Smile Politely

Pleading for Matzo Ball Soup in C-U

In my travels, I rarely turn down a bowl of matzo ball soup from a restaurant menu. It’s not that I find the soup to be all that interesting or spectacular; chicken broth and a dumpling made of matzo meal are hardly what I consider to be the most dynamic or flavorful items on my virtual menu.

What drives me to order this item, or simply add to my order no matter what I’ve chosen to eat that day, is the sheer fact that I cannot get it on any menu in Champaign-Urbana. And while I’d like to point out that I am always quick to accuse people of latent anti-semitism, I don’t believe that this is the case this time. I simply think that there is no one in town that really seems to know the value of serving up this traditional delight — also known as “the Jewish Penicillin.”

But let me tell you, there’s more than value. There’s gold.

Most any Jewish deli knows the value in this soup, in that one can charge a fair fee for the golden elixir, yet keep product cost down so low, you’d think it was 100% pure profit. Chicken stock and dumpling made from unleavened bread? Holy Yahweh. Now that is called profit margin.

My favorite place in Illinois to enjoy a bowl is at Max and Benny’s, a fabled Jewish deli in Northbrook on Waukegan Road, just off the interstate. I have been going there since I was a little mench. Pictured above is their famous, “Chicken in the Pot,” aptly named as it is a mish-mosh of chicken broth, noodles, kreplach, matzo ball, and yes, half of a chicken.

I would eat this meal over just about anything at any time, during any such part of the year. It’s just that good.

Outside of Illinois, my vote goes to the tourist trap, Carnegie Deli on 7th Ave in Manhattan. Despite the fact that I find Katz’ sandwiches to be more appealing, nothing for me works better than the way Carnegie serves it up: matzo balls and noodles in a dish. Pot of golden healing liquid on the side. Combine as needed. Oy Vey! My mouth waters at the thought!

I make my own, for the most part. One of the reasons that I married my half-Greek-half-Italian wife, was that she demanded more the first time I served it to her, and then, she demanded more after that.

It’s the most basic of recipes, too. Mine is an amalgamation of my mother’s and my Grammy’s, and while I would love to share it with you here, its just not something I can do. These things are passed down generationally. But you can find good recipes for it anywhere.

Piece of advice though: when making the actual matzo balls, find an actual Jew to make them for you. They won’t taste the same if you don’t. For the same reason that Stevie Ray Vaughn just doesn’t sound as bummed out as B.B. King does when singing the Blues, matzo balls won’t taste of the salty tears of 5000 years of repression when made with goyish hands.

If you don’t know any Jews, then, at least get out a copy of the Torah and read a bit of Leviticus. That way, you will have suffered some as well.

So, how about it C-U restaurateurs? Who can step up and make a decent pot of this golden broth from heaven? Who’s up to the challenge to make C-U into a place where any decent Jewish family can walk in and feel good about where they live?

Won’t someone do me the favor?

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