Dining With Denise Neil

Deli Day serves Jewish comfort food, both sweet and savory

Scott Redler, left, co-founder of Freddy’s Frozen Custard, and Les Padzensky, vice president of food and beverage for Warren Theatres, help lead the brisket-cooking team for Deli Day at Congregation Emanu-El.
Scott Redler, left, co-founder of Freddy’s Frozen Custard, and Les Padzensky, vice president of food and beverage for Warren Theatres, help lead the brisket-cooking team for Deli Day at Congregation Emanu-El. Courtesy photo

Voters casting their ballots inside Congregation Emanu-El on Tuesday morning likely were quite distracted and probably left hungry.

The air at that particular polling place was filled with the aroma of 300 pounds of brisket that had been slow cooking all night, bathed in seasoning salt, chili sauce and chopped onions.

Deli Day is almost here.

The dinner at Congregation Emanu-El, the Jewish temple at 7011 E. Central, will be served from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The event, which offers attendees a taste of traditional Jewish deli-style comfort foods, including brisket, corned beef sandwiches, matzo ball soup, potato knishes, rugelach and more, is a fundraiser for the temple.

Last year, the dinner drew a record number of attendees, and the temple served around 1,200 meals. During a typical year, it serves between 800 and 1,000.

It’s prepared by a group of volunteers who work for weeks in advance. Monday night was brisket night, and the crew was led by Scott Redler, a congregation member who also is the co-founder of the Freddy’s Frozen Custard chain. The dinner employs Redler’s mother’s brisket recipe each year, and the meat cooks for 10 hours until it is fall-apart tender.

“It smells like heaven in there,” Redler said.

For $15, diners can choose from a corned beef sandwich dinner or a brisket dinner, each served with a variety of traditional Jewish deli sides, including matzo ball soup, latkes (Jewish potato pancakes) and challah (a sweet egg bread).

They can either either dine in the temple and be served by congregation members or choose the carry-out option.

Deli Day has been part of the Emanu-El temple for years. It was started by the sisterhood at the temple and initially was named “Food-A-Rama.”

Volunteers from the congregation begin cooking the various components of the dinner in late August, and it takes 75 of them to staff the one-day event. The event is the temple’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

Cyndie Ponder, the sisterhood’s past president, was among the group that spent the weekend making matzo balls for the soup, a process that includes hours of mixing, chilling, rolling, boiling and cooling.

Potato knishes and matzo ball soup are among her favorite Jewish comfort foods, she said.

“Matzo ball soup is just so warming to your soul,” she said. “We call it Jewish penicillin.”

Last year’s record attendance also affected “Uncle Manny’s Deli,” a section of the dinner where people can buy baked goods to go. Because of the big crowds, it sold out last year, so the dinner’s organizers decided to make extra batches of nearly all the goodies sold, including cabbage casseroles, mandelbrot (similar to biscotti), kugel (a sweet baked noodle casserole) and rugelach (a Jewish pastry).

Wichita doesn’t have a proper Jewish Deli, though Redler said he thinks it would support one. (He’s too busy to do it himself, he said with a laugh, but vows to support anyone who does.)

Redler said he visits Jewish delis when he’s traveling, and his favorite is a place called Chompies in Phoenix.

“You talk about comfort food, there’s no better comfort foods than things like matzo ball soup and potato knishes,” he said. “You don’t have to be Jewish for those foods to make you happy.”

If You Go

Jewish Deli Day

What: A Jewish deli-style dinner and bake sale

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Congregation Emanu-El, 7011 E. Central

How much: Meals are $15 a person

Tickets: Can be purchased at the door or by calling 316-684-5148

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