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Desserts aside, good food isn't the only thing attracting crowds here. Prices are exceptionally reasonable--$20 can easily fill up two. For deli-starved desert dwellers who can't look at an armless saguaro without being reminded of a Hebrew National salami, Kibitz is worth a stop. Zweig's Restaurant and Deli, 10135 East Via Linda, Scottsdale, 860-4199. Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
Zweig's has a certain forlorn air, compounded the night we were there by a lack of dinnertime bustle. A few celebrity posters adorn the mostly bare walls, and big windows unrelieved by curtains or blinds provide a view of the parking lot. Our dining area (there are two) seemed cavernous, with only nine tables in an area that looked like it can hold twice that many. Naturally, an ever-present television blared out from one corner throughout the evening.
A dish of crisp pickles and some fresh, chewy rye bread from Karsh's Bakery quickly met us at our table. For a few moments, I deluded myself into thinking that Zweig's might be one of those restaurants where ambiance and the quality of the food work in inverse proportion. But a tour of the menu wrenched me back into reality.
The soups accompanying dinners won't conjure up warm pictures of mom merrily cooking in the kitchen, surrounded by steaming, fragrant kettles. Mushroom barley soup didn't taste much like mushroom or barley, and had an unpleasant, starchy texture. Chicken soup with kreplach--meat-filled pouches of dough--featured soggy kreplach and a broth that tasted like the chicken had taken a quick dip rather than a prolonged plunge.
As for the main dishes, the homemade stuffed cabbage is curiously devoid of ethnic flavor. The sweet tang I associate with this dish never showed up, but unfortunately, a thin, watery tomato sauce did. The only mom I know who might have come up with something this bland is June Cleaver.
I doubt whether June could have whipped up the accompanying potato pancake, though. It's an appealing, thick, crisply fried disk with an unmistakable ethnic pedigree.
Flanken-in-the-pot is a much better dinner choice than stuffed cabbage. It consists of short ribs of beef of an inexpensive cut that must be cooked forever to become tender. Three of them were, in a mild broth with potatoes, carrots, a kreplach and a big, squishy matzo ball. Still, like the soups and stuffed cabbage, this dish didn't tap any Proustian wells of memory.
Nor will deli sandwiches remind pastrami and corned beef mavens of the overstuffed heartstoppers they find back East. The pastrami, like the corned beef at Kibitz's, is so lean it makes the rye bread seem juicy by comparison. It's also so highly seasoned that diners risk that awful, bloated-but-dry-mouthed feeling you can get after gulping six glasses of water trying to quench an unquenchable thirst.
Marbled with a bit more fat, the corned beef is a lot more flavorful. But there's no need to ask for a half-sandwich here--even my kid could hold the full portion in one little hand and get her mouth around it with no trouble.
Freshly prepared blintzes are by far the best thing we had here. More crepelike than doughy, these thin beauties come filled with a sweet cheese mixture that had me making animal-like snorts of pleasure. If everything at Zweig's tasted like this, I'd be camping out in the parking lot. But our rice pudding dessert, fresh out of the kitchen, brought us back to Earth with a thud. Someone forgot to cook the rice long enough. As far as I'm concerned, rice pudding is one treat, like chocolate ‚clairs and custard doughnuts, that should never crunch.
With Carnegie Deli gone, several Valley temples to heartburn can make legitimate claims to the crown. Maybe Zweig's could have been a contender. But right now, it looks like it's got a one-way ticket to Palookaville.