3 Delis And More
by Richard Blackman
Below is a write-up of our latest deli tour, which we thankfully completed before the corona virus reared its ugly head. We met the owners of three of the restaurants we visited and have found them not only personable, but also dedicated to their restaurants, the quality of their food, and customer service. They work long hours to make that happen. In this review, we’re only highlighting our favorite parts of the trip. We started these ventures in 2010, and have reviewed 50+ delis since then, under the guise of “save the deli.” Now more than ever, delis are in peril. In the New York City area, we’ve lost Stage Deli, Carnegie Deli and numerous others when there was no worldwide crisis.
In a discussion with Don Parkin, owner of Goodman’s Deli, one of our favorites, he mentioned that for now, he is staying open for take-out and delivery (probably at a loss), and for a few customers in need in the community, and to keep his staff paid. His servers are going to bear the brunt of it. He has to cut their hours and their loss of tips will be especially hurtful. He can’t sustain this for long. His plight is probably no different than all of the other independently owned delis. He’s hopeful, and if it’s only weeks he believes he should be okay. He says hopefully Passover orders will come in. And he states, “for God’s sake, remind people to tip the staff.” As we’ve heard on the news, folks can also help by purchasing gift cards. Let’s do what we can to “SAVE THE DELIs”
It’s a Saturday morning in February 2020, 8:45am, and yet again 3 elementary school friends and I crammed into Gary’s Mazda, and headed to NJ/NYC in search of the best deli food and more. We’ve been doing this yearly since 2010, when we were “young” deli fans in our late 50s. This weekend’s tour included 3 delis, a hummus place, a pancake place, a burger place, a hot dog+ place and two BBQ restaurants that serve pastrami. In this write-up we talk about two of the delis, the hot dog place and a BBQ restaurant.
At 11:45, we arrived at Goodman’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley Heights, NJ. This will be our 4th visit there, and it’s probably our all-time favorite “deli.” We’d actually call this a great neighborhood restaurant that happens to have fantastic deli food (comparable to the best in NYC). I’d been in touch with the owner, Don Parkin to let him know we’d be coming again. When we arrived, we were treated like VIPs. (Of course we realized that letting the owners know we’re coming could prejudice our ratings/review. We didn’t care). Jennifer, the wonderful enthusiastic waitress/hostess and more, directed us to the only unoccupied table in the back where Don and a local journalist, Barbara Rybolt, were waiting. Barbara had written articles about our previous trips. It was a real treat spending an hour noshing and talking to Don and Barbara about all things deli.
Goodman's Deli (Click any photo to see it full size)
We ordered one corned beef and one pastrami sandwich, and had both sandwiches cut into fourths. In previous years, we had also ordered brisket sandwiches, but in our old age, we felt we had to sacrifice something. (Note: Don’s brisket was among the best in our 50+ previous deli visits). We also ordered the home-made potato salad (our favorite of all the delis). On last year’s trip, we ate at Hobby’s Deli (see below) where I had the best potato latkes I’ve ever had. So we ordered latkes and challenged Don: “Can you match the quality of Hobby’s?” Don confidently noted, “absolutely.”
The corned beef was “melt-in-your mouth,” and the pastrami was excellent. Both sandwiches, at $13.95, were similar size to what would cost more than $20 in NYC. And the latkes? They were amazing, and at least as good as what we had at Hobby’s. They were on par with the best ever. They were thick, crisp on the outside, with tender potato shavings inside (vs mushy potatoes). Goodman’s latkes are “not-to-be missed” if you go. As we were leaving, a middle-aged couple was enjoying their meal and had heard about our trips. The woman looked at me and said, “We eat here three times a week and love it.” Don has a lot of loyal customers. No surprise there.
Next stop Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Newark, NJ. We were met at the entrance by Mark Brummer, who along with his brother Michael, was expecting us. We consider Hobby’s an authentic deli. But it also happens to be a great neighborhood restaurant, with lots of options catering to the health-conscious younger generation. We again ordered pastrami and corned beef with other items. The sandwiches were big at $12.95. Despite our objections, Marc brought out onion rings (which he remembered we liked a lot during last year’s visit) and brisket. It was too much food, but none of us was complaining. This time the corned beef was a hit, and the pastrami was “melt in your mouth.” The other big hit was the homemade oatmeal walnut raisin cookies. (Go figure). We all had one and I took a bunch home. We spent much of the time talking to Marc and Michael about life in the deli business. They love their work and say they thoroughly enjoy working together. We enjoyed their jovial attitude with each other and their enthusiasm. They mentioned that it’s a challenge keeping up with the times and the need to keep their menu up-to-date. The restaurant was opened in 1962 by their dad, so they are clearly up to the challenge. Talking with them is a “must-do” on a Hobby’s visit.
After a stop for hummus and then a Broadway show, we headed out to New Jersey for another of our favorite destinations, Rutt’s Hutt, the home of the Ripper (a deep-fried hot dog) in Clifton, NJ. We were met in the empty cavernous restaurant at 11:30pm by another of our favorite waitresses, Angela from Moldova. You can’t go to Rutt’s Hutt and not have an entertaining conversation with her (but she only works evenings and not Monday or Tuesday). When we saw her, she greeted us with, “Ahhh, the guys from Maryland again.” We each ordered “the Weller” hot dog (well done, but not burnt like “the cremator” dog). Malcolm went overboard and tried a second dog. They were good. I’m also a big fan of their onion rings, which have a thin coating of batter. We restrained ourselves and only ordered their outstanding rice pudding (vs their rice pudding AND outstanding bread pudding).
The next day, included one more pastrami visit, at Hometown BBQ in Industry City, Brooklyn (their other location does not have pastrami). Our deli friend, Ellen Fried of the “Ellen Loves Pastrami” Facebook page, had recently declared their pastrami her new favorite so we had to try it. As we ordered at the small counter with tons of seating around the corner, the meat guy hand-sliced up thick pieces of pastrami right out of the wrapper. Three of us liked the pastrami a lot, and all of us were impressed with the tenderness and flavor. On the whole, it is worth a repeat visit.Our conclusions: We will never go on another trip without a visit to Katz’s for their pastrami sandwich, which we still consider the #1 sandwich in the world. Hobby’s and Goodmans are as good as it gets and always worth repeat visits For fun, if you’re near the Meadowlands, it’s worth a visit to Rutt’s Hutt just to try one of their “Rippers.” And we don’t want to forget two of our other favorite delis in NYC, Sarge’s and 2nd Ave. FOR NEXT YEAR – WE JUST HOPE ALL THESE PLACES ARE STILL OPEN.