Seattle Earns a Spot on the Great American Deli Schlep

Dingfelder's gets a visit on the national motorcycle tour.

On Monday morning, Steve Goode rolled into Seattle and parked his motorcycle in front of Dingfelder’s Delicatessen, the 36th stop on what can only be described as a Jewish American pilgrimage: a cross-country tour of the country’s best Jewish delis.

The 66-year-old motorcycle enthusiast rode up from Portland that morning after dining on Kenny and Zuke’s the day before. A fan of long-haul rides—he’s done the Four Corners, all the national parks, and the entire lower 48—the Chicago resident came up with the idea after a friend sent him the Nosher’s list of the “best Jewish deli in every state.”

His wife suggested that he do it as a fundraiser. So he pitched the idea to MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger. The idea was born: The Great American Deli Schlep.

“It was the most fun thing anyone has come to us with,” says Naama Haviv, Mazon’s vice president for community engagement. Goode had to table the idea when Covid hit but picked it up when restrictions started to lift. “As soon as we started getting news of vaccines, literally the second vaccines were approved, Steve sent us an email like, ‘So…’ After a year of being cooped up, all of us were itching to get on the road.” MAZON agreed to do social media and produce swag — you can follow the journey on Goode’s blog as well as on MAZON’s Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Goode left Chicago on June 1 heading east, getting all the way to Maine, then plunking down the corned beef corridor through New England and New York before speeding down the eastern seaboard to Florida, up to Noshville (Tennessee), then back down to New Orleans, out to Texas, up to Kansas, a zigzag to California, then straight up to the Pacific Northwest.

“Every deli has its own personality,” Goode says to the small crowd gathered around him at a picnic table outside Dingfelder’s. He pulls threads of anecdotes from two months of deli blur. There’s the tattooed motorcyclist who burst into singing his haftarah, the notoriously eccentric and beloved crank who runs Stein’s in New Orleans, the rabbi in Tulsa who launched a deli out of his shul that only opens once a month because that’s the only way they can support it. “There’s a guy [in Providence, Rhode Island] who just started a deli. I was his first client,” Goode says. “He was still setting up. He said, ‘if you’re coming, I’m opening.’ I got the first sandwich he made.”

Vance Dingfelder, in a bright red Polo with the deli’s logo and “Bah-dah-DING” embroidered on the sleeve, takes a seat across from Goode.

“I’m meeting guys like you all over the place,” Goode says to Dingfelder. Deli owners around the country are just trying to keep the lights on. Dingfelder will tell you his restaurant came together by the grace of community support. Seattle has seen its fair share of delis flop. They’re expensive to run — and kosher meat is a non-starter. It’s a labor of love. What all these deli guys need, Goode says, is to meet up at a convention once a year to share tips of the trade. “They’re not competitors.”

Not only that, but kids these days, they don’t appreciate this nostalgic cuisine, Goode laments. “Twenty-somethings don’t participate in cultural food,” he says.  “I’ve talked to the deli owners, and they’re trying to get young people.”

“Jews want Jewish food,” Dingfelder replies. “What happens is, if it’s mediocre, they’ll support it, but they won’t rave about it unless it’s really good.” That’s why he relies on his family’s tried-and-true recipes. “My tuna fish is from my father’s restaurant. All the things I sell, I love.”

Between conversations with patrons and Goode, Dingfelder disappears inside and emerges with a brisket sandwich and a large square of cheesecake. Goode eyes it wearily.

Despite 35 deli meals in almost as many days, Goode says he’s lost three pounds from maneuvering the 900-pound bike around curves. (MAZON is actually monitoring his health.) “I don’t know what he’s going to eat after this, but I can’t imagine him picking up a Reuben anytime soon,” says Haviv.

Goode’s trek is mostly an awareness-raising campaign, but by the time he hit Seattle, he’d raised $15,000 for MAZON, which fights hunger in America at the policy level. Haviv alerted Lisa Colton, the local powerhouse who organized last spring’s Great Big Jewish Food Fest, to Goode’s Seattle stop, and Colton pulled together $613. Dingfelder automatically offered to double it — and an additional donation will go to the Jewish Family Service Polack Food Bank.*

It’s hot out, the cans of Dr. Browns are empty, and the road is calling. Dingfelder assures Goode the second half of the brisket sandwich will survive on the bike until dinnertime. Politely declining offers to stick around Seattle a little longer, Goode heads back to his bike. “I’ve gotta be in Fargo by Saturday,” he says. By then, maybe he’ll be ready to eat again.

*Correction: the first version of this story reported that half of the entire donation went to JFS. In fact, all $1226 went to MAZON, with an additional donation to JFS.

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