Bob Wilhelmy writes the Dining Out column for The American Israelite.

By Bob Wilhelmy 

A classic Codfather fish sandwich, served with shredded lettuce, tartar sauce and potato pancake

A shot of last year’s Nashville Oktoberfest

The exterior signage at Izzy’s Red Bank

Somewhere, I bet Izzy Kadetz and his father, David, are marveling at a recent turn of events put in motion by John Geisen, owner, and hands-on operator, of today’s Izzy’s. This deli-style eatery has become a Cincinnati tradition since its founding in 1901. That’s when the dirt-poor Jewish immigrant named David Kadetz opened the very first Jewish deli of its kind west of the Alleghenies, as the story goes. He—David, and family, actually—came via New York, the Big Apple, having escaped the oppression Jews experienced at the hands of czarist Russia in the last decades of the nineteenth century. 

All a very long time ago, for sure, but now, today, the saga of Izzy’s is considering another chapter—Nashville! Turns out, Nashville sponsors an Oktoberfest (in October, of all times!), this year from the fifth to the eighth of that month. More on that in a moment. 

As for Izzy’s, John Geisen says his smallish, Cincy-based chain of eateries has been considering other markets for a while now. “We’ve been thinking about this here, on and off, and we want a market that is not too far away, and one where there are already people who are likely to enjoy the hearty sandwiches we offer. With the signature corned beef we have at Izzy’s, the classic Reubens, and the big sandwiches stacked with roast turkey and pastrami and all the rest, and our soups and everything, we just think we’re a good fit for a lot of places (in this area of the Midwest and Midsouth),” Geisen said.

The beauty of Nashville from Geisen’s perspective is that he has a chance to test the market by participating in that city’s annual Oktoberfest celebration. “It’s a lot like Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest, and I think it is the third largest in the world, behind the original in Munich and then our own here in Cincinnati. We’re going to have a booth down there (in Nashville) this year, and test our products and see how we do,” he said, adding that if the response is good, the next step would be to start the beer barrel rolling to open an Izzy’s deli in Nashville.

For the record, Nashville sponsors tabulate their event draws some three hundred thousand celebrants to its Germantown section of metro Nashville. By comparison, Cincinnati routinely draws between five hundred thousand and seven hundred thousand  annually to its German beer and food festivities over a four  pday weekend held in mid-September. 

The number of sales he achieves will allow Geisen to gauge the reception of his mammoth sandwiches, potato pancakes, pickles, and kraut in a way that simple focus groups cannot, he feels. Also, he feels good about the prospect of being well received in the Music City. “We just think it’s a happening place, and we have the quality products to do well in that environment. So, we are very excited about the prospects that we think are there for Izzy’s,” he said, adding that quality and good value sells just about everywhere. 

So, both David and Izzy Kadetz, the former coming here with little more than the shirt on his back, can take pride in this next new chapter in the Izzy story. We’ll keep Dining Out readers posted on the progress.

Back here in Greater Cincy, one of the noteworthy happenings is the permanent addition of the Codfather fish sandwich to Izzy’s menu. Geisen’s kitchens came up with the Codfather sandwich several years ago as a way to participate in the Christian craze for fish sandwiches during the Lenten season.  The Codfather did more than well as a seasonal sandwich, and in the process gathered a following that clambered for it to be a menu item year-round.  Now, Jewish diners-out will find the Codfather available anytime the taste buds water for a delectable deep-fried fish sandwich.

We’ve had this sandwich several times, and it’s a winner, for sure. The cod is from the North Atlantic, where the sweetest, firmest, flakiest of the breed are caught. The batter is proprietary to Izzy’s, and it makes for a crunchy, tasty coating on the moist, fleshy, piping hot fish inside. Plus, the combination of shredded lettuce and tartar sauce is an ideal topping for this seafood treat, which is served on a brioche bun. Dining Out has a bit of experience with fish sandwiches, and Izzy’s Codfather is our favorite, hands down.

See you at Izzy’s!