When you walk up to the door of Zaftigs Delicatessen, you immediately feel like you’re walking into a family member’s apartment. Once you are out of the cold and into the warmth, you are greeted by a generous hello from the manager, who escorts you to a comfortable booth in the corner of the restaurant. From here, you could see how Zaftigs got its name.
The word “zaftig” is Yiddish, and means a “voluptuous full body,” or, as depicted in this restaurant, “a plump Jewish mother.” Once seated, you find yourself surrounded by brightly colored acrylic paintings of various scenes. The largest and most repeated portrait is of a large woman in a red dress with a serving spoon held above her head, scolding you. This character is Nanny Fanny, and she is the woman who wants to please throughout this dining experience. As this “zaftig” looks down on her restaurant, customers remember their childhoods, with their grandmother saying, “You are too skinny, you must eat one more plate, and if you do not like it I will make something else for you.”
Established in 1997, this all-specialty, non-kosher delicatessen was built to serve as a meeting place and dining room away from home. This restaurant combines mixes of the old with combinations of the new to make it truly unique. The family-owned business prides itself on the quality of the meats and the freshness of the bread. But most of all, it prides itself on the service and experience it provides.
Robert Shuman, the founder and owner of these delis, began his culinary career in the South End. Growing up in Boston, his family remained very close—so close, in fact, that they all lived in a single apartment with each other. This theme remains prevalent in the way the restaurant conducts itself in the day-to-day dealings. You feel as if you are part of the family the moment you walk in. Shuman’s daughter is now the manager of the Brookline location, and his son is the catering director. This eatery keeps the culture alive by keeping it within the family.
There is a large sign in the back of the restaurant that says “Caviar,” and that seems out of place—another of the many quirks that makes Zaftigs appealing.
Throughout the experience, it is obvious that a great many relationships have been built across the wood tables. The regulars are seated in each of their special booths and seats scattered throughout the restaurant, and they are greeted with a “How are you, my friend?” each time a new waitress passes.
The food here is not meant for a single person to eat alone. Each dish forces you to share it, unless you want to become a zaftig yourself. Once the platters are placed on the table, one realizes that there is some “comfort food” aspect to each and every dish. The Zaftigs Combo, a smorgasbord of sweet and savory items from cinnamon sugar noodles to a crepe-like pastry filled with heavy ricotta cheese and blueberries—you are full before you even start the actual meal.
Yet, as a good Jewish mother would prompt, the waitress returns with more suggestions of what she can serve you and the belief that yes, you may be stuffed, but for her and the portrait watching you, you can do another round of food.
Toward the bathroom, the walls are lined with “Best of Boston” accolades and clever Jewish-American jokes like “got rye?” The kitchen, in the corner of the restaurant, is heard before it is seen.
Angelica Bachour, a waitress, said that Zaftigs differentiates itself from other Jewish-American delicatessens throughout Boston in a few ways, like how each member of the staff prides him or herself on the suggestions he or she gives customers on a daily basis.
“Even regulars who stop in every morning for coffee and a pastry still try new things when we bring something up,” she said.
Featured Image by Vaughn Feighan