Before he moved to New York, before he started working for celebrated California Jewish deli Wise Sons, before he launched his own catering company, Noah Jacob took a job at Elephant’s Delicatessen — as a teenager.
Jacob, who grew up in Portland’s West Hills, would walk from Lincoln High to Elephant’s after school to work in the kitchen. He continued to work in restaurants through college, eventually moving to New York to get his master’s degree in film. Throughout his New York years, Jacob was just a devotee of Manhattan institutions like Barney Greengrass, Russ & Daughters, and Katz Delicatessen. It wasn’t until he moved to California that he decided to return to the kitchen.
“Growing up in Portland, with not a lot of cultural Jewish presence, in New York we definitely felt it,” he says. “When I got to California, I decided I wanted to get back to that.”
So he did: After years studying and practicing the art of high-quality Jewish deli, Jacob has returned to his hometown to open his very own shop — a bakery, restaurant, and market with house-made smoked fish, pastrami, babka, and more.
Jacob & Sons started as a pandemic project: Jacob and his wife, Dori, moved to Oregon from California and started a meal service, a weekly supper club with rotating menus designed for full family dinners. The menus generally explored global flavors through a Jewish deli lens: knishes and samosas, challah bao, smoked brisket in Manischewitz barbecue sauce, Limoncello gravlax. But as they settled into their new(ish) home, they noticed Portlanders kept yearning for the classic Jewish deli experience. “People kept saying, ‘Man, Portland could really use a good Jewish deli,’” Jacob says. “So we decided to focus our energy on doing a Jewish deli here, and people came out of the woodwork to support us.”
The Jacob & Sons deli will offer the full experience: The bakery will supply loaves of rye bread, challah, and bialys; plus, on the sweeter end, Jacob is planning to bake standards like rugelach, black-and-whites, and babka. The deli will cure its own fish, with different varieties of gravlax; the corned beef and pastrami will be made in-house, as well. In the case, Portlanders will find the works, plus things like tongue — on special first, to see what the local crowd will buy. “I would love to have chopped liver all the time; that would be the goal, to have things like tongue, creamed whitefish, herring,” he says. “But with COVID it’s so hard to tell. You can’t overstock everything, right? We’ll see what sticks.”
All of the meats in the case will be available in sandwiches — both standard sizes and New-York-style mammoths, piled high — as well as by-the-pound, to take home. In addition, the Jacob & Sons market will stock things like jarred pickles, halvah, and other pantry staples. That doesn’t mean Jacob & Sons won’t have its own house-made pickles, however; Jacob is a devotee of half-sours, while his wife is a fan of super-sour pickles (Jacob & Sons will stock both). Rounding out the restaurant menu will be things like matzo ball soup, knishes, and kasha.
While Jacob & Sons will focus on breakfast and lunch service, the space will also host the occasional pop-up dinner, as well as meals for holidays like Passover. Where, specifically, the space will be, however, remains to be seen; the Jacob family is still looking for a place in Northwest Portland, but should be up-and-running within a matter of months. “We have everything set up; assuming the place we find has a hood, we could be ready to open pretty much then,” he says. “There are all these new spaces, fancy and clean, but that doesn’t jive with what we’re doing. We’re looking for some character, something that feels like an old-school Jewish deli.”
The idea, for Noah and Dori Jacob, is to create a space that feels timeless, a place that can exist for years to come — a place where their children, Reuben and Oscar, can grow up. Maybe, down the line, they can work in the kitchen after school, like Noah did. “The Jacob & Sons name is for my two sons,” he says. “I wanted to create a legacy for them.”
For now, Jacob & Sons is still operating as a supper club, accepting online orders and offering donation meals. Stay tuned for more updates.