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Jake's

1634 W. North Ave., Milwaukee, WI - (414) 562-1272
Posted By Michael Stern on 8/17/2007 10:07:00 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.

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5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Jake's sandwich is not overstuffed. It contains what we consider to be the ideal ratio of meat to (superb) rye bread. You can pick up half without too much spillage and either squirt mustard onto the whole thing, or apply it bite by bite. By the way, those pickle spears, made here, have real snap. On the side, Dr. Brown's sodas are available, of course.
"Jake's sandwich is not overstuffed. It contains what we consider to be the ideal ratio of meat to (superb) rye bread. You can pick up half without too much spillage and either squirt mustard onto the whole thing, or apply it bite by bite. By the way, those pickle spears, made here, have real snap. On the side, Dr. Brown's sodas are available, of course."
Michael Stern





Pastrami, which is smoked and peppered, is sultry. Terrific as it is, we love the mellower character of Jake's corned beef even more.
"Pastrami, which is smoked and peppered, is sultry. Terrific as it is, we love the mellower character of Jake's corned beef even more."
Michael Stern


We had no intention of eating anything but sandwiches when we came to Jake's, but Jane was coming down with a cold. This lovely matzoh ball soup was just what the doctor ordered.
"We had no intention of eating anything but sandwiches when we came to Jake's, but Jane was coming down with a cold. This lovely matzoh ball soup was just what the doctor ordered."
Michael Stern


Jake's also uses their excellent corned beef to make first-rate reubens.
"Jake's also uses their excellent corned beef to make first-rate reubens."
Cliff Strutz


'I can slice it for you however you want,' Michael Kassof says. 'A little fatty, all fat, all lean.' He also advised us that there is no mayonnaise on premises. The only condiment allowed is mustard.
"'I can slice it for you however you want,' Michael Kassof says. 'A little fatty, all fat, all lean.' He also advised us that there is no mayonnaise on premises. The only condiment allowed is mustard."
Michael Stern


The soda fountain is no longer in use; but once the lunch crowd starts to flood into Jake's, each of these stools will be occupied by a sandwich-eater.
"The soda fountain is no longer in use; but once the lunch crowd starts to flood into Jake's, each of these stools will be occupied by a sandwich-eater."
Michael Stern


We cannot tell you that the wooden booths at Jake's are comfortable, but there is something very reassuring about their sturdy longevity.
"We cannot tell you that the wooden booths at Jake's are comfortable, but there is something very reassuring about their sturdy longevity."
Michael Stern


We assume that at some time in Jake's past, the buzzer in each booth was used to summon a waiter. They have now gone kaput or have been disconnected.
"We assume that at some time in Jake's past, the buzzer in each booth was used to summon a waiter. They have now gone kaput or have been disconnected."
Michael Stern


For years, we were ignorant of Milwaukee's status as a great corned beef city. It was only after loving the corned beef at McBob's, while on a fish-fry expedition, that we realized corned beef was a subject that needed investigation.
"For years, we were ignorant of Milwaukee's status as a great corned beef city. It was only after loving the corned beef at McBob's, while on a fish-fry expedition, that we realized corned beef was a subject that needed investigation."
Michael Stern


Jakes used to be a three-meal-a-day deli, and its products included smoked fish and full hot meals. Today it is a lunch-only spot where smoked and cured meats are the main attraction.
"Jakes used to be a three-meal-a-day deli, and its products included smoked fish and full hot meals. Today it is a lunch-only spot where smoked and cured meats are the main attraction."
Michael Stern



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