Get Your Last Meal Here: Hershel’s East Side Deli

By: Jordan Epstein, posted Mar 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

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Steve Safern knew for 20 years that he had a restaurant to open.  When he finally teamed up with college roommate and long-time restaurant man Andy Walsh to open Hershel’s East Side Deli four years ago, the story of the restaurant was actually more than 64 years in the making.  Hershel’s serves a full Kosher-style menu and makes almost all of its products from scratch, procuring locally delicious breads and pickles. We were overwhelmed by the thick-cut fresh pastrami sandwich, Corned Beef Special and Reuben.  Like the fresh-made meats they are famous for, their shop is brined in the tradition of the Jewish people.

Hershel’s stays true to a standard of hearty freshness and quality set by a dying breed of old-American delis. Delis that, like the world famous Katz’ Deli in New York, cure their own Kosher-style meats.  Steve’s uncle Hershel, the shop’s namesake, worked over 40 years at Katz’, eventually becoming a partial owner before retiring in 1989.  Before his uncle passed away, Steve promised him he was going to open a restaurant to honor the legacy of their family’s meat, “doing it right, from scratch”.

Before Steve’s uncle and father came to America, his family made and sold deli meat at their general merchandise store in Poland.   His uncle Hershel, who Steve rightly credits for his own life, rescued his father from the Nazis when they swept through and burned their crowded synagogue to the ground one Sabbath morning, leaving them the only two Jewish survivors of their town of Dynow.  To honor him, Steve and Andy have taken generations-old family recipes and refined them until they created a product that rivals, and many argue tops, the famous Katz’ Deli.  Andy is personally involved throughout the 10-day process “to ensure perfect quality,” he said, ”after all, I didn’t get into this business just to make my living”.

The pastrami sandwich is the crown jewel, a massive pile of dripping fresh hand cut, 10-day cured, slow-baked, 10 spice rubbed “Kosher navel”: the same traditional, high fat, high flavor meat that less than a half-dozen delis still use.  The peppery, garlicky, coriander rub adds a kick and coating to the succulent meat.  The sandwich comes on local Kaplan’s New Model Bakery rye “the best rye you can buy anywhere, no comparison”, says Andy.

The thick-stacked Corned Beef Special, their most popular sandwich, is made with slaw, made fresh daily, and a tangy thousand island dressing.  The rye bread soaked up the thick dressing and juice from the coleslaw, but remained perfectly spongy and snappy.  The thick-cut corned beef allows you to taste the sour and garlicky flavor, while preserving the subtle value of the textural differences between the crisp outer crust and the tender meat.

The Reuben was everything you expect a Reuben to be, if you expect your Reuben to absolutely blow you away. A stockpile of their thick, house-cured and slow-cooked corned beef, sauerkraut that Andy buys “from the Northeast Philly Pickleman” and a sharp Swiss cheese are served on grilled rye.

We highly recommend you stop by Reading Terminal Market and go to Hershel’s.  Treat yourselves to a sandwich, soup and Dr. Brown’s soda as you consume your share of the 4,000 pounds of meaty hospitality dished up per week by Andy and Steve. If religious tradition has you soon giving up bread for Passover, and you are swinging by today to get your last leavened-fix, we recommend the pastrami. If you’re feeling generous, we’d love seconds.


Hershel's East Side Deli Hershel's East Side Deli - Pastrami Sandwich Hershel's East Side Deli - Corned Beef Special Hershel's East Side Deli Hershel's East Side Deli - Steve Safren and Andy Walsh

Hershel’s East Side Deli
1 North 12th Street – Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Google Map)
(215) 922-6220

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  • Patty

    The coloring on that meat looking so so so good! I love hearing what the story is behind a restaurant, thanks for posting!

  • Jordan

    More on the back story: Steve's father was afflicted with Polio, and because of pain, decided that morning not to attend synagogue. His uncle Hershel thought he should be with his family, so he went to try to persuade his brother to go. It was at that moment that the Nazis closed in on the synagogue. They saw the devastation happen, but had to hide and could only watch, or they would have been killed as well. Steve's father and uncle hid from the Germans for months, stealing potatoes from locals to survive. They were taken in by the Russians and eventually taken to America after the war. The way that Steve honors his family, the traditions and story is still alive. I think it must take a story so breathtaking to incite a dedication so pure that the meat can be that good.

  • alicia

    My favorite dish there is Turkey sandwich. The tenderness of it is un-replicable. Once you try that turkey you can never eat any other. I was told it is Andy’s special touch that makes it so tender. I believe it.

  • Jordan

    Alicia, I've never yet had the turkey sandwich there. I think that may be shortly in store! Thanks for the suggestion. Try the pastrami topped with some of their fresh-made chopped liver. I don't think that I have to describe that, for you to get the idea of how amazing it is.

  • Bernoff

    Just came back from Philly. Went for a cheesesteak, had Hershels instead. Nuff said!

  • Dgrossblat

    Been to Hershel's and had the brisket, corned beef, the turkey and the matzoh ball soup. The brisket sandwich was unbelievably good and tender. The meat had taste and was juicy to the last bite. I liked the turkey and would recommend it but it was not talking tender to me the day I ate it. The corned beef was cut too thick and was tough. Again not as good as everyone says but it had great seasoning. The matzoh balls were hard and the soup was just so-so. Not recommended on my hit list. Amen.

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