Authentic bagels, lox and more at Steingold's in North Center

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Delis are not an easy business. On top of the food costs, there is labor and inventory, plus picky customers.

Our Hungry hound says a new Jewish-style deli in the North Center neighborhood is trying to do things old-school, but also being sensitive to price.

Every restaurant struggles to keep their costs in line. A deli is especially tough since you've got to carry fish and meat - both of which are either cured or smoked - plus expensive dairy items. That's why "deli" - at least by New York standards - typically means expensive.

That hasn't worked in Chicago. Manny's has little competition. But a new kind of deli is hoping to gain customers by doing everything small-batch, from scratch, and occasionally going over the industry-standard 30 percent food cost.

At first glance, paying $15 for a bagel, lox and a shmear, with tomatoes, capers and onions, might seem steep. But at Steingold's of Chicago, the latest entry in our ever-shrinking deli landscape, the owners wanted everything done from scratch.

"That's a way you can really keep track of the quality of the ingredients you use," said Aaron Steingold.

Let's start with those bagels. First, back up a few hours, to 6:45 a.m. That's when Max Stern, also known as The Bagel Chef, delivers 200 or so bagels to the deli. But the day before, he put the dough together.

King Arthur flour, malt, yeast and salt get kneaded first.

After the dough rests an hour, he weighs then hand-rolls each bagel himself. They rest again at least 12 hours. Next morning, at 3 a.m., he begins the process of making the bagels, using the dough that rested overnight.

"That's when the slow fermentation happens, they slowly proof in there, and that slow fermentation kind of adds a beautiful flavor. And then I take them out when they're cold, boil and bake them as is," said Stern.

After boiling for 30 seconds per side, the "everything"s get dredged through onion, salt, poppyseeds, sesame and garlic, before hitting the oven.

"It's definitely the closest thing I've found in Chicago to a true New York bagel," said Steingold.

The deli pays a buck per bagel.

Then there's the lox, which starts out as a side of salmon.

The salmon has to be cured, so they toast black peppercorns and coriander seeds, releasing their essential oils.

Then they're blended until fine, combined with sugar and salt, and rubbed generously all over the salmon.

"The Ora King salmon is raised in New Zealand, we get it three days out of the water," said Steingold. "When it's cured properly, is very buttery and delicious."

Their cost is about three cents per bagel for the rub. Into the cooler it goes to work its magic, then two days later, it's lox. At $15 a pound for the salmon, it works out to 3.75 per bagel, since each sandwich gets a quarter pound.

Cream cheese, sour cream and labneh - a Middle Eastern cream cheese made from yogurt - are whipped until smooth - their cost? Fifteen cents per bagel. Then you've got heirloom tomatoes, quick-pickled cukes and capers - another buck. The deli's cost? 5.93 per sandwich - a 39% food cost if you charge customers $15.

Steingold says they could increase their margins, but that defeats the purpose.

"I'd say good food requires hard work," he said.

Incidentally, with a food cost of $5.93 per sandwich, you'd have to charge people $19.80 if you were going to keep a steady 30 percent food cost. That obviously would never work here.

In Steve's Extra Course Video, he talks about the deli's unique caviar service - rarely, if ever, found in Chicago delis.
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In Steve's Extra Course Video he talks about the deli's unique caviar service - rarely, if ever, found in Chicago delis.

Steingold's of Chicago
1840 W Irving Park Rd.
(773) 661-2469
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