I used to think matzo balls were funny, the punch line to a great joke involving a zoo animal.
But the matzo ball soup at Cathy's Deli is no joke.
In each bowl, rustic chunks of carrots, onions, celery and noodles serve as bridesmaids to dark and light chicken and the belle of the ball: the plump matzo round. Handmade with matzo meal, the tender, dumpling-like balls absorb all the brothy goodness of the chicken soup. After one cup, I craved a second and sent my husband for two additional quarts for the chilly weekend.
Relocated from California to Tutt Boulevard (near Sky Sox Stadium), dressed in cheery red and yellow, independently owned Cathy's Deli serves up authentic Jewish deli-style sandwiches and homemade soup combos. At $7.99 and under, all combos feature your choice of sandwich or salad and fountain drink. To order: Mix and match whole or half sandwiches with cups or bowls of soup and selected sides.
Once at the counter, I began the dizzying selection process. I skipped filling out the "checksheet" (a form to help customers build their own sandwiches) and opted for owner Cathy Anderson to walk me through.
Cathy provides choices. Maybe too many choices. First, there are 14 meats from which to choose: corned beef, pastrami, brisket, roast beef, chicken, tuna and turkey, to name a few.
And bread? Cathy has bread.
"I'll have the rye."
"Would you like seeds, seedless or marbled?"
Then the selection of sandwich style: regular, melt, Reuben, French dip, yada, yada, yada ...
While ordering, I couldn't help but wonder, "If this sandwich doesn't taste good, is it my fault?"
I tried a corned beef Reuben with sauerkraut, considering that Cathy's claims to have the best corned beef and pastrami in town. But before biting into my pristine-looking sandwich, I discovered an all-too-common kitchen nightmare, something that forces critics (and customers alike) to wince painfully: a blond hair sticking out the side.
That was not on the checklist.
Cathy, a brunette, graciously and quickly remade the order, sans hair. While I'm not expert enough to crown a "best in town," this was delicious. And the sweet potato fries I ordered on the side were crispy and eaten quickly.
Opting for take-out on the next visit, I assembled a tasting panel. One diner proclaimed the lean pastrami melt with provolone a "perfect football-game sandwich" with one caveat needs more meat.
"Pastrami should be busting out of this thing," I believe was the comment.
The brisket, sadly, didn't pass muster. Lacking seasoning, the meat had a dry, shredded consistency.
The sides were also hit and miss. The Caprese salad of mozzarella, cucumber and tomatoes was both tangy and sweet, although the portion was small, and the thick-cut, homemade potato chips also won approval. But overcooked potatoes sunk the potato salad and the crispy french-cut fries I loved on my first visit came as thick, soggy crinkle-cuts on follow-up. (I later learned this inferior batch was a late substitution after Cathy had sold out of her usual fries.)
I hope Cathy fixes her deli's inconsistencies over time, and that the cumbersome ordering doesn't turn off other patrons.
Anyone who can make a soup as good as her matzo ball variety deserves the benefit of doubt.
4037 Tutt Blvd., 597-8888
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.