By Heather Hoch
By Eric Schaefer
By New Times
By Rachel Miller
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
By Heather Hoch
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I used to wish my dad had chosen a more exciting career. Sure, accounting kept us fed, clothed and sheltered. But I still wanted to switch families with my friend Alan. His father held possibly the world's most enviable position. Supervisor of a sultan's harem? Center fielder for the Yankees? Nope--manager of a neighborhood deli.
When I'd visit Dad's hushed office, I saw pale, bespectacled men poring over sheets of figures. The air was heavy with the musty volumes of the tax code that they consulted from time to time.
But at bustling Sid's Delicatessen, I'd inhale the thick scents of pastrami, knishes and brisket. To me, the heavy aroma hung as redolently as the blooming wisteria does in a Faulkner tale, the perfumed essence of a time and place now long past. From my table, I'd strain to eavesdrop on nearby patrons--hungry, good-time schmoozers--animatedly telling tales of nagging wives, mean bosses and slow racehorses over their deli platters.
A recent trip to my old New York haunts made me wonder if somewhere right here in the Valley that experience could be duplicated.
Chompie's, run by New York refugees, seemed a likely spot to summon up remembrances of corned beef past. Newly located in expanded digs, the place now sports the gleaming, polished look of a modern, suburban deli. Along the length of the far wall, a mural celebrates Big Apple icons: Joe DiMaggio, the Chrysler building and the Rockettes. Hanging salamis, tempting deli-case displays of meat, fish and cheese, and lots of New York accents also add a hometown touch. If you have an uncle from Queens, you're bound to see his double here. But whoever had the vulgar idea of installing two television sets ought to be horsewhipped and fed nothing but pork chops and milk as punishment for his crimes against civility. Chompie's starts dinner off right, with lots of free noshes. A plate of half-sour pickles; sour, green tomatoes; and sauerkraut will induce spasms of involuntary facial puckering until morning. The appealing basket of fresh bread and rolls (Chompie's has its own bakery) will induce involuntary smiles. At the end of a heavy, Jewish-style meal, many words might spring to a diner's lips. "More," however, is not likely to be one of them. And since Chompie's dinners come with soup, dessert and beverage, most folks won't need to make any stops among the appetizers. But I'm genetically wired to order kishke, a uniquely unhealthful blend of grain and fat. If you think a double-parked truck slows down traffic during a New York City rush hour, wait til you see what this does to your arterial blood flow. Still, the version here is authentic enough not to cause any pangs of remorse. Soups, an essential element of Jewish cooking, are a bit disappointing, partly because they look so much better than they taste. I dove into the thick cabbage soup with high expectations, but it tasted all wrong. I got no hint of the contrasting sweet and sour flavors, the hallmark of this dish. And its tomato broth lacked the requisite beefy underpinnings. Hearty mushroom beef barley was an improvement, but it came heavily oversalted. Best was the chickeny, noodle-crammed matzo-ball soup. Personally, I prefer my matzo balls to sink like lead weights, not float like Chompie's airy versions. But this is a contentious subject on which otherwise reasonable people have differed since the Romans sacked Jerusalem. The main dishes are generally enjoyable, but hardly memorable. The brisket plate is well-stocked, but even smothered with indifferent gravy, the meat seemed somewhat dried out. Brisket, if right out of the roasting pan, ought to be gloriously moist. Nor did the limp potato pancake alongside appear to have jumped directly from the skillet. The stuffed cabbage is huge, two immense rolls filled with ground beef. They had some of the sweet and tart oomph the menu promised, but not enough punch for my taste. Perhaps the recipe has been adjusted for local palates. An inefficient microwave oven betrayed the Hungarian goulash, layers of noodles and institutional-looking cubed meat alternately steaming and cold in gloppy brown sauce. It's not a dish deli mavens will get too worked up over. But the chicken in the pot transported me back to Sid's. In a bowl of chicken broth deep enough to come with its own diving board sits a tender half-chicken. Floating alongside are three scrumptious kreplach (meat dumplings), noodles, matzo balls and carrots. This should cure whatever ails you, and it's no more expensive than a trip to the pharmacy.
The quality of Chompie's corned-beef sandwich surprised me--it's one of the few edible versions I've sampled in the Valley. It starts with the bread, thin slices of excellent, home-baked rye. The meat is juicy and flavorful, and generously piled on, considering the $6.25 tag. Wonderful knishes--potato, meat, kasha, veggie--make a heart-stopping accompaniment. Diners can profitably walk off two or three calories by strolling over to the in-store bakery. It's got a real New York feel, from the cherry-cheese strudel to the "take-a-number" ticket machine. The deli dessert staples are first-rate: chocolate horns, cheese Danish, rugalach and cheesecake. Chompie's inconsistent dinner fare doesn't yet match the level of its fine all-day offerings or its bakery--smoked fish platters, omelets, blintzes, bagels. For this exiled Deli Lama, dinnertime at Chompie's is a reminder of, but not a substitute for, home.