Deephaven resident Wendi Zelkin Rosenstein does not plan to bring back the restaurant operated by her late grandparents, but she is offering aficionados a taste of the Lincoln Del through a new book.
The business evolved from a bakery in north Minneapolis in the 1930s into a group of three restaurants, with a location near the St. Louis Park and Minneapolis border on Minnetonka Boulevard, another in what has become St. Louis Park’s West End area and a third in Bloomington.
In the foreword for her new book, “The Lincoln Del Cookbook: Best-Loved Recipes from the Legendary Bakery and Deli,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman echoed his own recent book, “Thank You for Being Late.”
In the foreword to Zelkin Rosenstein’s book, Friedman wrote, “If the Jewish community of Minnesota had a beating heart – a holy of holies of food, conversation, and camaraderie – it was not a synagogue or the Jewish Community Center. It was the Lincoln Delicatessen, mostly just known as ‘The Del.’”
The business closed in 2000, and Zelkin Rosenstein said she has been responding to requests for recipes ever since.
She began thinking about writing a book soon after the death of her grandmother, Tess Berenberg, six years ago. Tess Berenberg ran the Lincoln Del with Zelkin Rosenstein’s grandfather, Moishe “Morrie” Berenberg.
“People were asking when we were going to do something and bring it back,” Zelkin Rosenstein said. “Not a day goes by that somebody didn’t remind us.”
She began looking through the files at the homes of various family members.
“It was kind of a mourning period for me, but it was really an homage to the business and how much of the community it really was,” Zelkin Rosenstein said. “It definitely was a real melting pot. It wasn’t just Jewish families.”
Although the Lincoln Del operated as a family business, Zelkin Rosenstein said her grandparents did not intend for their grandchildren to take over running it.
“It was a 24/7 thing,” Zelkin Rosenstein said. “They really wanted us to go to college and grad school and have a career and raise a family and not have to worry about the time commitment. We promised, so we honored that promise to them.”
While she does not intend to bring back the actual Lincoln Del, Zelkin Rosenstein said she is hoping her new book will help bring back memories.
“It was definitely a long but fun adventure putting it together,” she said.
In the book, co-authored by professional writer and amateur chef Kit Naylor, Zelkin Rosenstein left out some of the Lincoln Del’s recipes but compiled the menu items people most requested.
“I got lots of input from a lot of people via email or social media about what they wished they could take a bite out of right that minute,” Zelkin Rosenstein said.
She included a disclaimer that the recipes had been adapted in quantity to be more suitable for the home cook. She also noted that the Lincoln Del sometimes purchased ingredients from outside the United States and changed some of its recipes from time to time.
“The recipes come with notes about where they originated and what the original ingredients were,” Zelkin Rosenstein noted. “We found the right taste but also reminded people that if you want to use butter in your blueberry muffin rather than shortening and change the recipes, it of course will be even more sinful and tasty. This is for you to play with. It’s not an exact science.”
When the Lincoln Del still operated, sometimes customers would provide input about food items they didn’t like. Zelkin Rosenstein said an employee who prepared food at the business became a regular member of the family around the table at dinner.
“We’d test the stuff at our family dinners back home and fix it,” Zelkin Rosenstein said.
The Lincoln Del had a community vibe from early in the morning until late at night.
“It was the one hangout where everybody went to after school,” Zelkin Rosenstein said.
Customers also hung out late at the bars at two of the locations or met at the Del to travel together to sports events.
“We’re just lucky we had a good product and people liked it,” Zelkin Rosenstein said.
The Lincoln Del closed as the restaurant business changed.
The final chapter of The Lincoln Del Cookbook, before the recipes begin, notes that a pastry chef bought his family a house using income he earned at the Del. A server paid her University of Minnesota tuition and living expenses thanks to the business.
“You’d never be able to do that now,” the book says. “Soaring costs and the Del’s high standards did not always translate to a workable business vision. The days of employees making the Del their career were dwindling.”
The book cites labor, food and operational expenses.
“Unfortunately, goodwill alone could not sustain the business,” the book says. “When the Del closed its doors in 2000, the regulars were devastated. ‘Where are we going to go now?’ they asked. For a while they tried other restaurants, but nothing could match the friendliness – or the food, or the service, or the camaraderie – of the Del.”
Friedman came to a similar conclusion about restaurants in Washington, D.C., near his home in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The delicatessens here only sell knishes, not community,” Friedman wrote. “They offer matzo balls, but without memories. That is why whenever I eat at one of them, no matter how much I eat, I always leave hungry. My stomach is full, but my soul is empty. Nobody ever left the Del hungry. It filled body and soul.”
In “Thank You for Being Late,” Friedman revealed that Morrie Berenberg had helped him continue his education after Friedman’s father died suddenly. Friedman’s family had longstanding ties to the Lincoln Del, where his mother worked as a bookkeeper and his sister worked as a waitress.
When Friedman said at the time of his father’s funeral that he did not think he could afford to continue studying at Brandeis University, Zelkin Rosenstein said her grandfather replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. Go back to school, and we’ll take care of it.”
Morrie Berenberg chatted with his closest friends and said, “Let’s make this happen for him,” Zelkin Rosenstein said.
She added, “They were always proud of the career he made for himself, knowing he didn’t have a family crisis stop him from being on that path.”
When Morrie Berenberg died in 1994, Friedman wrote a eulogy on stationery from The New York Times for the funeral.
Although her grandparents are no longer interacting with customers over the menu items, Zelkin Rosenberg said, “The family legacy goes on.”
She will share samples of some of the food in the recipe book at a book launch 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at the location of the Lincoln Del’s main location, 4100 Minnetonka Blvd. in St. Louis Park. The site, which became Fishman’s Kosher after the Lincoln Del closed, is now home to Edina Realty.
In addition to recipes, the book details stories about the Lincoln Del.
Author Paul Maccabee wrote of the book, “Serving simultaneously as a multi-generational Minnesota family memoir, deli history, kitchen glossary, tall-tale compendium, and Jewish recipe book, ‘The Lincoln Del Cookbook’ is rich in larger-than-life characters, from bakers and bookies to rabbis and celebrities. At last your kitchen can be filled with the tastes of the Greatest Deli in America – the High Synagogue of Bageldom, the once and forever, now eternal Lincoln Del.”
The book, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, will be available to purchase at the book launch. For more information, visit mnhspress.org.