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Jake's

1634 W. North Ave., Milwaukee, WI - (414) 562-1272
Posted By Michael Stern on August 17, 2007 10:07 AM
At 9:50am, ten minutes before opening the door to Jake's delicatessen, Michael Kassof straps a brace onto his left forearm. His ailment is similar to tennis elbow, but in this case it is corned beef elbow. Through the lunch hour, Michael and a couple of other guys behind Jake's counter continuously hand-slice corned beef for the surfeit of customers who crowd into the old Jewish deli for sandwiches to eat here or to go. On an average day, they cut 300 to 400 pounds at lunchtime, on a Friday, 500 pounds, and on St. Patrick's day, forget about it.

The reason the beef is hand sliced, Michael explains, is that it is cooked so long and becomes so fragile that it would disintegrate in an automatic slicer. There is no corned beef anywhere in America so tender and so rapturously luscious (unless you get it extra lean). A bit of its taste secret is that each hunk of brisket is sprinkled with paprika just before getting sliced, but the depth of flavor here also comes from the fact that a dozen or more briskets are boiled together, their pot becoming a slurry of spice and beef flavor that re-insinuates itself into the fibers of the meat. Slices come medium-thick and they are piled into slick-crusted, Milwaukee-made Miller bakery seeded rye: not an outrageously huge sandwich like you might get in Chicago or New York, but in no way skimpy, either. We see the meat-to-bread ratio as perfect.

There are a few other items on Jake's menu: pastrami, turkey pastrami, hard salami, hot dogs, and soups-like-mama-should-have-made; and you can have the corned beef as part of a Reuben with sauerkraut and cheese. But for us, and for generations of Milwaukeeans, Jake's is synonymous with corned beef on rye. It's been around since 1935, when the neighborhood was mostly Jewish. Original proprietor Reuben Cohen sold it to Jake, who sold it to Michael's dad in 1967, and now Michael runs the place – the last Jewish business in a neighborhood that is mostly African-American. Superlative corned beef is a cross-cultural infatuation.

The restaurant is a virtual museum set: the mid-20th century urban deli, its walls a faded pale yellow, its tables topped with worn linoleum, ancient wooden booths outfitted with out-of-order buzzers once used to summon service. In fact, there still is table service, and it is charming. On the other hand, many of Jake's customers simply get their sandwich at the counter and carry it to a stool at the old soda fountain across the room.
5 star rating
Overall Rating

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Posted By Pam Mason on July 25, 2011 8:47 PM
Jake's is an eat place not to be missed. We loved everything about it: the original booths and linoleum, our sweet waitress who comped us extra pickles, and the patrons, including expensive business-suit types and neighbourhood teens.

My sandwich was filled with the richest meat I've ever had (corned beef), warm and succulent, but fattier than I'm used to. I enjoyed my husband's sandwich more, to be honest, a leaner but equally delicious pastrami-based Rueben.

No matter what you eat though, you'll get a true Milwaukee experience, from food to neighbourhood.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
Pastrami
Reuben
Corned Beef Sandwich

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