Years ago, when the 2nd Ave Deli was on Second Avenue, we were semi-regulars (see the Roadfood.com review). It was around the corner from The Public Theater, and our season tickets usually had us dining on the splendid chicken in the pot at the 2nd Ave. It was never our favorite deli but it was comfortable and haimish, and left us with a good feeling. We eventually stopped going to the Public, and our deli visits became infrequent. Later, deli owner Abe Lebewohl was tragically murdered in front of the restaurant (the crime has never been solved) and the deli eventually closed years later. The new 2nd Ave Deli was opened by Abe's nephews, and it received positive notices, but we've been unable to bring ourselves to pay a visit until now, for the same reason we still have mixed feelings about listening to John and Yoko's Double Fantasy album. Our group this afternoon numbered ten, and the mood was festive.
The meal had its ups and downs, but the two free starters were big ups: superlative health salad and pickles. We ordered some gribenes and an appetizer plate of chopped liver.
We've read nothing but raves over 2nd Ave's gribenes, and not only is the presentation imposing, with a huge pile of beautifully caramelized onions atop a mountain of crisp chicken skin, but it also tastes pretty good. Except for one thing: as far as we're concerned, these are not gribenes! The classic way with gribenes is to slowly fry up diced chicken skin and fat with loads of onions. The result is not only oodles of the magic Jewish elixir and all-purpose food additive known as schmaltz, but the schmaltz by-product called gribenes.
It sure seemed like 2nd Ave deep fries their chicken skin in large pieces, and then salts them, resulting in the kosher equivalent of fried pork rinds. The result isn't bad, but it's a disappointment.
The chopped liver? We could overlook its too-smooth texture and wet consistency if it wasn't for the overwhelming livery flavor. What's that you say? It's liver, isn't it supposed to be livery? Yes and no. The recipe usually tames the liver with fried onions, hard-boiled eggs, and schmaltz. To our tongues, these ingredients were virtually absent. We like to spread chopped liver on rye bread slices, and therein lies another problem: the rye here is atrocious, barely different from what you'd find in a Dubuque IGA.
A nice, warming bowl of mushroom barley soup, however, was just what the doctor ordered:
Chicken in the pot is still a big production number, with plenty of noodles, carrots, and chicken on the bone, and a big matzo ball. We didn't taste it but our Irish/Puerto Rican/American cousin from Seattle was very happy.
We unfortunately were distracted when sandwiches started arriving, but Ayersian took some nice photos. This was their impressive triple-decker with corned beef, pastrami, salami, Russian dressing & cole slaw:
A pastrami burger, showing the fat/crust striations of the meat:
Some rather dry-looking brisket:
And the pastami salmon:
The pastrami is gentle and pleasant; we prefer more brine and garlic. The corned beef, ordered lean, is elegant, with just a hint of a sweet spice undertone. Very nice. They also offer an extra lean corned beef option but there was nary a speck of fat on our sandwich. The regular pastrami had a nice fat-to-lean balance. Of course, the bread is a problem.
We ordered some dessert. Keep in mind that the 2nd Ave Deli is kosher, not kosher-style, and this means there is no dairy in the house. So the "cream cheese" is made out of tofu and there is no heavy Jewish cheesecake. This would seem to pose a problem in the baking of the normally cream cheese-rich rugelach. We don't know if they use that tofu cheese in the dough, or just substituted parve margarine, but the crunchy/sweet results are quite good, in both the chocolate and cinnamon versions.
And the chocolate babka, like the rugelach served warm, was heavy with gooey chocolate, more cake than bread, and none the worse for that: