With so few delis opening up in New York, those that do are often greatly anticipated. They carry on their shoulders the burden of a city that loves deli but has few outlets for that love. And in Jewish neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, that love, and the few delis to receive it, makes the opening of a new deli there very significant.
Lansky’s Old World Deli flew in under the radar a month back, opening very softly, while everyone else was caught up in Obama mania and economic malaria. Helmed by restaurateur David Ruggerio, a Brooklyn-born Italian with French classical chef skills and a sushi restaurant in his portfolio, it seemed an unlikely venture. But the early word of mouth was good, and so I took up David’s offer and went there tonight with my friend Kiri Tannenbaum, a food writer and fellow deli aficionado.
We were greeted by Ruggerio and his right hand man, Henry Kalifowitz, a fifty year veteran of the New York deli scene, with stints in the Catskills and Miami Beach. When the deli was still under construction Henry walked in right off the street and offered to help. The combination of his encyclopedic knowledge and David’s restaurant experience has made Lansky’s into a great deli. From the get-go, Henry made sure Lansky’s was up to snuff, calling on an army of retired deli men and cooks to instruct the staff on everything from steaming meats to baking rugelach.
The place looks great. With low ceilings, warm wood accents, and soft lighting, it has the requisite feel of a turn-of-the-century restaurant. Its not trying to overdo the whole New York deli look, as many do, but it’s suitably comfortable as to look well seasoned.
David and Henry endeavor to cook as much from scratch as possible. This goes from the soups and knishes, right up to the cabbage rolls and rugelach. One day, they hope to cure their own meats.
So…enough…let’s hear about the food.
We started off with a generous scoop of chopped liver, resting as it was on a bed of red onion and lettuce. It was great, with hints of egg, and enough sweet schmaltz to moisten the whole thing up generously…not too strong, but certainly full of flavor. Next came the potato knish, which was wrapped in a very flaky shell of pastry, and revealed creamy mashed potato flavored with sweet onion.
The winner in the early rounds was the matzo ball soup, a wide bowl filled with small strips of shredded meat, carrots, and two tangerine sized matzo balls. These were just ideal, the perfect density between floaters and sinkers, soft enough to carve easily, but firm enough to hold their shape until eaten. The broth, strongly chicken flavored with nice tones of celery and not too much salt, was good enough to pick up the bowl and drain.
Latkes too were excellent. I usually can’t stand deli latkes. They’re almost always too big, firm, and greasy. These were thin, crisp, and yet very clean tasting. They had crunch, but broke against the fork easily, and were worth the extra three blocks I had to walk just to digest them. Continuing along potato lane, the trio of kugels were simply outstanding. Potato kugel was soft and delicate, like a souffle, while the clear winner was the spinach kugel, a green loaf mixed with just enough potato to keep it together. It was refreshing and hearty, almost like a quiche. The sweet lokshen noodle kugel was soft and delicate, and filled with small green raisins that burst upon first bite.
What’s the downside? Well, they’re having problems with the consistency of the meats, which we all agreed upon. The pastrami, from Empire National, was great, as always, and the house made brisket was nice and tender. But the corned beef wasn’t so great. Hopefully they’ll get it sorted out shortly.
Desserts are mostly homemade at Lansky’s too, including a thick brick of strawberry cheesecake. I usually don’t eat cheesecake, but this was really creamy and somewhat light, and I managed half of it. They also do homemade halvah…mmmm…and warm rugelach that are almost like danish, bursting with cinnamon and dried fruit.
The best part? The prices. In these austere times, you can take comfort that Lansky’s is damn reasonable for New York delis. Sandwiches are mostly under $10, entrees under $15. Considering that this is in the priciest neighborhood in the city, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
So please, go and check out Lansky’s Old World Deli. Say hi to Henry and David, sit down for a meal, and let them know what you think. Then go and tell your friends. We can’t save delis unless we support them with our mouths and hard earned money. It’s ok…this one’s worth it.
225 Columbus Ave
(between 70th St & 71st St)
New York, NY 10023