Reins New York Style Deli

435 Hartford TpkeVernon, CT 06066 • (860) 875-1344 • reinsdeli.com

Calling this place “New York Style” is either an affront to New York City or the loosest use of the word style since the 80’s.  Oh, and please don’t ask me why I was in Vernon, Connecticut. Also, don’t ask me why the Republicans have a headquarters in this strip mall, flanked only by minority businesses which Republicans are actively working to screw over in every way possible (love thy neighbor fail!). And whatever you do, do not ask me why there is a line out the door to eat here… granted I think I can surmise the answer to that last one, because I’m guessing the pickens are mighty slim in Vernon (the people, not so much).

The food is your very basic kosher deli fare. And I can only imagine that the reason this place is packing ‘em in is because these poor souls don’t know that Russ & Daughters has shipping (not to mention they don’t know Russ & Daughters, period).

But catty jibes aside, if your heart is set on this place, I vote for the corned beef Rueben (pictured). Easily the best thing I had. After that it’s a slippery slope with the pickles and the potato knish ranking in at decent, the latkes ranking at Jimmy Dean and the kugel at futile.

All of that said, once you wash it all down with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda who really cares? Am I right?

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Ess-a-Bagel

831 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10022(212) 980-1010 ess-a-bagel.com

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There is raging debate as to who has the best bagel in the city and I think I have to give the edge to H&H or maybe even Russ & Daughters. But right on the heels for me would be Ess-a, especially if you are talking about the establishment as a whole, as I believe Ess-a-Bagel would then move up the second slot, because they simply crush H & H when it comes to things like whitefish salad, cream cheese, lox and sable.

Sure, you have to put up with the vaudeville-type lifers behind the counter who can turn your outing into a 20 minute soliloquy when all you want is a fucking bagel, but at least it’s worth it. In particular, the worthiest of the lot for me is their sesame bagel, scooped out, with whitefish salad, lettuce and tomato (or cucumber). The whitefish is salted to perfection and I’ve never had better. But just be sure get the bagel scooped as I mentioned, otherwise you’ll be lapping the whitefish off of your tray.

Equally worthy is their Nova on an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese and tomato.  The Nova is so damn buttery you will want to roll around in it like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. Be sure to get this, or the whitefish salad, with a half sour pickle and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and you will be lost in Bagel bliss.

In terms of baked goods, Ess-a also has a few winners like their lemon pound cake in particular, but where they fall short for me is on the rugelach, and babkas. You can find far superior versions at Breads and Second Avenue Deli. But on the whole, Ess-a gets an A for breakfast, lunch or catering.

4 teeth

Russ & Daughters Cafe

127 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002(212) 475-4881russanddaughterscafe.com

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The kosher deli is like the tiger of restaurants, loved, but rapidly nearing extinction. As cited by the documentary Deli Man (an obscure Netflix gem), kosher delis in New York alone, have gone from over 1500 in number back in 1931, to today’s very depressing stat of just 21 establishments left. So, call it my Jewish guilt or moral obligation, but I felt the need to help turn the tides by turning my kids onto the glory that I lovingly call “Jew Food.” A cuisine unlike any other, that I have adored since childhood. But sadly, like many other bad Jews (apparently), I haven’t been back in years. Which is a shame, because there’s really no good reason. It’s not like going to Synagogue or anything. It’s actually quite enjoyable. And downright sinful.

Well, also turning the tides is a modern-day twist on the kosher deli, paying faithful homage to its diner roots, while also feeling contemporary somehow at the same time. That’s Russ and Daughters, a beacon of hope for the “chosen” cuisine.

Speaking of chosen things, our first choice was the Pastrami Russ, a small but crazy good sandwich made with their unique salmon pastrami, cucumber, coleslaw and deli mustard all on a cigar-sized pretzel roll, served next to a mountain of homemade waffle potato chips and a half sour pickle that also rocks. Mad mazels on this one.

But as good as the Pastrami Russ was, the Latkas stole the show. Easily the best I’ve ever had, done up at least a half inch thick with a hard, crusty outer layer and moist, fuffy innards. It’s Ultimate Latka perfection. Also, we had ‘em both ways, the new fangled crème fraiche and salmon roe way, as well as the ole tried and true apple sauce way. Both are good, but the kid in me still leans toward the classic A-sauce.

And while we’re on the topic of classics, the Classic Board with Nova, tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese and an everything bagel was also very good. Not quite as inventive as some of the other twists, but as solid as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, Essa included. Granted the Nova is very lightly cured though, so nowhere near as salty as you might be used to.

Lox, eggs and onions were good, but not great. Partly due to the less salty lox, which is what makes this dish normally shine, ya know, cuz salt and eggs and all. That said, the rye bread that comes with it is another Ultimate. So flavorful and packed with texture. In fact, we loved it so much we walked up the street after breakfast to the Russ & Daughters store on Houston to buy a loaf. And my god is that thing dense. One loaf probably ways as much as a Mini Cooper.

We ended the meal on a duo of dishes from the “Sweet” column, the first being the Chocolate Babka French toast. Yes Challah, you just got trumped. Topped with fresh strawberries and sidled up next to a ramekin of sweet cream- no need for syrup on this thing. It’s richer than Daddy Warbucks.

Yet as wonderific as the Babka French Toast was, the kosher purist in me still found the Noodle Kugel to be the shiznet. It’s like muscle memory for your taste buds, bringing you back to that sweet noodle lovin’ fro your childhood that you just can’t deny. And wow did that sound way more child molesty than intended.

All in, Russ is tops in my book. Even if Gweneth Paltrow likes it too. From the incredibly fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices to both Ultimates I mentioned above to their caviar cream cheese that needs to make its way from store to café (hint-hint Russ).

4 teeth

2nd Avenue Deli

162 E 33rd St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-9000 • 2ndavedeli.com

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Forget for a moment that it’s not on Second Avenue. It used to be, but some greedy landlord hiked up the rent and they moved. Yes, it would’ve been ideal for them to find a new location somewhere along Second Avenue, but I’m assuming they tried that. And in hindsight, I’m guessing they probably wished they had chosen a different name for the restaurant, but I imagine they never thought this would ever happen to them. Guess they should’ve maybe read a few history books, because being displaced is hardly a foreign dynamic to the Jewish people.

But enough about the move, because regardless of where this place is, it will always be the quintessential New York deli experience in my eyes.  Corn beef sandwiches the size of your head (pictured), but quality meat. Not just packed on there for gluttony sake like at Carnegie or Stage Deli. Same goes for their pastrami. Knishes and potato pancakes as good or better than Bubby used to make. Their eggs with lox and onions is killer. The best rugelach in the city. Best matzoh ball soup. Even the pickles and pickled tomatoes sitting their free, right on your table are worth writing about, hence I am. If you are a Jew, and live within 50 miles of this place and haven’t been there yet, you should be ashamed of yourself.

5 teeth