The Continuing Tradition of the Chicago Deli

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Deli culture in Chicago has never been as strong as it seems like it should have been. With a sizeable Jewish population, and some of the biggest beef processing facilities in the world, you might that delicatessen culture in Chicago would be as big as it has been in other cities like New York and Los Angeles.


But no.


For reasons that are not completely understood, the delicatessen in Chicago has proven a rarity.


Still, there are some wonderful delicatessens in the Chicago area, and here are five of them, some old standbys, others exciting new ventures into the world of corned beef sandwiches and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, the somewhat unusual celery-based soda that pairs so well with a big beef sandwich.


Kasia's Deli


Kasia’s Deli. Opening in 1982, Kasia’s Deli has made its reputation not on whitefish salad and Reuben sandwiches but on the pierogi, the traditional Polish dumpling.  Pierogis, blintzes, and potato pancakes are available fresh and frozen, to be eaten in the store (in a rather small dining area) or taken home (the usual option). Kasia’s Deli is living proof that in the right neighborhoods, and when serving a truly superior product, the delicatessen can thrive in our city.


Gotham Bagels. Bagels are a key part of any delicatessen, either made on premises or brought in from a larger local supplier like New York Bagel & Bialy. Gotham Bagels, one of the newest bagel shops to open in Chicago, makes their bagels on premises, the old fashioned way. Specializing in sandwiches to go, Gotham Bagels serves up innovative creations like the OMFG (fried egg, aged cheddar, thick cut bacon, spicy aioli, Gotham’s Finest pickle and Nashville fried chicken) and The V, a vegan sandwich, which is something you’d have a hard time finding in a traditional delicatessen.


Corey’s NYC Bagel Deli.  You can get bagels and black-and-white cookies, which you can get at almost any deli, at Corey’s NYC Bagel Deli, but most people go to Corey’s for the sandwiches. In the proud tradition of the all-American deli, Corey’s serves up bagel with lox, cream cheese and the familiar garnishes like tomato, sliced red onion and capers, as well as a sandwich of locally smoked whitefish, oh so traditional and very, very good.


JB’s Deli. If you’ve ever been to the more popular New York delicatessens, like the Carnegie or Katz’s (“I’ll have what she’s having”), you know that they specialize in over-stuffed sandwiches that almost defy the dimensions of the average mouth. JB’s Deli may not specialize in such gargantuan sandwiches, but the sandwiches they do serve are pretty darn big.  Unlike some of the better known NYC delis, however, JB’s has a whole portion of the menu devoted to vegetarian options.


Rye Deli & Drink


Rye Deli & Drink. Opening 12/3/2020, Rye’s Deli & Drink represents a new generation of urban delicatessens. Rye Deli & Drink smokes their salmon and pastrami in house, and they also bake their own bagels, making them a source for old-school craftsmanship that you won’t find at many delis either here or in New York. Also breaking from tradition, Rye Deli & Drink has a large cocktail and drinks menu, and although cocktails might not be the first thing you’d think of when you think of delis, Rye has a remarkable list of adventurous mixed drinks like We Got the Beet (beet-infused tequila, agave nectar and black lime) and Mr. Monopoly (amaro, an aperitivo and nitro cold-brewed coffee).