delis

Of St. Louis and Bread Memories

I was born in St. Louis. My parents are from St. Louis – born, raised, married there. My great-grandparents chose St. Louis when they immigrated, some arriving in the 1890s, and all settled there by 1908.

My bread memories of St. Louis don’t have bagels in them. My bread memories are of oblong sourdough rye loaves, in a thick coat of crispy cornmeal. Tzitzel bread made by Pratzel’s, a bakery founded in 1913.[1] After we moved away from St. Louis, we’d return home from a visit with a trunk full of rye bread, thinking it might somehow be enough to last until the next trip.

1962 Carl 2 Cents Plain Post Card cropped 2My family also knows a few things about the delis of St. Louis. My dad’s uncle Louis and cousins Jack, Charlie and Bill ran delis. Not just delis, famous St. Louis delis. Delis with pastrami, corned beef and barrels of dill pickles. Delis with tradition.

When the story of “bread-sliced bagels” as a St. Louis “tradition” broke the news cycle this week, I thought about Jack and Bill. In their retired years, I got to know Jack and his brother Bill a little bit. They aided me in the oral history of the Carl family, and Jack, in particular, seemed like an encyclopedia of St. Louis, lost when he died in 2015. I wondered what would happen if someone walked into Carl’s Deli and asked for a “bread-sliced bagel.” Bill, always putting the customer first, would have obliged, but would have wondered why. If the same order happened at Jack’s 2¢ Plain, Jack, the Soup Nazi long before there was a Soup Nazi, would have berated the customer.

Where did this “tradition” come from? Was it really a St. Louis thing? Panera’s parents were a Boston-bred cookie company, founded in 1980, and the St. Louis Bread Company, founded in 1987. Their union resulted in Panera’s birth in the 1990s. Panera is a millennial. It’s not a St. Louis tradition.[2]

Cities change. 2¢ Plain is gone now. Bill sold Carl’s Deli to an employee, and you can still get a real pastrami sandwich there. After baking tzitzel bread for nearly 100 years, Pratzel’s closed. We mourned the loss of the beloved bread, but a few years later, my cousin Melissa discovered that Mike Pratzel, of the St. Louis Pratzel’s, had a bakery in Madison, Wisconsin, and made tzitzel bread with the same sourdough starter that began his family’s bread legacy.  With the magic that is overnight delivery, we can order tzitzel bread from Manna Bakery in Madison. Maybe next time I’ll ask them to cut it like a bagel.

[1] http://www.losttables.com/pratzels/pratzels.htm accessed 28 March 2019

[2] https://www.panerabread.com/en-us/company/about-panera/our-history.html accessed 28 March 2019

 

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