Peter’s Deli combines international talent and tradition to enrich Cuenca’s culinary landscape

Jul 2, 2023 | 1 comment

By the mid-1960s, Poland was waist-deep in the tar pit of economic and political collapse. The near monthly increase in the price of basic foodstuffs resulted in a nationwide plague of malaise and malnutrition that was decimating the working class.
As a result, Peter Strzyga, his father, and a few relatives built a pigpen that they hid deep in the forest where they attended to their clandestine stock. When it was time to harvest, villagers would be quietly notified to coordinate with one another, to, in turn, secretly trek their way through the last hours of inky night to the hideout, where Peter and his dad would wait for them, handing out portions of butchered meat to feed the starving neighbors.

They knew full well that if they were discovered, they would suffer the same fate as an unceremoniously slaughtered pig. This is where Peter learned the art of butchery and the courage of conviction.

Peter didn’t set out to open a delicatessen. He simply longed for well-prepared meats and to be of service to others just as his father had been before him.

Lenny Charnoff, a dozen-year resident of Cuenca, grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Island, New York City, New York.

The Upper West Side is famous for being the home of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Metropolitan Opera, and Eisenberg’s Sandwich, a delicatessen specializing in curing freshly caught Atlantic salmon into “lox,” a staple of any kosher diet.

Eisenberg’s was est. in 1924.

The upper west side of Manhattan has also been long recognized as a significant Jewish neighborhood, populated with German Jews who emigrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century to escape overt oppressionas well as Jewish refugees escaping Hitler’s Europe in the 1930s.

Tradition maintains a high order of importance here.

On typical weekend mornings, families casually emerge from the stately brownstones the neighborhood is known for to queue up on quiet side streets for the quintessential weekend brunch: lox laid over a lightly toasted knife-split bagel spread liberally with cream cheese and a smattering of capers.

It is one of Lenny’s fondest memories of growing up in the close-knit community known for its adherence to religious fervent and unaltered cultural cuisine.

Charnoff didn’t intend to become a fishmonger when he moved to Cuenca; he simply longed for a generous plate of fresh-cured lox beside a split bagel with a slathering of cream cheese securing half a dozen capers.

When Peter learned there was a new butcher shop in Cuenca, he was thrilled. He rushed down to see for himself — and to inquire if Mike, the somewhat rattled owner, would obligue him by making a batch of smoked sausages for him using his family recipe. Unfortunately, Mike’s Meats closed after only a few months due to reasons too obvious to mention here, leaving the door open for innovation. Peter, a past student at the Sorbonne in Paris, a man who spent a considerable portion of his career directing large-scale civic projects, harbored great respect for the art of butchery and those charged with providing the centerpiece of many family meals and decided to indulge his entrepreneurial spirit.

He began by offering premium cuts of meat and artisanal sausages at a few ferias and restaurants.

When Lenny heard that there was a guy in Guayaquil who made his own lox, he was ecstatic. Soon he and his wife, Sharon, were on their way to the coast, as excited as any kid headed to Disneyland. He could hardly believe his good fortune to find someone curing salmon to “lox” in Ecuador — and hoped it would be at least somewhat close to what he so fondly recalled as a youngster.

Lenny was twice astonished. #1: the lox was every bit as good as any he could remember, and for good reason; #2: David, the fishmonger he visited in Guayaquil, learned his craft by working for nearly a dozen years in a delicatessen one block from Lenny’s family home in NYC.

Indulging his entrepreneurial spirit, Lenny decided to offer a slice of his good fortune to a few select restaurants and ferias in Cuenca.

Lenny and David have been working together for over six years.

Peter and Lenny met at a feria. What they had in common was immediately evident: a shared commitment to providing the best food possible for the most people possible at the best price possible.

What Peter and Lenny are creating is, without question, a perfect addition to the culinary landscape of Cuenca.

Peter’s Deli provides the finest ingredients for those who appreciate the excellence of the product as well as the expertise needed to guide you through how to prepare for any wedding dinner with snotty in-laws or a “smoker” with the boys hunched over a championship sporting event.

Alphonso, behind the counter at Peter’s Deli.

I have come to depend exclusively on Lenny and Peter for delicious dry-aged beef, succulent pork, fresh salmon (when available), and a plethora of carefully handled seafood. And don’t forget to check out their cheese selection. It’s fabulous. I was very impressed with their Manchego; it has a firm and compact consistency, a buttery texture, and unevenly distributed air pockets. Yum!

These guys are the true meal deal. They deserve our support.

Lenny and Peter share a solid understanding of defining the true meaning of “success” in a medium that is as rare as it is well done; they are adamant in their commitment to offering only the very best of the very best from those who are equally committed to fair practices and sustainable yield. Fermentation Nation, JL Padrino, and Artesana Family Bakery are among the finest purveyors of fine foods in all of Ecuador that have passed muster, and are now featured on their ever-expanding shelves. Additional wholesalers are currently in line waiting for an audition.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that I began this article as an advertisement for Peter’s Deli (5.13 Remigio Crespo and Imbabura), and I hope that I fulfilled that obligation.

Lenny Charnoff

But what I really want to pass on is the thrill of having such masters in our midst.

Peter Strzyga

Peter’s Deli
5.13 Remigio Crespo and Imbabura
099 951 5617
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Closed on Sunday
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