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Bomans New York Kosher Style Restaurant & Deli, 3731 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 9472934. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 7:30 a.m. to 9p.m., seven days a week.
Every time I spend a few days visiting friends and relatives in New York, I feel good about my long-ago decision to move away.
These days, the potholes on Third Avenue have more square feet than my office. It's cheaper to drive your car directly up to a restaurant table and feed it dinner than to park it for two hours in a garage. The burly crew members of a sanitation truck, unhappy that work was taking up more than two hours of their eight-hour day, advised my sister that her household was generating "too much garbage." And a much-mugged friend has devised a new Big Apple sporting event, the Central Park Sprint: Put a field of runners in the middle of the park at midnight, each with a $20 bill taped to the forehead. Come back the next morning and check the results--the victim closest to an exit wins.
On the other hand, despite the city's considerable drawbacks, whenever I walk past a New York deli, the head-spinning aromas cloud my judgment so much that I'm seriously tempted to move back. You don't have to be the Deli Lama to recognize that New York's delicatessen fare--corned beef, stuffed cabbage, chicken soup, chopped liver--inspires worshipful devotion.
Unfortunately, past experience has proven to me that I have about the same chance of eating great deli in Phoenix as I do of tobogganing down Squaw Peak. Two recent local expeditions once again confirmed my lowered expectations.
Bomans salutes its customers with a hearty "Shalom Y'All," spelled out in both English and Hebrew. Otherwise, the place looks like the kind of deli you'd find in one of the neighborhoods of New York's outer boroughs: There's a long, well-stocked counter, a slowly rotating dessert display, a list of daily specials hanging on the wall, a closed-captioned television tuned to CNN and counter help who use the computer to play computer games during slow parts of the day.
What there isn't, however, is a breadbasket and pickle tray to greet us when we're seated. One of the great pleasures of New York deli dining is to contemplate your order while noshing on fresh, crusty rye bread, pickles and sour tomatoes provided gratis. (Some delis bring coleslaw and sauerkraut, too.) I understand it's a costly touch, as well as one that many deli-challenged locals aren't likely to appreciate. But Bomans' menu prices are plenty low enough (most sandwiches are in the $5-to-$6 range; dinners are $7.25) to withstand a small boost for the cause of tasty authenticity.
With a couple of exceptions, most of the fare falls short of its potential. If you're a novice, you don't get much of an inkling about just how overpoweringly good this stuff can be.
Take the chicken in a pot, a traditional deli staple, properly served up by Bomans in an oversize bowl big enough to double as a washbasin. The broth has a noticeable chickeny flavor, and the meaty half-chicken floating in it is cooked to the right pull-off-the-bone specifications.
But other elements of the dish are disappointing. Celery and carrots seem to have been measured out with a thimble. Who forgot the noodles? The one matzo ball had a squishy texture and an odd taste. And the kreplach I ordered as addins to thicken the pot--they're kind of like Jewish won tons, doughy pouches stuffed with meat--were unpleasant enough to make me question my ancestors' decision to relocate in the New World.
Two other broths don't have anything going for them at all. Neither the watery lentil soup nor the nondescript borscht conjures up any deli magic.
The appetizer of stuffed cabbage, however, does; it's the best item I ran across. You get two big, thick pieces, tightly crammed with ground beef, moistened with a tasty tomato gravy boosted with tangy cabbage flavors. Dip some rye bread in it, and enjoy.
Brisket isn't quite as successful. All Bomans' version did was make me pine for the top-of-the-line models I've had the good fortune to devour. Such brisket not only features meltingly tender, beefy, braised-all-day meat, but gorgeous gravies spruced up with prunes, raisins and tomatoes. In contrast, the brisket here is only moderately moist, and it comes buried under a pool of sludgy, dark, generic-tasting gravy. A rubbery potato pancake and nondescript steamed vegetables don't make the brisket platter any more memorable.Of course, sandwiches are a key part of the deli experience. Bomans' are a mixed lot. No one will confuse the pastrami here with what you get on Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. But it is certainly edible, which makes it better than 95 percent of the pastrami sandwiches in town that it's been my sad duty to sample. The meat isn't too lean, dried out or gristly, the three most frequent defects. And it sports a bit of a crusty, spicy kick. The chopped liver is a little creamier than I prefer, but there's no shortage of flavor. The low-quality corned beef, though, ruins two perfectly good slices of rye bread.Homemade knishes have always been too tempting for me to pass up. At least they were, until I bit into the ones here. Both the meat and potato knishes have an off-putting, egg-roll-like crust that simply doesn't work. A double whammy hits the meat knish, which is also done in by the same unsavory filling that felled the kreplach. If you need a side dish, head for the Bomans salad, a tart coleslaw that's a surprising treat.I lost confidence in Bomans' desserts when the waitress told us the tapioca and chocolate puddings came from Price Club. The homemade rice pudding makes a somewhat better impression, but only in a comparative sense.
When it comes to deli, I'm particularly picky. If you're not, Bomans might do.New York Bagels 'N Bialys, 6990 East Shea, Scottsdale, 991-3034. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 a.m. to 8p.m.; Sunday, 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
No matter what your level of deli tolerance, New York Bagels 'N Bialys certainly won't do.
The good news is that New York Bagels 'N Bialys puts out a plate of pickles and rye bread. The bad news is that this turns out to be the high point of the meal.
Problem number one: the setting. This is one of the least savory places I've run across in town. On one visit, we encountered air-conditioning problems. Hey, that can happen anywhere. But that doesn't explain the one bejillion flies that swarmed about the place, to the utter unconcern of management. (When the waitress tried to shoo them away with her hand, I thought I heard the flies laughing.) Nor can it account for a floor strewn with napkins, cigarettes and bits of food that looked like it hadn't been swept since Labor Day.
Problem number two: the service. Mastering the concept of courses doesn't require the same brainpower as mastering the theory of relativity. But it seems to with this staff. Dishes arrived haphazardly; entrees before soups, appetizers after sandwiches. Sometimes items didn't arrive at all, like the thrice-requested gravy for the kishke. And I've had an easier time getting my kids to clear the table of dirty dishes than I did with employees here, who are presumably trained and paid to carry out the task.
Problem number three: the food. Most of it falls into the category of "why bother?"
You'd never know from this restaurant's models that soups are one of the glories of Jewish deli cooking. The matzo ball soup is decidedly thin on poultry flavor, and it's not enhanced by a mushy matzo ball. Chicken soup should also come to the table steaming. My bowl came at a temperature level better suited to gazpacho.
Cabbage soup is just as disappointing, strictly one-dimensional. This soup needs to cook all day, but the kitchen obviously took a major shortcut. The cabbage wasn't cooked through, and the broth also lacked the beefy underpinnings and the sweet and sour smack you find in the best versions.
Main dishes are only marginally more inspiring. The beef brisket took so long to come out that I suspected the cook had started with a live cow. Even so, when it finally appeared, the less-than-mesmerizing meat hadn't been heated all the way through.The stuffed cabbage won't transport youto the Lower East Side, either. Quantity certainly isn't a problem; you get three hearty pieces. But like the cabbage soup, this dish is too light on hard-hitting flavors. Among the entrees, you're probably safest with the rotisserie-spun chicken, a moist bird that offers neither unpleasant surprises nor heart-stopping thrills.It took the side dish of steamed vegetables that accompanies the main dishes toreally get me steamed. From my table in the back corner, I could see that the young man in charge of them suddenly realized that he had been steaming them for several minutes over a pot whose water had evaporated. He belatedly poured in some liquid, hoping that the blackened veggies and their unpleasant burnt aroma could be rescued. They couldn't. But they were served to us anyway. How can you have so little regard for paying customers?After dealing with flies, litter, inept service and charred vegetable remains, it took enormous powers of concentration to focus on the quality of the deli sandwiches. ("Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?") Still, not even these distractions could blind me to the charms of the thick, chunky chopped liver, served on a well-made bialy. The pastrami and corned beef, though, could never make it on Broadway.
This town needs a first-rate deli. But after my experience at New York Bagels 'N Bialys, I'm just about ready to settle for a second-rate one.
Bagels banquet: Bomans falls short of the deli recommended requirement.
Bomans New York Kosher Style Restaurant & Deli:Stuffed cabbage (appetizer) $3.95 Beef brisket 7.25 Chicken in a pot 7.25 New York Bagels 'N Bialys:Cabbage soup $2.99 Chopped liver sandwich 5.99 Beef brisket 8.95 Roast chicken 8.95