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Fortunately, the homemade desserts restored my faith. Rice pudding is creamily luscious--better even than Mom's, because Pastrami's doesn't cut corners and calories by using skim milk. Apple strudel, filled with apples and raisins, is outstanding. But it's housed in a display case that has the temperature gauge turned to "Greenland." We had to wait several minutes for it to thaw out. Best of all, though, is noodle pudding, an anvil-heavy deli sweet. It's tastily thickened with cheese and cherries, and ought to be served with a NordicTrack.
During one visit, I overheard the owner moaning about the difficulty of operating on the west side. Many locals, he complained, think Pastrami's is a sub shop. When they walk in, they take one look at the unfamiliar food and head right back out. Too bad. It's not easy for delis to bloom in our unpromising desert soil. But Pastrami's is making a serious effort to take root.
5555 N. Seventh St.
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Region: Central Phoenix
Scott's Generations, Cinema Park Shopping Center, 5539 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 277-5662. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and early Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Singing along to the '70s music on the radio, the counter person waited on a grandmotherly customer. She: "So tell me, you're a member of the Rolling Stones?" He: "No, I just like getting my stones rolled." I enjoy deli men with old-fashioned attitude, and the team at Scott's Generations has enough to fill a hundred hot dog buns. So do the no-nonsense, what'cha-havin'-hon waitresses. I also enjoy the store's comfortable, old-time feel: hanging salamis, shelves stocked with canned gefilte fish and jars of Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup, Hebrew National deli mustard on the tables. But Scott's Generations is really a deli manqu‚. It's mostly a breakfast and sandwich kind of place. The time-tested deli dinner staples--stuffed cabbage, chicken in a pot, pot roast--don't make it onto the menu. And some of the essentials that are on the list--kasha varnishkes, barley and mushrooms, noodle pudding--weren't available on either of my visits.
But what does make it onto the menu is generally well-fashioned. Particularly the soups. Dill-flavored chicken soup, swimming with carrots, celery and shredded pieces of chicken, is fragrant and hearty. It's even heartier if you spring for an extra four bits and get three wonderful kreplach thrown in. They're big, doughy, meat-filled dumplings--like won tons on steroids--that take me back to the Brooklyn delis of my youth. Split pea soup is just about as redolent, packing a take-no-prisoners, peppery kick. But the soups should have come with a couple of slices of rye bread, not plastic-wrapped crackers.
Potato pancakes are as good as I could have hoped, big, crisp and sizzling. But the kishke is done in by a flaccid brown gravy whose principal ingredient is salt.
The sandwiches won't remind cold-cut mavens of anything we'd find back in the old neighborhood. On the other hand, if we hadn't wanted to escape the old neighborhood, we wouldn't have come to Phoenix in the first place. The pastrami is probably the best choice, salty and juicy enough to recall its ethnic origins. Brisket is Arizona-lean, which means it's Arizona-dry. The chopped liver is a little creamier than I like, almost a pƒt‚, but it sports an oniony bite. The corned beef, though, is instantly forgettable, innocuous meat lacking fatty richness and deep flavor. The homemade knishes, however, will perk up any sandwich. Both the spinach and potato models offer light, doughy shells and tasty, stick-to-the-ribs fillings. Nostalgia tempted me to try the hot dog with mustard, sauerkraut, onions and relish. I remember one costing a quarter in 1960, and my father telling me it cost him a nickel in 1930. The 1995 price: $1.95. Projected price my grandchildren will pay in 2025: $14.95. It'll still be worth it, if just for the memories.
Don't leave here without dessert, which will furnish new memories. Cheesecake is outstanding, creamy, dense and not too sweet. Rice pudding is less filling but no less satisfying. And the Russian tea cake, pastry dough wrapped around cherries and raisins, makes it easy to linger over a cup of tea. Deli lamas seeking ultimate nirvana won't find it at Scott's Generations. But they will find enough tasty fare to put together a pleasant deli meal.