If you are a Logan Square Farmers Market regular, or even a semiregular, you’ll likely immediately recognize (and, consequently, irrevocably be drawn to) the greens and yellows of the Zeitlin’s Delicatessen stand, a current pillar of the market.
It began as a small, one-man operation, offering bagels, sourdough bread and giardiniera out of the Korean-Polish bar Kimski in Bridgeport on Thursday nights. But Zeitlin’s Delicatessen has since blossomed into a nine-person “fully operational Jewish deli with limited hours,” as Sam Zeitlin, owner, namesake, and mastermind behind Zeitlin’s Delicatessen, described it.
Zeitlin’s serves up modern and classic Jewish deli food, with the likes of giardiniera focaccia, East Coast-style bagels, cream cheese, pickles, sourdough bread and knishes gracing its menu weekly, along with other longtime deli favorites.
A Modern Jewish Deli With Classic Charm
Sam Zeitlin began cooking for his family around the age of 12; for him, food became a form of self-expression. And after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Zeitlin was drawn to Eurocentric-style food concepts, working at fine dining establishments throughout Washington, D.C. He moved to Chicago in 2018, later working at Galit, the Michelin-starred Mediterranean restaurant in Lincoln Park.
But as is the story for many, Zeitline saw the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt his plans; he was laid off from his restaurant job in Chicago. “It was this existential crisis for me,” said Zeitlin. “Old patterns, businesses and people were dying. Everything was falling apart. No human could save us, the collective us. I got very into my faith and my practices – whether it be my cooking practice, my spiritual practice, my running practice – and I thought, ‘What is it going to take to make it out of this?’”
Until the pandemic, a delicatessen was never something Zeitlin took seriously. But he soon realized that his previous plans in fine dining were an unrealistic approach to both food and himself. “It’s not my culture and not who I am,” he said. And quite frankly, Zeitlin said, he felt that it was unnervingly hard to find an authentic lox and salmon bagel in Chicago.
In July 2020, Zeitlin’s became an LLC, and the journey began.
A Deli Amid The Market
From Kimski, Zeitlin’s Delicatessen moved to the Thursday South Loop Farmers Market. Then on to Saturdays. Then to the Logan Square Winter Market. And finally, it became a Logan Square Sunday staple in the summer market. “I think that the farmers market is such a beautiful, synergetic reality that we coexist in [in] Chicago for a couple of months out of the long year,” Zeitlin said.
Zeitlin’s team works with an intensity and passion that’s essential for farmers market work. “The prep starts on Monday when we weigh out all the flour,” Zeitlin said. “On Wednesdays, we start with the product for the first Thursday farmers market in the South Loop. We’re mixing doughs and so on.”
To prepare for the weekend markets, Zeitlin’s day begins at 2 a.m. on Saturday, when he begins baking, packaging and transporting products for the South Loop Farmers Market. He’s there until 1 p.m. Next, he prepares for the Logan Square Sunday market. “I wake up at midnight, start baking at 1 a.m. [and continue ] until 8 a.m., and then head to the market from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.,” Zeitlin said. “I’m also training for the New York Marathon, so there’s no time to rest,” he added with a laugh.
Paying Homage To Tradition
Amid constant change, Zeitlin wants to ensure that one thing remains steadfast: that the delicatessen represents true Jewish culture. “The recipes that you’ve eaten and seen are all my own. Sasha’s rye bread, Hal’s challah and Goldie’s babka are all named after my grandfather, my brother and my grandmother.”
The motto of Zeitlin’s is “Future Family Recipes,” as Zeitlin hopes that the recipes and food will help reignite the passion for Jewish food that has been lacking for some time. “I didn’t grow up cooking this food, making bagels and challah, and 99% of young Jewish people right now are not making this bread. I want to make sure that my family, my biological family or community family, knows who they are and what that means,” said Zeitlin. “This food is really important to that. With all of the antisemitism, hatred and negativity, it’s important that Jews and non-Jews are validating this food.”
“In Judaism, I think it’s all about finding your practice. Whatever that means to you – if you call it religion, spirituality, God – you’re inherently playing with energy. At Zeitlin’s, we’re also playing with energy. We’re feeding a sourdough starter. We’re creating a life force that is sustaining us. That’s what fascinates me about Zeitlin’s – I’m not in control. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about what I want it to be, but at the end of the day, it’s about practicing and feeding the community.
But first, we need to feed the sourdough starter.”
Zeitlin’s Needs Your Help
It’s one foot in front of the other for Zeitlin as he continues down this fast-moving, ever-changing path. The delicatessen has seen momentous growth since its early pop-up days at Kimski, and Zeitlin said he hopes to open a brick-and-mortar shop within the year.
The delicatessen has grown so much that the team is looking for a new, temporary baking space after getting too big for its previous kitchen. Zeitlin’s is looking for a synagogue, a church or an unused kitchen with temporary availability or a monthly contract. As a bonus, Zeitlin’s will happily feed whoever houses them.
Logan Square is currently in full farmers market throttle, so be sure to stop by Zeitlin’s Delicatessen to get your fill of bagels, sourdough, pickled vegetables and other exciting DELI-cacies. The summer farmers market runs Sundays, May 8 through Oct. 30, at Logan Bouldevard and Milwaukee Avenue. Zeitlin’s is also available by way of catering, private dining, and wholesale; reach out to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Featured photo: Olivia Wolf