My speech this week in New York allowed me the opportunity to return to my favorite haunts in the Big Apple like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, one uninterrupted tradition for decades was . . . well interrupted. As I have previously discussed, I love to go to Carnegie Deli. While touristy and over-priced, it still had my favorite corned beef and most importantly my favorite Matzo ball soup. As discussed in April, the deli closed after the discovery that it had been stealing gas for years with a dangerous illegal cut into the gas line – the same crime that resulted in the destruction of a building in New York last year with the loss of life. The deli remains closed and the scandals appear to be piling higher than its famous corned beef sandwich. On the bright side, the despicable conduct of the restaurant has led me to pursue a search for my next favorite deli. This trip brought me to the Second Avenue Deli.
Con Edison has reported that its crews discovered a diverted line running to Carnegie while looking for a leak. These inspections have been increased in the aftermath of an explosion in the East Village that killed two people. An illegal gas line tap is suspected. What is astonishing is that I could not find evidence that anyone, including the former manager Sanford Levine or the second-generation owner of the deli, Marian Harper Levine, being charged criminally. This would seem an obvious crime worth thousands of dollars that put lives in obvious jeopardy. Yet, the only discussion appears to be a fine in the media. In the meantime, an elderly couple has been living above the deli without heat or utilities for months with winter approaching. I still cannot imagine how (even in New York) no one will go to jail for such a dangerous crime.
However, the gas line crime is just the start of this kosher version of a Greek tragedy. Sanford Levine, who was denounced by a judge this year as the “shyster of smoked meat,” was found to have been ripping off the minimum wage workers at the deli and paying them the equivalent to $2.50 a hour rather than $15. The restaurant recently settled the dispute for $2.65 million.
Then it came out that Sanford Levine, who married the daughter of the founder of the deli (Marian Harper), was having an affair with his manager who was accused of sending meat and recipes to her restaurant connections in the Philippines. Levine reportedly allowed her to live above the deli at a low rent while their affair was going on.
Justice Matthew Cooper slammed both telling that Sanford and Marian Levine were not worth his concern or sympathy. In the meantime, Sanford pursued Marian for $11,000 per month in support during their divorce. Cooper asked “Does Mr. Levine have no shame?” and added that “In the name of profit, Mr. Levine would toy with the safety of the people of New York City. . . . (He’s a) rapacious person who not only deprived workers of their livelihood – guys who cut the meat and washed the dishes . . . Even worse he steals gas from Con Edison and endangers not only anyone who came to the building but anyone in Midtown Manhattan!
There is little public sympathy for either of them, particularly after Marian left the courtroom and was heard to say “Everything was taken away from me because of this.” She seemed to have fewer concerns while her workers were being ripped off and gas stolen at her deli.
Fortunately, there are other delis in New York.
The Second Avenue Deli is no longer on Second Avenue but rather relocated at 162 East 33rd Street (between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue) It originally opened in 1954 on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 10th Street but closed following the murder of its founder Abe Lebewohl, a survivor of The Holocaust, during a robbery on March 4, 1996. No one was ever prosecuted for the crime. The new owner Jack Lebewohl closed the delicatessen at its original location in the East Village after a rent dispute but has created a wonderful space. It is less touristy and the food is very good. While I still prefer the Matzo ball soup at Carnegie, the pickles were great and the corned beef terrific. You also enjoy the customers speaking Hebrew and Yiddish. When one family began to tell me about their favorite delis, two other tables joined in with loud objections to their suggestions (including one person who yelled across the room “You don’t know what you’re talking about. They use a microwave! A microwave! It a disgrace.”) At the end of the meal, they bring you a glass of chocolate soda, which is fun. I had a ball.
The good thing about the demise of the Levines is that it has forced me to renew by search for the perfect New York deli (though they are declining in number). Second Avenue Deli is worth a visit and is certainly in the running, but the search will continue happily.
Here are some pictures from the Second Avenue Deli: