A line of people wound around the block near the last outpost of Jerry’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles,  waiting for their final chance to eat at the iconic eatery before it shuttered its doors indefinitely. Some carried empty five-gallon containers they hoped to fill with the restaurant’s beloved matzo ball soup. It was the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was the final nail in the coffin for the once bustling but now struggling deli. Whether we’ve simply moved away from our go-to pizza joint, can’t recreate our grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe or watched our favorite restaurant close like Jerry’s, all of us, at one point or another in our lives, have likely become disconnected from the food that we once loved. Sometimes, a whiff or taste of something returns us to that fleeting moment, only to shove us back into the present, reminding us of all that we have lost.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some restaurants are resurrecting themselves, reasserting the power of food to ground and comfort us. At The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, we’re watching one such culinary resurrection occur.

The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, now owned by JFD Parent, is the result of Jonathan Mitchell’s efforts to bring back the food from The Original Wolfie’s Delicatessen, Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, Pumpernik’s and Thal Bros. Epicure Market from Miami, in addition to Jerry’s Famous Deli from Los Angeles. While all of those establishments, which saw the likes of Hollywood celebrities, sports stars and mob boss Meyer Lansky as guests, are now closed due to many factors, JFD Parent owns all of the brand names and uses their recipes at The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House. “We tried to take the best recipes from each of the delis, and put them all together here in this one location,” Mitchell says. His Director of Operations Jason Starkman, who is the son of the late Isaac Starkman, Jerry’s founder, oversaw the brands owned by Jerry’s in Miami. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

“People don’t seem to understand the magnitude of how much Wolfie Cohen impacted the restaurant industry. It was the greatest comfort food, and his recipes were wholesome. Nothing was done without care and thought,” Jason adds. “Everyone always equated it to deli, and yes the deli was there, but there were things like chicken soup, sandwiches, breakfast, cinnamon buns, coffee cake, danishes, rolls, rye bread and everything you can imagine. It really opened up that ‘everything’ type of store, where it wasn’t dedicated to just steaks or just seafood. This was a place that had everything, and all of it was good. If you had the matzo ball soup, or the smoked salmon or the chicken soup, you not only had it, but it was the best you’d ever had. I think people lose sight of that.” 

As a revival of The Original Wolfie’s Delicatessen, Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, Pumpernik’s and Thal Bros. Epicure Market and Jerry’s Famous Deli, The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House celebrates both comfort food and Jewish culinary specialties, like latkes, knishes and kasha varnishkes, that are uncommon in the Sarasota region. “After moving here, I quickly learned that there is a small but vibrant Jewish community that didn’t have the kind of food that many people grew up with,” Mitchell says. “I felt that there was a need for a New York deli for a lot of people who came from the North East, or whose parents or grandparents did. Many of them moved to Miami, or at least vacationed there, and they were familiar with names like Wolfie’s, Rascal House and Pumpernik’s.” Since The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House opened last November, guests have traveled from far and wide to eat this comfort food, with some driving up from Miami. 

“Buy the best ingredients, and make sure it’s the best thing you can get,” says Jason, who explains that the restaurant serves customers the best food that they can make, a mentality shared by both his father and Wolfie Cohen. “We want to do the best that we know.” 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

The matzo ball soup, which is made using Isaac Starkman’s mother’s cherished recipe that was served at Jerry’s Famous Deli, symbolizes the eatery’s spirit. With a giant but light matzo ball, carrots, celery, noodles and shredded chicken, this “Jewish penicillin” is like a hug in a bowl. It arrives in a generous portion size, a highlight of all of the restaurant’s meals. Classic deli sandwiches, like the Reuben, also from Jerry’s Famous Deli, which features corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on grilled rye bread, are pure bliss. Sandwich lovers can get creative with the Duet, where they can choose any two meats and one cheese. Everything is prepared using the highest quality ingredients, which you can taste in dishes like the Cobb Salad. Diced turkey, pastrami bacon, avocado, crumbled bleu cheese, hard-boiled egg and tomato sit atop a bed of lettuce, and each bite delivers freshness and flavor. 

From the Thal Bros. Epicure Market, which was awarded America’s Best Specialty Market twice by the National Grocers Association, don’t miss the sweet and refreshing applesauce, which straddles the line between dessert and side. Speaking of desserts, The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House carries the Rascal House’s chocolate cake. This cocoa-forward and addictive delight was rated the Best Chocolate Cake in the World by Chocolatier Magazine. You can also enjoy cheesecake made with Sarasota icon Solomon Shenker’s recipe. 

“One of the things that’s given me the most pleasure is going around and talking to people at the tables, and seeing how their faces change as they talk about having been at one of the restaurants in Miami or out in California with a parent or grandparents, and hearing them talk about the stories from when they were with the prior generation in their family,” Mitchell adds. “Just to see this sweet smile come across their face; that’s a high point in my day.” It’s likely that eating at The Original Wolfie’s & Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House also creates a happy moment for guests, whether they thought they’d never eat this food again or are trying it for the first time. Food, like so many other things in life, is ephemeral, but the renaissance of this establishment proves that we are resilient and will never give up the things that most define us. Especially where matzo balls and chocolate cake are concerned.