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Eight Delis, Two Days - In Search of the Best

by Richard Blackman

CBS recently aired a broadcast about three of New York City’s finest delis.   I dare you to watch without your mouth watering!  But my friends and I did CBS one better – actually five better.  We did a taste test of 8 delis in 36 hours.

It’s Saturday 9 AM and three of my elementary school friends,  Larry, Malcolm and Gary, and I  (all in our 50s now) jam into Gary’s 1994 Corolla on the way to New York City in search of the best deli sandwiches, side orders, and pickles.

Gary, Richard, Larry and Malcolm depart for
NY with two coolers
Five minutes into the trip we began an animated conversation – how will we rate the delis?  How many total points would we use? How many points per sandwich, what about pickles, what about salads?  We also discussed other criteria beside food.  Do we add points for atmosphere, or cleanliness?  And what about staff – do we add or subtract points for surliness?  After an hour of lively discussion, we agreed that we would place the same order at each deli: three sandwiches (hot corned beef, brisket and pastrami), coleslaw, potato salad, and pickles.  We also agreed that the taste of the food would be the only item evaluated, and that we would use 100 points total per person per deli -- a maximum of 24 points for each sandwich, 14 for pickles, and 14 for side orders.  With 4 raters, each deli could score a maximum of 400 points. 

Even before we set out, I had already won the first argument: we knew that we could not eat everything we ordered, and we would need to take two coolers rather than one for leftovers. 

We’d been planning this trip for a year, inspired by David Saks’ book, Save the Deli,  which gets a mention in the CBS video above.  We chose the eight delis based on internet reviews, a poll of “deli-savvy” friends, and my own personal experiences. 

Our first stop was Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Newark, NJ.   Salivating with pent-up anticipation after 200 miles on the road, Hobby’s did not disappoint.  Hobby’s is truly an original.  After walking past the obligatory deli case, with all the tasty food morsels, the co-owner, Marc Brummer, seated us in the spacious dining room.  Marc is a deli-owner who loves his work and has “deli” running through his veins.  He and his brother started in the business when they were teenagers, and have now taken over the business from their dad, who, although he’s in his 80’s, still offers helpful advice.  Marc schmoozed with us throughout the meal and it was a blast.  We asked if he was a “Hobby.”  It turns out the deli used to be called Hocky’s,  but a previous owner had to change the name and could only afford to change two letters in the sign—hence Hobby’s.  Marc is a Brandeis graduate, and Larry is too -- a high-five moment.  This is a fun place to go, and you must spend time talking with the owner.  

Larry, Richard, Malcolm, Michael and Marc
stand beneath salamis

Larry, Richard, Malcolm, Michael and Marc
stand beneath salamis