UPTOWN — The world’s first vegan Jewish deli is now open in Uptown.
That’s how owner Andy Kalish describes his new venture Sam & Gertie’s, which opened Friday at 1309 W. Wilson Ave. The restaurant features traditional Jewish deli fare like latkes and whitefish salad, but it is prepared in the vegan style that Kalish is known for.
“There are vegan delis owned by Jewish people,” Kalish said. “But they are broader deli or sandwich shops. We are the world’s first.”
Kalish and his wife, Gina, have operated a number of restaurant ventures in the 1300 block of West Wilson Avenue in their home base of Uptown. Sam & Gertie’s is next door to vegan fast-casual eatery Ka’lish, and the new Jewish deli is in the couple’s former pizza spot, Pizza Squared by Longacre.
The husband-and-wife team have lived in Uptown since 1996, with Kalish moving from Detroit to Chicago a few years prior. Sam & Gertie’s is his take on the Jewish deli’s of his childhood spent in the Detroit area.
The deli’s name is inspired by his grandparents, where Kalish would have Friday dinners and enjoy traditional Jewish cuisines.
So when it came time for a new concept at the former pizza place, Kalish knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to open a Jewish deli since I left Detroit,” Kalish said. “I just didn’t know I wanted it to be vegan.”
Sam & Gertie’s serves the mainstays of Jewish delicatessens, but with a vegan twist — “eggless” egg salad, a smoked “whitefish” salad as well as a number of “chik’n” salads.
Plant-based pastrami and corned beef sandwiches will be available, as will schnitzel and chopped “livah.” All of their offerings are prepared without using any animal products.
Kalish’s first venture in Uptown was Earth Market, a plant-forward eatery. Since then, the restaurateur has strived to make his restaurants as plant-based as possible. That’s why he wanted to get out of the pizza business for something that would be strictly vegan, he said.
“We just want to work with plants,” Kalish said. “The world is just a better place if we eat more plants.”
Turning Jewish deli favorites into vegan fare meant a lot of experimenting in the kitchen, Kalish said. The most challenging food items to make all vegan, he said, were the pastrami and matzo ball soup.
Matzo ball soup will not be available at the deli’s counter all the time, Kalish said. That’s because a traditional matzo ball is held together by eggs, which also help give the matzo ball its texture and consistency. Finding an egg-alternative that can bind the matzo ball —and withstand a hot broth — is still a work in progress, he said.
“We’re trying to human proof it,” Kalish said. “We’ve been working on the best formula.”
Finding new, all-vegan takes on traditional foods is Kalish’s life’s work. Doing that with traditional Jewish deli foods makes Sam & Gertie’s a true passion project, he said.
“I left behind so much of what I love when I came here,” he said. “This is my homage to that.”
Sam & Gertie’s has only a few tables and scant countertop space, and will mostly operate as a take-out place. The restaurant’s winter hours will be 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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