There's something in the water, people say -- that special fluid that flows from New York City's municipal taps. The crystal liquid is so revered that it's been marketed on a retail level. Tim Zagat, publisher of the Zagat Surveys, says he'd rather have New York City water than the fancy bottled kinds pushed by many high-end restaurants. In early January, meanwhile, an art exhibition opened in Manhattan, showcasing, what else, the New York City Water Supply.
Big Apple water also is credited for the authentic flavor and unique nuance found in that city's bagels. The beverage is so important that the owner of New York's legendary Karsh's Deli includes it as a critical recipe ingredient. And it's such a must that Steve and Nancy Kashman, owners of the new Kashman's Place in Pinnacle Peak, have fashioned a specially filtered and chilled water system, designed to mimic the Back East beverage and to feed their cafe's bagel production.
It's a classy touch. But it's also one of the few things to inspire a true New York-style deli experience here. Because while Kashman's boasts that its bagels are five-borough born, the rest of the menu is firmly planted in upper-class Scottsdale.
Frankie's omelet: $7.95
Essex Street scramble: $7.50
Smoked salmon platter: $7.95
Tarragon chicken salad: $6.50
Thanksgiving turkey sandwich: $5.95
Philly beef and Brie: $6.50
Sonoran chicken: $6.50
23425 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-585-6221. Hours: Breakfast and lunch, 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Tofu spread? Singapore salad? Autumn pumpkin soup? Pennsylvania baked ham and Brie with champagne mustard on a warm baguette? A clever "power bagel," even, the multi-grain protein dough studded with dried fruits and nuts? This ain't the N.Y. 'hood I know.
Kashman's also isn't particularly showstopping -- most dishes, including the bagels, don't break into the realm of exciting. But for this area, which has been lacking such a casual, neighborhood-friendly restaurant, it does just fine. Being a bargain is a benefit, for sure -- the most expensive items on the menu are an $8.50 avocado salad, and a Greek salad, both topped with grilled chicken breast. Most choices hover around six bucks.
Going by tradition, it's hard to fault the size of Kashman's bagels, I suppose. They're little. As was the original New York bagel, which weighed in at about two ounces. Yet those were street snacks -- larger bagels were called "bulls" and were especially made for restaurants and delicatessens. I'd rather be fed some bull.
But nothing explains the leaden texture of this cafe's babies. New York's tap water is soft, carrying a relatively small amount of dissolved minerals much like mountain water. It's a bit sweeter than found elsewhere, because it's from rainwater. It's said to be what produces the unique crust of a bagel, poaching the uncooked dough in slightly simmering water before baking it in a hot oven. The water bath reduces starch, tightens the skin, eliminates expansion and makes the resulting bread chewy.
Steamed bagels? Leave that to Lender's, and folks who don't mind the rubbery, Play-Doh texture of these impostors. Kashman's makes its dough from scratch, then boils and bakes the bagels on the premises. With all these elements in place, then, I don't get why, on repeated samplings, I have to work my jaw overtime. This isn't chewy, this is tough.
Kashman's is small, too. Just a dozen or so blue bistro tables are set inside, with a handful more on an umbrella-decked patio out front. A full wall of mirrors makes the place look huge, a neat trick. A small selection of green salads perch in glass display cases, keeping company with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls and muffins (don't miss the killer blueberry).
Typical bagel sandwiches don't offer much early morning thrill, but omelets are satisfying. Frankie's omelet, blending three eggs with Nova smoked salmon and sautéed onions, is a nice choice. The Essex Street scramble charms salami lovers with chunks of the grilled meat, potato, onion, bell pepper and Cheddar. I also appreciate the composition of the Mediterranean omelet -- fresh spinach, tomato, red onion and feta are all in perfect balance. But what's listed as sides of potato pie are simply seasoned, roasted new potatoes, and if we want cream cheese on our bagel, it's extra.
No self-respecting deli would ignore a smoked salmon platter, and Kashman's nails it. Silky Nova fish is wonderful, displayed with sliced tomato, capers, red onion lemon, bagel and cream cheese on a bed of lettuce. Topnotch stuff.
Salads are pleasing, too, including the Singapore model. Grilled chicken strips take top marquee billing over mixed greens, red cabbage, cilantro, bean sprouts, shaved carrots and crispy noodles splashed with a refreshingly light sesame ginger vinaigrette.
Tarragon chicken salad with poached pear isn't a typical deli nosh, but it works for me, topping field greens with a fan of soft, sweet fruit and a scoop of marinated chicken breast chunks tossed with chewy currants, tarragon, celery and scallions in herb mayonnaise. A dusting of shaved almonds adds some crunch, but I yearn for a slab of crusty bread alongside to help cut the too-sugary raspberry vinaigrette.
Meeting your daily vegetable requirement isn't tough with Kashman's signature chopped salad. This isn't your everyday dish, prettily pairing diced baby string beans, tomato, peas, corn, jicama, carrots, red and yellow bell pepper, red onion and a nicely restrained balsamic vinaigrette under a sprinkle of dry Parmesan. For two bucks more, add a petite mound of tarragon chicken salad, a few strips of grilled chicken breast, or, my pick, "Willy's" albacore tuna salad. Typically tame tuna is enlivened with just enough mayo, plus dill, celery and red onion.
One place where Kashman's cuts through the culinary clutter is with its homemade soups (check out the free samples!). Two choices are offered daily, including excellent New Orleans corn and crab bisque, matzo ball and onion with shaved Parmesan. Double beef chili is a delight, too, plunking a modest amount of steak and ground beef in a tomatoey broth with pinto beans, Cheddar and a side of bagel chips.
While I expect heftier sandwiches from any place with a New York deli theme, it's hard to complain given the fresh ingredients and pricing (sandwiches include coleslaw or chopped salad). Buffalo chicken is good stuff, marinating strips with a pleasing vinegary finish. And though I don't taste the promised bleu cheese dressing, the chopped celery adds welcome tart crunch against chewy baguette.
Brie, a chief component of Kashman's take on a Philly beef, is detectable, but too stingy on what's otherwise a satisfying mound of good quality grilled, shaved roast beef draped with grilled red onions, tricolor peppers and just a well-done whisper of stone ground mustard.
There's nothing lacking from a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, though, served on thick, pillowy sourdough. A more generous hand with the shaved meat would make a good thing better, but there's a lot to like in the spread of cranberry-apple chutney and Dijon, plus baby Swiss, romaine and sprouts.
But who's ladling out the egg salad on the Tribeca sandwich? There's barely a few tablespoons whimpering to be noticed on my choice of sesame seed bagel. Flavors are good, the finely chopped egg sprinkled with red bell pepper and scallions in a mustard-mayo blend, but the meager portion disappears under toppings of romaine, tomato, cucumber and sprouts.
Some of the finer things show up as daily specials. French toast is wonderful, dipping thick challah in a mildly sweet batter and stuffing it with lots of cream cheese. Sides of syrup, jam and fresh fruit round out the plate.
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And though there's too much salt, corned beef hash is fine when mixed up with its side of three eggs cooked to order (expertly runny-when-cut-into over easy for me).
The low-key daily menu is more surprising as I peruse some of the "event" menus. For Passover, the kitchen offered homemade gefilte fish and potato kugel. For Easter, the chefs dished up thrilling sounding things like vegetarian eggs Benedict (poached eggs on a bagel with cream cheese, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, tricolor peppers, onion and hollandaise sauce), plus a Monte Cristo (challah French toast stuffed with grilled ham and Swiss). I'd like to know that these treats were available whenever a craving hits, instead of luck of the draw.
Kashman's is an enjoyable little place to sit and erase the day's worries -- sipping on one of the many flavored coffees, teas, espressos and natural fruit juices offered by the friendly counter help. Snap open a paper (considerately provided by management), nibble on a monster muffin. Savor the flavor of New York's finest tap water.
Just don't forget that, really, you're still very much in Scottsdale.