Another 7 hour, multi-weather pattern drive through the barren desert means that vacation time is now over and I am firmly back on the deli trail. It was a wonderful week of powder skiing, blue skies, quality time with the girlfriend, hot tubs, and non-pickled foods…ahh but who wouldn’t rather be sitting in a Super 8 motel off the side of I-80, blogging on a bed while your eyes struggle to stay awake?
While Jewish delis in this part of the country lack the history found elsewhere (an old deli in Denver is three decades old), and the mystique, there’s some quality product being put out by people who care, and who cook, slice, and serve with true passion. To all Jewish skiers and deli loving snowboarders this is a blessing, knowing now that future trips to Aspen, Vail, or elsewhere need not go without the essentials…no more $15 on-hill hamburgers…from now on they can stock up in Denver before heading to the hills.
Deli culture isn’t exactly ingrained into mountain culture, so much of what one finds in the area associates itself with New York delicatessens and their mystique. And while much of the food found in Jewish delicatessens is indeed imported from the coasts, those that are making their own stuff do it with love.
New York Deli News
You gotta love a deli that boasts its New York roots (the owner’s parents owned a deli called Fashion Luncheonette in the garment district), but feels inside like a Colorado ski lodge with big wood beams and stone trim. This is the largest deli in the Denver area, all of which are spread around the outskirts rather than downtown. Bagels, breads, meats, even pickles are trucked and flown in from New York to keep the east coast flavor fresh… I didn’t have much chance to taste their food, though the chopped liver was damn good and the pastrami had some nice spicing to it. John Elway seems to like it enough, though he’s said to order his pastrami on white with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Someone throw a flag on that play! Check out the license plate though…I think it’s time to start a collection of deli owner’s vanity plates.
7105 E Hampden Ave
Denver, CO 80224
Gerard Rudofsky is definitely a Deli Man to the core. He walks around his restaurant in a chef’s coat (“so people think I’m really working), he can tell you about each item like he’s cooked it himself, and he has just enough sarcasm and grumpy shtick to carry the role. His delicatessen, Zaidy’s, in the upscale Cherry Creek area is a warm, fun, family place that somehow finds a great balance between the old world taste and a fresh/retro feel. When I was there a Jewish family was introducing their non-Jewish friend to different Jewish foods (“blintzes are kind of like crepes”), while a svelte, beautiful single young woman ate a slice of heavenly coffee cake at the counter.
Rudofsky’s specialties show inventiveness in the kitchen. Zaidy’s has great standards: soups, cabbage rolls, kugel, and meats, but some stuff is truly unique.
-a meat blintz, filled with sauteed onions and chopped brisket, then served with guacamole and salsa (made in the store)…a bit of Jew-Mex fusion that comes from the kitchen staff
-a heart stopping reuben slapped between two crisp, thin, steaming hot latkes…a cholesterol laden joy which is tremendously popular in the area, and at my friend’s house later that night
-the best applesauce i’ve ever had (to go with latkes or blintzes), made with crushed pineapple and strawberries
-matzo ball soup served the way it should be…with chunks of chicken, vegetables, and onions in the bowl
121 Adams St, Denver, CO
This is Denver’s oldest deli, though it moved years back to the shopping plaza where it holds fort. I love the feel of this place…divided in half with a short wall between takeout section and cozy seating area. With the Kaplan’s family skiing pictures plastered above the worn booth, the Bagel definitely has the most cozy feeling to neighborhood delis. The guys working behind the counter are classic deli characters, with hands and jokes worn in from decades of slicing and shmearing. Take Manuel Valdez, a thirty five year veteran of the Bagel. He’s as much a part of the Kaplan family as anyone, and waltzes around the floor dishing out sweet noodle kugel, schmaltzy chopped liver, and superb whitefish spread with ease.
6439 East Hampden Ave.
By far the most colorful addition to the Denver deli scene is also the newest, at the Deli Tech (named because it is found in the Denver Tech area of town…not because of any cyborg sandwiches). It is a New York deli in the truest sense of the word, as evidenced by the statue of Liberty in the entrance, to the graffiti murals in the bathrooms. And yet the real New York feel comes in the form of its owners, Barbara Simon and her husband Fred Anzman.
“You must be David!” Barbara said, grabbing me in a hug as I walked in. With her colorful clothes, long nails, and big booming voice Barbara’s very presence took me back to New York, where loud and proud are the ruling force. Fred is no shy one himself, his thick Long Island accent coats the tables with a heft that nearly equals the man himself. These are deli people to the core, and though they are new at the game, they’ve done it incredibly right.
New York transplants to Denver over many years, Fred and Barbara came together recently, gave up their collective businesses (Fred is a successful CPA), with the dream of capturing some of the flavor from their beloved Carnegie Delicatessen on 7th Ave. All the deli provisions…pastrami, corned beef, breads, and pickles are shipped directly from the Carnegie’s factory in New Jersey. They make a New York sized sandwich at 8 oz…still half that of the Carnegie’s monstrosity, but far more than most outside Manhattan…which is juicy, tender, and perfectly slathered in Gulden’s mustard. It’s certainly as close to the Carnegie as I’ve seen, but once you meet Fred and Barbara you’ll know why.
And yet, despite all the New York imagery, the imported Carnegie cheesecakes, yellow cab painted delivery trucks and murals of Manhattan…it’s the homemade stuff that really impresses.
-incredibly juicy roast turkey breast, shaved right from the bone
-a deep amber matzo ball soup, with dense matzo balls and homemade kreplach that were light as chinese wontons
-incredible cabbage rolls…a huge steaming, juicy, wrap of cabbage leaf packed with rice and ground beef, slathered in a sweet and sour sauce that begged to be sopped up with a hunk of challah
-Barbara’s insane carrot cake…a sweet tooth’s ultimate demise…it’s covered in layers of cream cheese icing
Even without the New York image this place would be a winner. Barbara and Fred are huge personalities, but their food matches it brilliantly. Plus, they eat what they make, which always makes me feel good about a place. They’re big…they’re loud…they’re very New York…but they are lovely and a worthwhile stop on the way to the mountains.
8101 E Belleview Ave # Aa
More to come shortly!