06/07/13
Special To The Jewish Week
Soda For The Old At Heart

Why are people hating on this food blogger's Cel-Ray habit?

Photo Galleria: 
Keeping it old-school with Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. Photo courtesy Dani Klein
Keeping it old-school with Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. Photo courtesy Dani Klein

I don't know where it started. Perhaps it was with my dad years ago, but whenever I go to a traditional deli I always order a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray. It's a sweet, celery-flavored soda that pairs surprisingly well with meat. I compare it to a sweet version of ginger ale.

Outside a kosher deli, Cel-Ray is quite difficult to find, so I've made it a habit of ordering one at every delicatessen I visit.

Without fail, whenever I order it I get odd looks/stink eyes/puzzled stares from those eating with me. Few are familiar with this bizarre beverage flavor, and when they hear about it, they scoff in disgust. Those who have heard of it write it off as an "old man's drink."

Part of the reason it has this reputation may come from the fact that it was invented in Brooklyn 145 years ago. I'm amazed that this drink's popularity waned after the 1930's, when it was known in New York's Jewish community as "Jewish Champagne," according to Barry Popkin's website, "The Big Apple."

So what happened? When did this awesome product become pushed to the periphery of Jewish taste buds? Maybe it has to do with the decline (or ubiquity) of the notion of a Jewish deli. Our tastes have surely changed, as today's New York Jews tend to opt for sushi, pizza, steak, and salads rather than the "traditional" Jewish foods from New York or even Eastern Europe.

I believe that part of the backlash I'm receiving is because Cel-Ray is not a mainstream product that people are familiar with and our community tends to pooh-pooh items that are foreign.

It's time for us to try new things. Broaden your horizons. Explore the taste buds of the older New York Jewish Kosher restaurant scene along with a pastrami on rye, or my less-conventional favorite, turkey breast on club with cole slaw. 

Dani Klein is the founder of YeahThatsKosher.com, a global Jewish travel and kosher restaurant guide. Klein was named to the Jewish Week's inaugural '36 Under 36' list in 2008. Continue this discussion with Dani on Twitter: @YeahThatsKosher

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Last Update:

06/13/2013 - 18:36

Comments

Somewhere in all my treasures, AKA junk, I have some Dr. Brown's unused bottle caps. Does anyone know when they went to all cans? I have never seen it in a bottle.

Back in the late 1970s I ran a bookstore next to a deli. Every day at lunch I had a Cel-Ray soda. I was one of 3 people who ever bought it. It is still available in Columbus OH but costs $2 per 12 oz. can which I resent paying.

that plus a tongue sandwich onREAL rye with REAL mustard...
((before the three weeks, of course)

Is there anywhere that we can still buy some Cel-Ray, even in the NY area?

Cel-Ray is the VERY best flavor of soda to accompany any deli delight, from the simple corned beef on rye to anything else a Jewish deli can create. I, too, always order it at a deli.
When my mother was terminally ill in a nursing home, the only thing she would drink without complaint was Cel-Ray, so I brought it to her. When the owner of the home heard that I was bringing in cans of soda for her, he told me to stop and made sure that it was always brought to her with every meal.
I do miss the diet form of it as well.
But the thing I miss most is that they no longer make it Kosher for Passover. Years ago, it was one of the only flavors you could get on Passover, and tasting it made it REALLY feel like the holiday was here. I used to stock up and ration it carefully, because soda with real sugar tastes so much better than the other sweeteners.
Perhaps RS Mallory is right. A good advertising campaign may make it mainstream again. Are there any PR people reading this???

It really does go well with a deli sandwich. Maybe after my kids read this, they'll stop giving me a hard time when I order it at the deli.

I always loved Diet Cel-Ray (z'l) myself but live in a city where getting any Dr. Brown's is tough so i always order dr. Brown's when I am dining in NYC. I ordered Cel Ray at 2nd Ave Deli last week and the waitress looked at me like i was nuts for liking it. Being NYC she tried to talk me out of ordering it too. Go figure!

Cel-Ray! An incredible tasting treat that is refreshing and nostalgic as well! A modern day advertising campaign would bring Cel-Ray back to ubiguity if folks understood the origins of the drink and Celery! These days, everyone is concerned with going http://BackToAhealthyFuture.com and Cel-Ray is certainly one of those rare treats whose beginnings were grounded in natural products all those years ago!

I too love Cel-Ray soda (once called "tonic"). Nothing goes better with a pastrami & corned beef on club. As a diabetic I was very disappointed when diet Cel - Ray always tasted off and was discontinued. Since to my taste buds it is not that sweet, on those rare occasions that I have my very favorite kosher sandwich, it is always accompanied by the Dr. Brown's champagne.When it's not available I " settle" for a Dr. Brown's diet cream or black cherry.

I love Celray soda but they dont make diet Celray anymore, so sad

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