Image: Chopped liver is served to patrons waiting outside in line for the re-opening of the 2nd Avenue Deli in New York
Seth Wenig  /  AP file
Chopped liver is served to patrons waiting outside in line for the re-opening of the 2nd Avenue Deli in New York, on Dec. 17. The kosher deli was forced out of its last space approximately two years ago by rising rents and has moved farther uptown and closer to 3rd Avenue.
updated 1/3/2008 11:55:02 AM ET 2008-01-03T16:55:02

For nearly two years, the 2nd Ave Deli has sat high atop the pastrami lovers' consciousness as devotees of the steamed beef waited anxiously for news about its revival.

The deli — founded by the late Abe Lebewohl in 1954 — shut down in January 2006 thanks to skyrocketing rents, an uncertain lease, and high renovation costs at its old location in Manhattan's trendy East Village.

But the long wait for foodies finally ended Dec. 17 as the deli's owners literally cut the salami and officially welcomed hungry patrons and 2nd Ave Deli fans to its new address — on 33rd Street near Third Avenue.

The old space on Second Avenue and 10th Street now houses a bank.

While the location is different, plenty remains the same including the savory smells. The pastrami still glistens with fat, making any waistline whimper. The plump rotisserie chickens crackle in the front window. Potato and noodle puddings, knishes and knoblewurst beckon.

Most of the menu has been preserved. The $20 "Twin Double" consisting of heaping portions of corned beef and pastrami, along with the $21.75 "Instant Heart Attack" survived the move. The latter arrives in the form of two large potato pancakes with a choice of formidable meat.

Nostalgia is everywhere in the 65-seat deli, which is half the size of the former place. The same pictures of Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Yiddish theater stars and Rudy Giuliani line the walls. The deli installed replica partitions of mahogany and glass bearing the 2nd Ave Deli name.

Much of the previous staff has reappeared. About 60 people are on the payroll, and of those, close to two-thirds are previous employees.

The veteran workers are hard to miss. They tend not to smile and stomp around busily, carrying plates of turkey, chopped liver and matzoh ball soup to impatient customers.

They're all business, but no doubt happy to be reunited with one of the city's most beloved institutions.

"Second Ave Deli is not just a deli," said Jack Lebewohl, brother of Abe, the deli's founder. "It's a place where people would come to eat. They felt that they were eating the same foods that their mothers and grandmothers made. It was a home away from home."

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That home suffered a terrible blow on March 4, 1996, when Abe Lebewohl was shot and killed while attempting to make a bank deposit.

His killing remains unsolved, but Jack Lebewohl said he remains optimistic that police will crack the case.

The shooting shocked the city and left the Lebewohl family grieving. When the restaurant closed, Jack Lebewohl said it was another blow.

"It was a terrible thing," he said. "It almost reached a level of mourning. Our way of life changed. I had no place to go in the morning."

Jack Lebewohl's sons Jeremy, 25, and Joshua, 27, revived the deli, taking a year to build out the new place. They decided to move because they found a building to buy.

"My brother's spirit lives on here," said Jack Lebewohl. "I'd like to think he's looking down on us now and smiling."

"Here I feel confident that the restaurant will be able to pay my mortgage and have a certain future," Jeremy Lebewohl said, who handles day-to-day operations. His brother is a lawyer.

Lebewohl said the restaurant still uses the same family recipes when preparing the foods.

And it still boasts being kosher despite the fact it's open seven days a week.

"Everything we use is kosher," Lebewohl said. "We have no dairy products used on site. I do have rabbinical supervision."

But is it truly kosher? It's open on the sabbath?

Jeremy Lebewohl thought for a moment and reached into his deceased uncle's play book, pulling out a gem of Jewish wit.

"If you have so many questions about it, this is probably not the place for you," he said.

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