Miracle Mile Deli
When Jack Grodzinsky died in September 1998 at the age of 78, more than 650 people attended his funeral. It was a touching tribute to a respected businessman, an active participant in many Valley charities and a cornerstone of Phoenix's Jewish community.
While the sentiment was sincere, the enormous turnout may have been bolstered by visions of what food the reception might bring. Grodzinsky, you see, was founder of Miracle Mile Deli, a New York-style eatery and catering company that's been serving the Valley mouthwatering fare since 1949. Mourners at his funeral could celebrate a special life while consoling themselves with savory hot pastrami, corned beef and brisket sandwiches.
After more than 50 years, the Miracle Mile legacy still reigns, the restaurants split among siblings, but still a family affair. The chain's longest-standing location, at Park Central Mall, has survived the demise and revitalization of the property, at one time operating as the only business in the 750,000-square-foot space. About six months ago, the latest addition to the Miracle stable opened at Colonnade Mall, at 20th Street and Camelback, bringing the number of local Miracles to four. But the growth of the enterprise has not spoiled its charm. Miracle Mile Deli remains one of the Valley's best choices for excellent eats, served fast and cheap.
Using recipes culled from Grodzinsky's Brooklyn upbringing, Miracle Mile focuses on a short but satisfying menu of sandwiches and daily hot specials. Although menus and prices vary slightly by location (breakfast is served at Park Central, and Colonnade offers a huge array of desserts), the standards never waver: the signature Straw, New Yorker, and Jax Special sandwiches.
These delis aren't the claustrophobic joints we put up with in the Big Apple. At about 5,000 square feet each, the spotless restaurants have bright walls, lots of contemporary art and widely spaced tables. Park Central, in particular, is my pick for a relaxing lunchtime escape from the office; I head straight for the glassed-in patio with its soothing, bubbling koi pond. For balmy days, there are two open-air patios as well, one feeling quite cosmopolitan, swathed as it is with trees to shield it from the adjacent parking lot, and the other perfect for people-watching in the mall.
The ordering process does feel a bit bigger-city: Diners line up between skinny metal railings and lean into glass spit guards to call their order over the cafeteria line. But darn, these guys behind the counter are good, customizing orders with infallible precision, plating, pushing trays to the cash register with lightning speed -- smiling, even. Figure five minutes from end of line to table, even when the 400-seat restaurant is filled to capacity.
My Jewish, New York-raised companion is slightly perturbed at the automatic meat slicer whirring in back -- real delis should have an elderly man carving by hand, he says. Brisket pulled from a chafing dish can't be as good as fresh-cut, he insists. Oh, but it is, after hours of slow cooking, and more time spent simmering in its own juices. Plopped on an onion roll and perhaps slicked with a little ketchup, the brisket's a knockout.
Pastrami's a big player at Miracle Mile, served either naked or as the base for the Straw, the New Yorker and the triple-decker sandwiches. Lean and luscious, it's partnered with melted Swiss and hot sauerkraut for the Straw; with red bell pepper and carrot-spiked cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing for the New Yorker; and with Swiss, lettuce and dressing for the triple-decker. "For a healthier option, try the Straw or New Yorker with turkey breast instead of pastrami," the menu reads, but we're here as hedonists, so why bother? Such healthful aspirations, after all, would preclude us from indulging in the Jax Special, an opulent sandwich-and-a-half for a remarkable $7.50.
Corned beef is another class act, on its own or layered with pastrami. Go for it on rye bread fresh from Karsh's Bakery of Phoenix, a kosher spot that's been another culinary landmark for more than 40 years. Karsh's marble rye also lends zing to turkey breast that's freshly roasted, not processed, and topped with crisp green leaf lettuce. A croissant (a cranky 75 cents extra) enhances a club sandwich stuffed with turkey, honey ham and Swiss. The chicken salad, though, I can do without. The bird has all the taste and texture of prefab, and is oddly sliced instead of chunked. If I hadn't paid 30 cents extra to add Swiss cheese, this sandwich would have been a toss-away.
Add-ons aside, sandwiches are a bargain. Averaging $6, these two-fisters come with crisp-and-skinny French fries, potato salad, macaroni salad or cole slaw (familiar grocery-store variety) and a hefty pickle spear. You won't be leaving hungry.
Stopping in for Miracle Mile's daily specials is like a trip home -- you're not sure what will be served, but you know it's going to be good. You're also nursing a secret hope that it'll be your favorite, maybe corned beef and cabbage or beef stew. Anytime meatloaf is available, dig in. Is it the best meatloaf in town? Hardly. The texture is so smooth and firm that the hefty slab doesn't even look like beef. Are there any special tricks to it? No, it's pretty plain, apart from some flecks of scallion, corn and green pepper. But is it delicious? Oh yeah, when lightly drizzled with tomato sauce, soaked in beef gravy and paired with chunky mashed potatoes plus a few slices of buttered rye bread. I'd pass on that pickle spear, though, oddly plunked on the side.
Macaroni and cheese is scarcely an elegant concoction, either, particularly when it's ladled out of a chafing dish and glopped on a plate, like a flashback to your high school cafeteria. But it tastes like velvet -- ooey, gooey, baked to a chewy-topped turn. There's a choice of sides, and as in high school, I make the wrong one nutritionally. Sautéed veggies would make more sense, but I go for what I want -- roasted red potatoes, sprinkled with red pepper and herbs.
After 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the Colonnade Miracle Mile gives us something to count on: a roast-turkey dinner that's the best of Thanksgiving for just $6.75. Think they're kidding? Well, they're not; the whole bird is on display at the counter, roasted golden skin, basting juices and all. White, dark or a mixed cut, the meat is all the same price, and it's carved with a generous hand -- two platter-size slabs of juicy breast for me, plus scoops of dilled cornbread stuffing, mashed red potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy. Again with the pickle spear, though?
Surprisingly, Miracle Mile doesn't make all its own desserts, but when they've engaged the Valley Pie Co., I don't care. The Pie Co.'s devil's food cake is terrific, and Miracle Mile does offer homemade carrot cake, cheesecake, fudge brownies and pecan pie.
There are reasons that this restaurant has not only survived for five decades, but flourished. Now, that's a miracle I can believe in.
Guido's Chicago Meat & Deli
Guido's got good eats, served cheap. But if you're looking for fast, you won't usually find it here. This duo of delis -- one in Scottsdale, the other in Mesa -- employs few workers, even though lines of hungry diners crowd the service counters. Hot meals are made to order, too, finished slowly in scorching ovens while we watch.
But take time to smell the sausage. At Guido's, it's worth the wait.
Half restaurant, half Italian grocery, Guido's also has amazing variety. Its shelves are stocked with imported pasta, sauces, olive oil, olives, cookies, pastries and even imported antacids. The freezers are packed with take-home cheese tortellini, potato dumplings and ravioli just waiting for your warm oven.
It's difficult to get past the display cases, groaning with imported meats and cheeses plus a stunning array of salads: roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, cucumber-tomato, squid, spiced olive, Greek, and seafood with calamari, crab, and shrimp.
Lunch is a step-up-and-order affair. At dinner, service changes to sit-down, but don't expect pampering; the staff here is benignly brusque and down-to-business. Start with a tasty appetizer called frizels, built from slabs of Italian bread, toasted and topped with cold tomato slices, red onion slivers and pesto, splashed with olive oil and red wine vinegar under a dusting of Romano cheese. Or try a soup like the can't-miss minestrone or pasta e fagioli, served with tossed salad and garlic bread for a mere $3.95.
Guido's makes its own Italian sausage, moist, crisp-skinned and studded with fennel seeds for ferocious flavor. A large link comes sautéed with garlic and basil, stuffed into a soft roll, and topped with dots of red bell pepper, marinara sauce and slabs of onion and green pepper. You'll get your money's worth with sausage as a pizza topping, too, with generous chunks under a mantle of chewy mozzarella. My favorites among the sandwiches are the Italian beef with a vibrant, peppery gravy that makes it sing; and the fine meatball sub, finished with a bundle of mozzarella and slid into the oven.
Guido's is proud to have brought the Valley broasted chicken, cooked by a high-pressure frying process that renders the bird juicy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The deli claims that its pressure-fried chicken has about 45 percent more moisture than regular fried chicken, and up to 70 percent less fat and fewer calories, but it's the crust that wins me over -- distinctively crunchy, nutty and golden brown. The chicken dinners come with broasted potatoes, so crisp-skinned that they seem like baked-potato shells with French-fry interiors. Further accompaniments are garlic bread and a choice of creamy cole slaw or above-average garden salad with black olive, tomato, cucumber and red onion in a grippingly flavorful Italian dressing.
Almost two dozen dinner entrees make for ample browsing. They include upscale gnocchi pomodoro with red and white cream sauce, pine nuts, basil and garlic; and down-home lasagna, thick with ricotta and mozzarella plus meatballs or spinach. Chicken Parmesan won't startle anyone with its novelty, but that's what makes the lightly breaded breast so satisfying. It's an oversize, cozy dish topped with mozzarella and served with salad, spaghetti marinara and garlic toast.
You're unlikely to have much stomach space left for dessert, but take it to go. Made-from-scratch ricotta cheesecake is delightful, and makes an equally delectable appearance as the filling for cannoli, the crisp-shelled sweet topped with chocolate chips and powdered sugar.
For friendly, substantial Italian deli food, Guido's has the goods.
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