Reviews of Three More Delis and Five Restaurants
by Richard Blackman
Another year, another Saturday morning at 8:30, and elementary school friends from the 60’s, are picking me up on the way to NYC for another food/deli trip. We’ve been doing this at least once a year since 2010. My wonderful wife, Elaine, correctly pegged what everyone would be wearing: Malcolm, a pocketed vest almost identical to mine, Gary, a pin-striped shirt with jeans, and Larry a sports coat (see picture).On this trip we would eat at 3 delis and 5 other restaurants, all of which have excellent internet ratings.
Highlights: Hobby’s deli in Newark hit a home run, the new Pastrami Queen in Times Square was a big disappointment, Katz’s pastrami sandwich remains our all-time favorite sandwich, and Rutts Hutt near the Meadowlands is a lot of fun. We also visited DeLorenzo’s pizza in Trenton, Joe’s Shanghai in midtown for dumplings, By Chloe in the Village for vegetarian (we needed a break from meat and fried food), and Black Iron Burger in the village for a cheeseburger and onion rings.
I’ll cover the delis first as we have the most expertise in that area, having visited 50 delis over the past 10 years. One of our goals on this trip was to return to at least some of the places where we enjoyed meeting with the owners, and felt they took real pride in their business. Our first deli stop was Hobby’s in Newark, and it fit our goal. We had been there in 2010. At that time, we loved the deli atmosphere, and thought the owners were terrific, so we wanted a return visit. I had messaged Marc Brummer, who, along with his brother Michael, owns Hobby’s, to make sure he would be there.
Marc met us as we entered and treated us like VIPs. We were treated this way 10 years ago too, and it seemed like he and Michael treat all their customers like VIPs. They are totally hands on. For our food, we had a variety of items. The four of us split a pastrami sandwich and corned beef sandwich – each was priced at $11.95. Although we didn’t use Larry’s trusty scale to weigh the sandwiches this time, it was pretty clear the sandwiches were a bargain for the price. Nobody else is selling that quality of a sandwich for that low of a price. (Check out 2nd Ave Deli and their $21.50 Corned Beef sandwich). The size and taste were comparable to the best we’ve had at any of the delis we’ve visited over the last 10 years. Both sandwiches were extremely tasty and melt-in-your mouth tender. We felt the sandwiches were on par with our other favorite delis, Goodman’s in NJ, 2nd Ave Deli (on 33rd ), and Sarge’s Deli on 3rd Ave. See reviews of our top five delis. The rye bread was a perfect complement.
Two of the foods we tasted were among the best I’ve ever had. The latkes – kind of fat, (vs thin) almost the size of a knish, but not smooth – had a crisp crust, soft inside, and no excess grease or oil. I can’t remember ever having one that thick or that good, and Gary felt the same way.
The second item to die-for was their fresh-baked oatmeal walnut raisin cookies. It blew me away. I can’t remember a cookie I enjoyed as much – surpassing the cookies we’ve had at the famous Schmackery’s in Manhattan, which always has a long line. Larry’s only complaint about the cookie: it wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie. I believe they had those also, but we were too stuffed to try one.We also shared two hot dogs, and they were thick and tasty. They reminded me of the winning hot dog we had at a hot dog tasting event at my house – the local Wagshall’s deli house brand. See our hot dog reviews and ratings.
When it comes to pickles, I’m into full sour while the other guys are into half sour, so we each rate the type we like. I thought my full sour was perfect. The others rated the half-sour highly. It was crisp and tasty.
Our next deli stop was the new Pastrami Queen on 49th Street in Times Square (in the Pearl Hotel). With Stage Deli long gone and Carnegie recently closed, we were hoping this would be our answer to a first-class midtown deli. It wasn’t. At 6 pm, the good-size restaurant was mostly empty. Not a good sign. $18.95 for pastrami and $17.95 for corned beef sandwiches that were almost as big as Hobby’s $11.95 sandwiches. The CB and pastrami sandwiches were tough and not particularly tasty and had too much fat. We felt the rye bread didn’t taste as fresh as it should have. I showed the waitress how the meat was cut with the grain instead of across the grain, and as pleasant as she was, she appeared to have no idea what I was talking about. I would have been more impressed if she had at least mentioned the problem to her manager. She didn’t. I mentioned the improper cutting to the manager as we left, and he did understand. He offered us some cheesecake to compensate but we weren’t interested. The cole slaw was average and the pickles mediocre. The restaurant was roomy and clean (much bigger than the other Pastrami Queen), but that was about the only plus for us. We just didn’t get the feeling the owners were taking pride in their offerings, or training their staff, nor were they involved. We hope Pastrami Queen can improve and succeed, but they have to do a lot better. Based on this visit, none of us would go back.
Our last deli stop was Katz’s, which is a must on our trips. As always, their pastrami sandwiches were the best. The hot dogs were also excellent and comparable in taste to Hobby's.
Let me talk about our non-deli stops. First was DeLorenzo’s pizza in Trenton. The pizza was very good. – delicate crust, unpretentious, not-over-herbed sauce. And everyone who goes there should spend time with the awesome young waitress (and daughter of the owner), Maria. She made the visit fun. Our next stop was Hobby’s. after which we drove to midtown, where as always, we were able to find a parking space between 5th and 6th Ave – this time on 51st, right across from Radio City. Not inexpensive at $4.50 per hour till midnight, but a great location. We thought we could consider a garage next time, which might have been cheaper, but then we would have had to hassle with waiting for the car when we were done, and at 11 pm you really want to get going.
We wanted food variety so we stopped in at Joe’s Shanghai for dumplings on 56th between 5th and 6th. It is a much fancier version of the highly-rated Chinatown restaurant. I had had excellent chicken soup dumplings there before. We were all disappointed in our dumplings. The chicken was okay, but we really didn’t get the soup feel, and none of us would order the vegetable dumplings (regular dumplings, not the soup) again. I’d go back for the chicken dumplings.
After Joe’s, was Pastrami Queen, and then to the top of the TKTS bleachers – one of my all--time fav places to hang out. From there we went to see “The Ferryman” a 9-time nominated play on Broadway. We all thought it was excellent, if a bit long at 3 hrs 15 minutes. All but Gary decided to put on our geezer hats and get the hearing assist earphones. Malcolm, Larry and I decided we’d never go to a show again without them. They were great.
After the show, on the way to our hotel near the Meadowlands, we headed to one of our new favorite haunts, Rutt’s Hutt, home of the deep-fried ripper (hot dog). Another awesome waitress, Angela from Moldova, welcomed us at midnight with “Ahhh, it’s the guys from Maryland!” This time, against the warnings from Angela, we all tried their “Cremator” hot dog – basically deep-fried for so long that it is burnt to a crisp. Gary and I also split “The Weller,” a more reasonable way to deep-fry a hot dog without burning it. We all decided that next time, it’ll be “The Weller” for all of us. Their deep-fried hot dogs, not to be confused with the quality dogs from Hobby’s or Katz’s, still hit the spot. We also ordered the onion rings, which were thin and tasty with a light crust. We finished off with their not-to-be-missed rice pudding.
Sunday morning, after breakfast at the hotel buffet, we headed to “By Chloe,” a vegetarian restaurant. I argued strongly for this visit, believing we needed to expand our horizons, and simultaneously reduce our cholesterol intake. A small but cozy restaurant, we ordered at the counter and found seats. Our order, recommended by a website, was the “Guac burger,” air fried fries and a kale Caesar salad. It was not inexpensive at $11.95 each for the salad and burger, but it was the Village. Gary and I thoroughly enjoyed the burger. Larry still thinks that, if you want a burger, eat a real one. While the Guac doesn’t taste like a hamburger, it is still delicious. The thin cut fries were disappointing. The salad, although made better by the excellent shitake mushroom bacon on top, was only good and not necessarily better than what you’d get at Sweet Green or a similar place. Malcolm commented that while vegetarian salads do not have the potential to wow you like a truly prepared food such as deli, pizza or dumplings – they can be very good, but at the end of the day they are salads.As we walked out, I stated that this would be my restaurant of choice, were we in the area again. That is until I spotted H.G Melon across the street, which has amazing cheeseburgers.
We then headed to Katz’s for our much-anticipated and as always outstanding pastrami sandwiches. Our final stop was Black Iron Burger a couple blocks from Katz’s. Black Iron is highly rated for its “Iron Burger” and onion rings. We ordered two burgers and the rings. A smallish restaurant with a few tables, we squished into a booth in the back. The Iron Burgers, as described in the menu, were Double 4oz Patty, All-Natural Beef, Double Horseradish Cheddar, Stout Caramelized Grilled Onions, and Special Horseradish Mayo. It reminded us of a Big Mac or the old Hot Shoppes Mighty Mo. It was tasty but nothing to write home about. The onion rings, on the other hand, were the best of the trip. Crispy, tasty and not greasy. We’d go back for the rings, but there are better burgers to be found (see note earlier on JG Melon).Big takeaways from this excursion: We’re adding Hobby’s to our list of best delis in the NY and NJ areas. At Hobby’s (and New Jersey's Goodman's), not only is the food outstanding, but the owners (Marc and Michael Brummer at Hobby’s and Don Parkin at Goodman's) are hands-on all the way and delightful too. Our other favorites for food quality are 2nd Ave (33rd St location only), Sarge’s, and of course Katz’s pastrami. We have said this before, but it is worth repeating: if you have the time and taste for but one deli sandwich in New York City, get the counter-served hand-cut pastrami sandwich at Katz’s.
The big disappointment was the new Pastrami Queen in Times Square. Gary and I have a lingering question—can we get Hobby’s to send their fresh oatmeal raisin cookies to Maryland? They were just unbelievable. All in all, a great trip.