Borscht, Chocolate Pie and History, Too

A new cookbook and memoir celebrates the Lincoln Del.

More than a cookbook and more than a family memoir, The Lincoln Del Cookbook, by Wendi Zelkin Rosenstein and Kit Naylor (Minn. Historical Society Press, September 2017), seamlessly shares personal stories and best-loved recipes from the bakery and Jewish deli many Minneapolis natives remember with fondness, and even longing. The last restaurant closed in 2000.

In the book’s forward, journalist Thomas L. Friedman, St. Louis Park native whose mother was a bookkeeper at the Del’s Lake Street location, paints a picture of the deli’s special atmosphere for anyone who did not experience the Lincoln Del but heard of its strong presence. Friedman writes how he remembers “the community and bonding that we engaged in at the Del.” The food and experience, he writes, “filled body and soul.” Other quotes and sidebars throughout the book from former employees, customers and family members echo the same sentiment of the Del as community-focused. It was a place to eat, yes, but it was also a place where customers felt at home.

In the memoir section of the book readers will see the history of the Del is also a history of the Jewish community in Minneapolis. We learn the earliest origins of the Lincoln Del starting with the story of Frank Berenberg, who emigrated from Romania to Minnesota in 1897 as a teenager and kept the family’s important secret baking ingredient—a sour starter—alive with him. The tale continues with Berenberg appreciating America’s opportunities so much he named his first son Abraham and the north Minneapolis bakery he opened in 1933, the Lincoln Bakery. The detailed story of how the bakery transformed into a chain of three sit-down and take-out bakeries and delicatessen restaurants known as the Lincoln Del is shared in the book before the much-anticipated recipes.

Co-author Rosenstein, grandchild of the Del’s owners, Tess and Morrie (Moishe) Berenberg, was raised in St. Louis Park and spent her childhood eating at the Lincoln Del locations, helping however she could and eventually working there throughout high school. She wrote the book along with author Naylor to honor her grandparents’ contribution to the community.

“I was mourning my Baubie Tess’ death and began to look through her recipes and family documents and photographs,” Rosenstein says. “I was lucky to have the Minnesota Historical Society Press accept the book proposal right away. It was a popular pitch because the Del’s iconic and excellent reputation preceded my publishing efforts. Everyone at Minnesota Historical Society Press expressed a genuine enthusiasm for the project.”

Rosenstein spent five years requesting stories and memorabilia from customers, employees and her family. When asked which recipes readers have been the most excited to see in the book, Rosenstein says, “omelettes, meaty cabbage borscht and chocolate pie.” She and Naylor say in their disclaimer before the recipes that they worked hard to translate recipes meant for restaurant quantities into portions more sensible for the home cook. However, “No taste can match the deliciousness of our memories,” they write. The rich history shared throughout the book makes that line ring true.   

The Lincoln Dell Cookbook: Best Loved Recipes from the Legendary Bakery and Deli
By Wendi Zelkin Rosenstein and Kit Naylor, Forward by Thomas L. Friedman
Published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, $24.95