversed this important commercial crossroads.
As I reported in Fork in the Road, the place shut down for a year, but then was reopened by devout Middle Eastern Muslims, for whom the pork-free menu of the traditional Jewish deli was like some miraculous culinary discovery. Though they took up using a slicing machine rather than hand-slicing, the pastrami, corned beef, and roast brisket still attained the same high level (though there was some disagreement about the corned beef), and the proprietors were clearly proud of the place and its evolving neighborhood constituency.
Farewell, David's! A gem near a corner that is increasingly taken up with franchise eateries. But then, maybe once it garners the fire inspection alluded to in the phone message, it will rise from the ashes yet again. I'm not holding my breath, though. In the meantime, I'm going to "just keep calling back," as the message suggests.
At least it wasn't in trouble with the DOH ...
Like this post? Take a gander at the rest of our blog.
Want more Fork in the Road? Follow us on Facebook if you like pretty pictures of food.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.