In the interest of full disclosure: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the land where decent delis are no more than a mile apart. So it was with excitement and some skepticism that I awaited the opening of the Broadway Deli, the latest addition to downtown's Restaurant Row.
Well, it's a pretty good place to be when you're hungry, but it's not New York. Why would it be? Why should it be? How authentic could it be 2,000 miles away? As a simulation of a New York deli, it merits a C+, mostly for effort. But as a place to kick-start your day with an inexpensive and filling breakfast, or get a whopping sandwich that will fuel your afternoon, Broadway Deli gets an A+.
Breakfast, starting at 6:30 a.m. (7 a.m. on Sunday) can be as elaborate as a Build Your Own Omelet or as simple as a bagel and a schmear (that being a New York dollop). Bagels have been asked to do a lot in recent years. Here, they return to their roots, providing the basic foundation for lox, cream cheese, tomatoes or onions. The bagels at Broadway Deli are from Chesapeake Bagel, however, and should not be confused with the New York prototype.
If you go the custom-made omelet route, you'll find 24 possible ingredients, among them eight cheeses, assorted veggies, and meats, which means there are 12,144 (slightly) different three-ingredient omelets available. We approach an infinity of combinations with more than three ingredients. Go ahead, check the math.
Too early in the day for such decisions? Choose one of the $5.95 New York Scramblers, like the Broadway which combines eggs with bacon, tomato, green onion and avocado, topping it all with American cheese and sour cream. The Vegetable Scrambler includes broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, carrots and tomatoes, and finishes with Monterey Jack.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with cheese blintzes topped with fruit, potato pancakes topped with apple sauce, or waffles with powdered sugar, or fruit and whipped cream. Folks who don't want to have anything to do with New York food will find comfort in more familiar choices like biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, or hash and eggs. A misspelled Eggs Benedict appears on the menu, but I have my doubts. If they can't spell it, can they cook it?
Broadway Deli has been rocking at lunch time; don't go at the noon hour if you're under any time constraints. By 1:30, crowds have thinned and orders are filled more briskly. Some of the slowness may be a function of newness and smoothed out with time and experience. The staff is young, polite, and clueless about some food details. My sweet server told me the difference between the potato and meat knishes and the New York Square knish was that the latter "had nothing in it."
"It's not a puffball, kid," I wanted to say, "It's a knish. It's gotta have something in it." To her credit, even she didn't believe what she had said and returned in a moment with correct information.
The New York Square is flown in from the City; the others are made on the premises. Some things don't travel well. A knish, heavy in the belly in the best of circumstances, is one of them. Stick with the ones made on site.
If for some reason you could only have one meal a day, one of the overstuffed sandwiches or specialty Skyscrapers would be a good choice to get you through the long hours until the next day. Prices range from $4.95 to $7.95.
These are seriously huge and undeniably not what your doctor would want you to eat. Consider such skyscrapers as the Jersey City, a three-decker built with corned beef, pastrami, salami and Swiss cheese, or the Shea Stadium with chopped liver, pastrami, corned beef and coleslaw. Sure, there's the Vegetarian Combo (see, it doesn't even have a cool name) with tomatoes, cukes, lettuce, avocado, onions, sprouts and Swiss cheese, but you've got to get past the Broadway Rueben, the 42nd Street (corned beef, pastrami and Swiss) and the Brooklyn Bum (turkey, ham, roast beef, Swiss cheese and coleslaw) to get to it.
There are some relatively healthy choices in the overstuffed sandwich section: grilled chicken breast, egg and tuna salads, and there are some tasty mixed salads like a Greek and a Caesar. There is a daily quiche which comes with a garden salad or soup (chicken with matzo balls, cabbage soup or borscht).
So, how does it all taste? If you've never had Veuve Clicquot, you might think that $4 bottle of bubbly Spanish swill was champagne. The pastrami here, for example, is paper thin and piled high but it lacks the peppery zing of real deli pastrami. The rye bread is fresh but lacks the peasant crustiness of a Grossinger's rye. The pickles on the table, the jars of Brooklyn-made grainy mustard, the parsley and carrots in the potato salad are all nice touches. Don't confuse any of it with New York style; just go and get stuffed. Eat already.