I was 20 miles out of Barstow when the acid kicked in.
…acid indigestion to be precise, the remnants of an In-N-Out Burger that was deciding whether to stay in or get out. The situation called for action: a fast car, desert road, and pills…tums to be exact.
Forgive my indulgence, but every writer is entitled to some form of ripping off the late, great, Hunter S. Thompson when writing about Las Vegas. And in that city of plastic fantastic sex, sin, and oversized t-shirts, the spirit of the Dr. would best be found in the delis…quietly fueling his drug crazed madness with some matzo ball soup or bialy.
This was my first time in Vegas and I was both overwhelmed and dissapointed, both with the city and its delis. I expected a trace of Sammy, Dean, and Frank but instead got NASCAR, oversized plastic cups, and a whole lot of decoration without much substance. But I won a few hands of blackjack, got a comped drink or two, and had quite a bit of deli over the course of 12 hours.
For a town founded by old time Jewish gangsters, and now boasting a growing population of new school Jewish retirees and real estate tycoons, Las Vegas is sadly lacking in a critical mass of homegrown delis. There are a few though, and they do quite well for themselves.
855 E Twain Ave # 120
Las Vegas, NV
A Vegas transplant by way of Mort Horns, a Chicago deli man who followed the dice to the desert, went back and forth for a few years, and finally settled down in what became one of the sketchiest areas of town. Still, Bagelmania is the spot to go for old school Vegas Jews and characters. At breakfast (which stretches all morning in the 24/7 city), retired gamblers, gangsters, former casino owners, and blackjack dealers in full cowboy gear sit with plates of bagels, lox, and cream cheese or eggs and onions.
The crisp bialys are wonderful with cream cheese, there’s a real nice eggy sweet noodle kugel, a scoop of very strong and classic chopped liver, and one of the ugliest potato knishes to look at (though it tastes wonderful…mostly filling and very little dough). This is the real Vegas in all its element, come for the characters, the kibbitz and the baked goods.
And for my hometown friends (especially the bagel debaters on the facebook site) know that Bagelmania is the only other place I’ve seen that has a big twister bagel…a Toronto style wonder…which Mort copied from the now defunct Bagel on College St. So you needn’t crave when at the tables baby!
2744 n. Green Valley Pkwy
Michael Weiss and wife Aysegul (she’s originally from Turkey) opened their restaurant last March, taking over a fledgling Jewish deli call Samuele’s, which had languished for years in a suburban Vegas stripmall (isn’t all of Vegas one suburban stripmall?). In just under a year they have transformed the space and the kitchen into one of the most ambitious and delicious delis I have seen.
First, they make almost everything from scratch. Soups, dishes, kugel, kasha, all that…but also their breads, bagels, and deli meats. Most of it is done by Michael, who has been a cook for decades and owned many restaurants before the deli. He’s originally from New Jersey, but has been living in Vegas for years. With a can do attitude and a whole lot of balls, he is doing things the old fashioned way…and it tastes great.
The kasha varnishkes are to die for. This is a dish I never really got until I bit into Michael’s version, in a deep brown gravy, with each buckwheat kernel fluffed up on its own. His challah, baked in two small ovens, is dense, eggy, and sweet, the way it should be. The chopped liver ranks up there, and the chicken soup w/fat chunks of meat, is a soul saver for sin city. His rugelach are also unique…more like puff pastry than anything…perhaps a bit of Mediterranean influence.
The place goes to show that new delis can be old school, traditional, haymish, and very tasty all at the same time. And successful.
There are two other local chains as well that I didn’t check out:
Bagel Café located at 301 N Buffalo. Tel: (702) 255-3444
and Bagels ‘N More located at Tropicanna and Eastern. Tel: (702) 435-8100
What the rest of Vegas offered were buried in the belly of the casinos, next to sports betting sections or amid an army of slot machines.
Greenberg’s in New York, New York
Stage Deli (New York’s) in both Caesar’s Palace and the MGM Grand (a small kiosk)
Carnegie in the Mirage
Canter’s in Treasure Island
ZooZacrackers in the Wynn
I won’t delve too deeply into the food here, though I will say it ranges from outright goyish (Greenberg’s) to almost as good as the original (Carnegie). The rest fall somewhere between. Have a look at the movie to get a taste of the action.
Stoned, ripped, stuffed….good people.