Many Chicagoans are bemoaning the recent downturn in the number of Jewish delis in the city, but a new one is coming to Uptown in December. Traditionalists be warned, the deli comes with a twist: Sam & Gertie’s from local restaurateurs Andy Kalish and his wife Gina will be entirely vegan. Located at 1309 W. Wilson Avenue, it’s moving into the space formerly occupied by the couple’s Detroit-style pizzeria Longacre. They’ve slated the deli to open December 5, but hope to launch ahead of schedule.
Named for Andy Kalish’s maternal grandparents Sam and Gertie Stuart, the deli will serve as a tribute to his childhood experiences in Jewish delis in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. A photograph of the pair will hang in the restaurant. Vegan restaurants aren’t hard to find in most U.S. cities, but a vegan Jewish deli appears to still be uncharted territory. “I haven’t yet found a freestanding Jewish vegan deli anywhere in the world,” Kalish said, “But I’m not opposed to being the first.”
He plans to offer timeless classics including kreplach (small dumplings filled with meat or potato), knishes, latkes, bagels with tomato-based lox, and matzo ball soup. Middle Eastern items including hummus, tabouleh, and fattoush will also be available.
Other selections include the “Uptown reuben,” a popular choice at Kal’ish, the couple’s Uptown plant-based diner. All meat substitutes will be made in-house, and while it may sound counterintuitive, Kalish does refer to “meaty” menu items. “Any time we use a word that connotes an animal ingredient, we will deviate and find a way to do it with plants,” he said.
He also plans to bake challah on site along with treats such as mandel bread, cookies popular among Eastern European Jews. Kalish knows that vegan delis aren’t entirely unusual, but he believes his old-school approach is unique. “[Sam & Gertie’s] is an extension of two loves — culinary heritage and culture,” he said. “We will do a great job to warm people’s hearts with fond memories of eating this food. You can’t just take something and call it a latke if it doesn’t taste or act like a latke.”
The small space will seat around 10, Kalish estimates, and will primarily function as a grab-and-go operation. He and Gina have conducted anecdotal research from their customers at Kal’ish and found that “no less than 80 percent are omnivores, which I think is just the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “People come in knowing that we’re plant-based and they’re just looking for good food.”
Longacre’s closing notice alerted locals to two forthcoming concepts from the Kalishs, the first being Sam & Gertie’s. The second, slated to open in 2020, will be an “upmarket” Mexican taqueria and cantina. Kalish did not offer further details.
The couple have worked together in the food industry since they married in 1996. Kalish worked as a private chef before going into catering, and Gina always harbored a desire to offer vegan fast food. “She felt it was essential for humanity’s sake,” Kalish said. They launched Kal’ish in 2016, and an online manifesto details their take on plant-based eating. They also operate wedding and party space Ravenswood Event Center.
Stay tuned for more news as Sam & Gertie’s progresses in Uptown.