Last night a capacity crowd gathered at the Jewish Community Center on Walnut Street to ruminate on a deli with a dilemma.

As reported here previously, Saul’s Deli is going through something of an identity crisis and its owners, Karen Edelman and Peter Levitt, decided to shine a spotlight on the issues they are tackling by holding a “referendum on the deli”.

Led by Los Angeles chef and radio host Evan Kleiman, a panel comprising Michael Pollan, Willow Rosenthal, founder of City Slicker Farms, Gil Friend, author of “The Truth about Green Business”, as well as Saul’s two owners, discussed the difficulties inherent in offering a sustainable, “locavore” menu to customers who often have entrenched ideas about deli food.

Levitt spoke of the burden of needing to offer a four-page menu — his preference would be to slim it down to two pages focused on dishes with seasonal ingredients. Asked whether the restaurant would still qualify as a Jewish deli, he hesitated before replying, “well it would be a Jewish eatery”.

The panelists, all of whom eat regularly at Saul’s, agreed that Levitt and Adelman must continue “educating” their customers, even if that meant dealing with grumblers. Asked how the wait staff copes with the need to provide long explanations at the table,  Pollan pointed out that “people are accustomed to taking abuse from waiters in Jewish delis”.

We heard about the pickle making process, why Saul’s never uses the word lox, why its salami case is currently empty and exactly what a kishka is — you may hesitate before biting into one again. Read Illana DeBare’s great review of the evening on her blog Midlife Bat Mitzvah.

In the end, the panel was preaching to the converted — the 250-plus crowd was evidently supportive of Saul’s; one audience member remarked that food was only 50% of a deli and that  Saul’s was  like a secular synagogue the way it brought people together. Music to Adelman’s ears, no doubt, who emphasized the role she felt Saul’s should play in the community.

So now will people stop kvetching about those normal-sized pastrami sandwiches?

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...