The Torah forbids eating meat and dairy together, which puts some Reuben fans in a pickle. This grilled classic packs fleishig and milchig—corned beef and Swiss cheese—with sauerkraut and Russian dressing between slices of rye, a layering causing even nonbelievers to weep.

Reuben and pastrami double-deckers boast such geshmak at Mo’s Deli and Catering, the New York-style, non-kosher eatery Jason Ellis tongue-in-cheek named after his Brooklyn grandpa who lacked any taste buds. The Anchorage-born former Hilton chef recalls the smells, sounds, and thrilling atmosphere of N.Y.C. delis visited “completely wide-eyed” as a kid. He never forgot those divine breads, the pastrami and matzo balls. “There was nothing like that here in Alaska,” he says. 

Since 2018, there has been. The melding of briny, tart, smoky, and spicy at Mo’s Deli gives a foretaste of heaven, though the mall setting and food presentation are bare bones, in line with lunch counters everywhere. Customers after a single bite tell their hockey-playing host that they haven’t had a sandwich that good in 20 years. Tourists love the locally sourced sockeye lox served with capers, onion, and tomato, or the salmon schmear, both naturally on bagels. Ellis insists on big portions, on soups, salads, and appetizers from scratch, but imports pickled tongue and smoked brisket from Detroit’s Sy Ginsberg, plus “very deli-ish” Dr. Brown’s sodas and sour dill pickles.  

Chopped chicken liver with schmaltz, the Jewish foie gras, no longer greases far-northern palates commercially. “We don’t make chopped liver anymore,” Ellis says. “Low demand, but when someone asks, I offer them the recipe. It is so easy to make.”

Willingness to unveil lip-smacking trade secrets characterizes the man who created a family atmosphere at his business, who, unlike Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” strives for a “welcome, come on in, you must be hungry” vibe. He shares childhood memories on the deli’s walls: black-and-white photos of Sammy Davis, Babe Ruth, Archie Bunker, and Golda Meir… The past hasn’t really passed for this 56-year-old. He got married to his Inupiaq wife by a pompadoured impostor, because “We couldn’t decide how to accommodate both families, Anchorage and Noorvik, and Betty loves Las Vegas and I’m an Elvis fan.”

This nostalgic restaurateur craves “a connection to our heritage and ancestors’ traditions.” He means babkas, knishes, and blintzes and the noshing, of course.

Potato Latkes


4 large potatoes or 6 medium ones (Yukon gold, Irish red, or russet)

2 garlic cloves

1 Tbsp flour

1 egg

pinch of nutmeg


Canola or other frying oil


Grate potatoes coarsely into a bowl. Add grated or finely chopped garlic. Salt. Press mixture in a sieve to remove excess fluid (depending on potatoes). Stir in nutmeg, egg, and flour, to bind. Heat oil in large cast-iron pan to just below smoking point. Put in ladle-servings and flatten. Cook each side until crisp, golden brown. Best served piping hot, with sour cream or applesauce.

~ serves 2


Michael Engelhard is the author of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon. An inveterate cabin dweller, he lives in Fairbanks and works as a wilderness guide. Read more of his work at michaelengelhard.com and read Ice Bear here.

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