Let’s Meet Our Jewish Person Of The Week – Aaron Steingold
The man behind the “The Jewish Deli of the Future” located on Irving Park (term coined by Chicago Tribune). #traditionisoverrated
Where are you from?
Charlottesville, VA. My parents are both from Brooklyn and I grew up visiting New York every year and fell in love with the food. I have lived in Chicago for 12 years in the restaurant scene, but I came up in restaurants in Charleston South Carolina before moving here in 2007. I started at Charlie Trotter, which is now long gone.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Appalachian State in North Carolina and lived in the mountains.
What did you do Jewish growing up?
I was raised in a kosher household. At the age of 8, I proclaimed that I enjoyed the works of Carl Sagan more than the fives books of the Torah. Also, I have a very Jewish last name.
How do you combat the decline of the Jewish Deli?
The reason for the decline of the Jewish deli is an inability or unwillingness to adapt with the times. I have hundreds of Jewish friends and none go to temple and so for this business to be a success we need to do something new to reach them. A challenging aspect of this restaurant is the fact that we are trying to bring a traditionally causal food to higher quality using premium ingredients. It is difficult getting folks to understand that we are higher quality and have to charge more. We are expanding our options to make them more affordable by including combos.
What do you do Jewish now?
Today, I am a pretty non practicing Jew but I love the food and traditions. And of course Steingold’s of Chicago.
Tell us more about the Lebanese influences in your life and your food…
First, my wife Elizabeth Abowd is a co-owner and 100% Lebanese. We met at Volvo Wine Bar 7 years ago in Roscoe Village. There is a twist of Lebanese in our cuisine, like we serve latkes with labeneh and our Shepard’s salad is mostly just a Jerusalem salad.
What does Jewish food mean to you?
When we think Lower East Side of New York, there are three major kinds of Jewish foods: delis, bagels, and fish. I wanted to do all three in one restaurant. Steingold’s is now THE place to get real bagels in Chicago.
Our whole thing is to take the best traditional food and make it part of the modern restaurant scene
What is your favorite dish on the menu?
The Steingold’s Classic: Bagel and Lox. I eat it almost every day now, but for a long time I couldn’t get a great bagel and lox in Chicago. So I opened the restaurant.
We work with a lot of organic and quality ingredients. For our bagels. we use the best flour out there all the way from Utah called Central Milling Flour. Steingold’s is the only place you can get house cured lox in the city. The process takes about 5 days of curing with salt, sugar. lemon, and other herbs and it is delicious.
Tell us more about your smoked meat…
We do it old school. First, we rub it down and brine all the meat at Steingold’s. Then, we drive all the meat three miles west to best barbecue in the city- Smoque BBQ on Pulaski- and we smoke it. For real southern twang you need a real smoke barbecue. Once a week, we drive 500-600 pounds of pastrami and corn beef back and forth across town…in a little black car.
Best advice for other restaurant owners?
My biggest piece of advice is: Don’t do it in the city of Chicago. It is incredibly difficult and incredibly competitive and the largest challenge is finding quality people to work for you. Larger restaurant groups have the financial power to pay better and provide better benefits and this leaves a hole for mom and pop places. There is a dearth of skilled restaurant workers.
When the Tribe Gathers…We eat at Steingold’s.