Editor's Note: In this special edition of "Battle of the Dishes," we asked our favorite mensch, Eric Schaefer, to do some latke research for us.
Latkes are the culinary poster child for Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights that is of relatively minor religious significance but gives us Jewish kids something to brag about when everyone else is talking about Christmas. It has been suggested that latkes, which are potato pancakes cooked in oil, are an edible tribute to the oil that miraculously lasted for 8 nights in a temple in ancient Israel. Sounds like a marketing ploy to me but, in either case, latkes are a delicious comfort food appreciated by both Jews and gentiles.
So which Scottsdale deli will prevail, Abe's or Goldman's? Oy, the stress.
In this corner: Abe's
The Setup: Abe's the new kid on the block. With a 35-year history in Baltimore, Abe's recently opened in Scottsdale with a decidedly "upscale" approach. This isn't Katz's Delicatessen in New York, where the service is surly, the food authentic and the health code violations plentiful. It's shiny, new and has its sights set on making a big statement with friendly service and lots of hokey Yiddish references on the menu.
The Good: These latkes are visually stunning. Obviously hand-formed and nearly perfect in color, they should be the search result when you look up "latke" on Google. And that's where the goodness ends.
The Bad: Like trying to have an intelligent conversation with a supermodel, the beauty here is quickly forgotten. Soggy, unseasoned and flavorless are attributes to which no self-respecting latke aspires. Although the green onions were an interesting touch, they added nothing in terms of flavor. In fact, I could detect no onion flavor whatsoever. Various combinations of applesauce, sour cream and salt could not resuscitate them; these latkes were dead on arrival. Sadly, the hash browns at McDonald's taste more like latkes that what I was served at Abe's.
The Price: $6.50 for two latkes, with sour cream and applesauce. In the Other Corner: Goldman's
The Setup: Stealthily inhabiting a strip mall for more than 10 years, Goldman's is a family-owned restaurant with roots in Chicago. Devoid of atmosphere and pretense, one gets the sense that Goldman's is solely about the food. Their gefilte fish is legendary among Jews-in-the-know.
The Good: Goldman's latkes could make even the crabbiest New York Jew weep with pride; they are a testament to thousands of years of Jewish culinary tradition. Crispy on the outside with a texture that borders on creamy inside, the starchiness of the potatoes is perfectly punctuated with the bite of yellow onions. Each individual element is detectable and works in harmony: potatoes, onions, egg and matzo meal. For a simple dish, these latkes are surprisingly complex and utterly delicious. They make me want to go to Temple again.
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The Bad: You're given a choice of applesauce or sour cream -- not both -- although I suspect they'll bend the rules if you ask nicely. As delicious as they taste, they look like they are machine pressed. No latke made at home is so perfect in shape, and these were much thicker than the latkes I'm accustomed to eating at home. But finding anything negative here is really a stretch; it's the flavor that matters and this is latke nirvana.
The Price: $6.99 for three latkes, which a choice of applesauce or sour cream
The Verdict: Sadly for Abe's, this is no contest. Goldman's may lack the glitz, but their latkes make this bar-mitzvah boy verklempt. With the exception of my wife's latkes (hey, I had to say that), Goldman's is the gold standard. I suspect that peace between Israel and Palestine could finally be realized if both sides put down their weapons and sat down over a plate of Goldman's latkes.