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Enter at own risk: new life obsession resides inside at Mensch. Jewish Delicatessen

By Paris Spence-Lang

hot-pastramiVANCOUVER — Nitzan Cohen looks a little worried. Probably because sorrow has clouded my face after taking a tentative bite of the Reuben sandwich he’s put in front of me.

But Cohen, know this: I never smile when I eat a great meal. Instead, your Reuben is making me question what little meaning I’ve eked out of my existence. And it’s because of the pastrami.

The pastrami is a destroyer of worlds. I can only describe it as thus: incomparable. Cohen, the mensch behind Mensch. Jewish Delicatessen, makes it himself — the only one on the West Coast who does, he claims, north of Portland. Slow-cooked in the shop and paired with local, fresh-baked bread and a home-brined pickle, the meat — and sandwich — are prepared in front of you, to order. Meat & Bread tastes like Lunchables to me now.

The menu is as Spartan as the small shop. Along with the reuben and pastrami, an egg salad rounds out the sandwich trifecta. “One man who lived in New York came here looking for real pastrami,” Cohen tells me in a soft Israeli accent. “He started getting it twice a week. Then I convinced him to try the egg salad. Now he gets that twice a week.”

The lox is also incredible, made in-house with flavours of beet, vodka, and dill, sitting on a bagel with a Winnipeg snowdrift of Labneh cheese. And I don’t know if I still need to say it, but yes, he also makes the cheese himself. I don’t think Cohen sleeps.

But if he isn’t sleeping, it’s because he’s trying to reawaken a tradition of real food, made well. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m trying to do something simple. Everything in here is simple.” And simple talks volumes — but his customers don’t. Their mouths are full of pastrami.

Mensch. Jewish Delicatessen is located at 666 East Broadway and is open from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday – Wednesday and Sunday; 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Thursday – Friday.

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