The Challah in the Del

A smorgasbord of delights.
A smorgasbord of delights.

Remembrances of things past sweeten another cookbook by a Brandeis alumna: “The Lincoln Del Cookbook” (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017), written by Wendi Zelkin Rosenstein ’84, P’18, P’18, with Kit Naylor.

The book pays culinary homage to the Lincoln Del (short for “Delicatessen”) restaurants, beloved by Minneapolis-area noshers for decades, and owned and operated by Rosenstein’s family until the chain closed its doors in 2000.

Rosenstein, who grew up working at the Del and earned a law degree after Brandeis, is now a legal consultant and a writer in the Minneapolis area, as well as the keeper of her foodie family’s secrets. Her twin sons, Brett and Matthew, are Brandeis seniors.

Like its inspiration, “The Lincoln Del Cookbook” serves up a smorgasbord of delights. It’s filled, of course, with the Del’s recipes for egg bagels, rugelach, cabbage borscht, potato salad, kmish bread, matzo ball soup and more.

It’s also filled with stories, including the one foreshadowing the Del’s founding. Rosenstein’s great-grandfather Frank Berenberg left Romania in 1897 at age 15. Already an experienced baker, he carried with him the key to his family’s success: a container of thousand-year-old sour starter, his secret to a fantastic loaf of bread. He fed flour to the starter every day, all the way to America.

By 1975, his sons (including Rosenstein’s grandfather Morrie) had expanded the Lincoln Bakery Frank opened in 1935 into three Lincoln Del restaurants in the Twin Cities area.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman ’75, H’88, wrote the foreword to “The Lincoln Del Cookbook.” His mother used to work as the Del’s bookkeeper, and his sister waited tables at the Del during school breaks. When Friedman’s father died, Morrie took up a collection to help the Brandeis student stay in school.

Friedman writes, “The Del ‘sold’ something […] that kept its customers constantly coming back, and which is increasingly rare these days. It wasn’t knishes — it was community.”

For a time, the Del hosted a Friday-night reservation-only prix-fixe ($12.95) Shabbat Shalom dinner, nourishing Minnesotans — Jews and Lutherans alike — with a menu that included chopped liver on rye, brisket, roast chicken in wine sauce, latkes and two kinds of strudel.

Along with making customers feel like kin, the Del was known for the humor that ran throughout its marketing. In the 1980s, on the same day U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop warned Americans about the overconsumption of sugar, the Del began selling slices of a 40-pound six-layer devil’s food cake with chocolate fudge frosting.

It was called the Koop Cake.

— S.P.