Delirama owners Anahita Cann (left) and Cash Caris turned their Delirama pop-up into a North Berkeley restaurant in August. (Photo/Alix Wall); A pastrami sandwich with chips from Delirama (Photo/Instagram @deliramaofficial)
Delirama owners Anahita Cann (left) and Cash Caris turned their Delirama pop-up into a North Berkeley restaurant in August. (Photo/Alix Wall); A pastrami sandwich with chips from Delirama (Photo/Instagram @deliramaofficial)

Whether you eat meat or not, Delirama has pastrami for you

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

When Delirama co-owner Cash Caris was growing up in the Bay Area, grocery-store pastrami in plastic pouches was all he knew of the iconic deli meat. His grandmother, who raised him, would sometimes buy other cold cuts, but pastrami remained his favorite.

Today, one might call it an obsession.

The interest was sparked by one of his first industry jobs, at a catering kitchen in Santa Clara, where he worked with Israelis who had opened a kosher café in the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos. There, Caris started to learn what goes into making this seasoned smoked beef brought to New York by Romanian Jews.

Over the years, while training in different cuisines, Caris continued educating himself about the seasoning, brining, steaming and smoking of pastrami. So when he and his business partner, Anahita Cann, were deciding what kind of pop-up to operate in Oakland during Covid, pastrami was the obvious choice.

“What food do I love the most, what can I not live without and what can I make really well?” he asked himself. The answer to all those questions was pastrami.

What started in October 2020 as the pop-up Pyro’s Pastrami recently turned into a North Berkeley restaurant, opening at 1746 Solano Ave. in early August.

The owners do not consider Delirama a Jewish deli (neither partner is Jewish).

“We’re not at all identifying as a Jewish deli,” Cann said, “but I’d describe [Delirama] as a place where you can sit down and cry if you want to, and laugh with your friends. It’s not pretentious. It’s like a home away from home.”

Delirama, which has indoor seating, has already become known in the Jewish community. Caris and Cann speak about all the support they’ve received from Jewish customers, including at least one rabbi and a synagogue lay leader who introduced themselves. That’s bound to happen when you not only make your own pastrami but also bake your own rye bread, bagels and bialys, all of which pass muster with a highly discerning Jewish crowd.

an everything bagel and a plain bagel on a paper plate
Bagels from Delirama. (Photo/Alix Wall)

“If I’m going to make my own pastrami, I thought I might as well make my own rye, too,” said Caris, who ensured that it satisfied his standard of holding a sandwich together without falling apart.

In the pop-up days, Caris made other Jewish staples, including latkes. While he never set out to do so, Jewish customer requests commonly drove those decisions.

“If we were doing pastrami, they wanted bagels; if we’re doing bagels, they wanted bialys,” Caris said. “Then they started asking, ‘Are you going to do matzah ball soup?’” Caris and Cann did that too, including a vegan version. Latkes are too much work to keep on the daily menu right now, he said, as he has to fulfill other menu promises — including pastrami on pizza and pastrami tacos.

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Kosher-keeping Jews who eat vegetarian in nonkosher restaurants, take note: Delirama’s vegan pastrami alone is worth the trip. Made from celery root, it’s not to be believed — smoky and complex. My husband and I debated whether we might even prefer it over the regular pastrami (which is also delicious).

The celery root undergoes a similar treatment to the meat, though it is not brined for the full 26 days. Nothing artificial is added; the red color comes from beet juice, since “you eat with your eyes first,” Caris said.

“People have become more hyperfocused on the meat,” he said. “I’m a bit bummed out because I wanted it to be a 50 percent vegetarian restaurant. If you’re a vegan, I want you to be able to enjoy it in a way that seems mind-boggling, in that it tastes way better and way more like pastrami than they expect.”

A classic Reuben sandwich (pastrami or corned beef with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut) can be had in vegetarian or vegan versions (Gruyère cheese or vegan cheese).

A sandwich that appears to be a corned beef ruben with potato chips on the side
Celery root sandwich on house-made rye from Delirama. (Photo/Alix Wall)

Caris said they’ve brined more than 5,000 pounds of pastrami meat since opening. It’s evident that the long-ago kitchen catering job has had a lasting impact.

“I can’t live without this food,” he said. “I made a strong bond and connection with the people who brought this food into my life. Being integrated into their culture and being treated like family and their showing me how to make family recipes was really important to me.”

Caris and Conn appreciate that Jewish delis evoke nostalgia — sometimes customers share memories of their grandparents. But as much as Caris welcomes such feedback, he also appreciates that he is free to operate outside the boundaries of a traditional deli.

“I have the room to be super creative,” he said. “Whether I put pastrami on pizza or bialys, people love it.”

Long lines have proved he’s right. Open at 7 a.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. weekends, with both a breakfast and lunch menu, the restaurant is usually sold out of everything by 2 p.m.

Caris and Cann signed a 15-year lease and hope to integrate into the North Berkeley community; they also just signed a lease and will be living a few minutes away from the restaurant.

“We want to help in any way we can,” he said. “We’re talking to homeless shelters about donations; we’re big into rescue dogs; we want to be more than just a neighborhood deli. We hope to be a safe space for anyone, as long as everyone is respectful to each other. We want people to coexist and eat pastrami together.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."