As I write this, I am noshing on half of an obscenely huge sandwich, leftovers from "research" conducted earlier in the day. This has been the pattern all week. For me, eating in a Jewish delicatessen is a multimeal proposition. There is no way I can consume everything in one sitting. Therefore, I order what I want, eat what I can and pack the rest to go.
What can I say? I'm a goy. Unlike Annie Hall, however, I know better than to order pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise. Besides, most deli folk seem to admire my appetite. Eat, dahling, eat! is their attitude. Or, at least, that's the attitude expressed at my favorite delis in town.
Like Munch a Bagel, for instance. Oh, I know, everyone's got his own opinion about the place, but I like it. I like the variety of customers, the complimentary crisp dill pickle bowl, the consistent quality of the food and the rock-solid core of dependable, professional waitresses.
In its new digs across Seventh Street from the old location, Munch a Bagel is shiny and new and enlarged. The glass cases out front gleam with delicious-looking smoked fish, olives and salads. There is better organization and more help behind the counter. A computerized prechecker tallies receipts quickly and accurately. There is little or no wait for a table.
Which would all be great, except for one thing. With its fluorescent lighting, bare walls and lack of windows, the new dining room's ambiance leaves a little something to be desired. Basically, it has all the warmth and charm of a hospital cafeteria. Which is too bad, because Munch a Bagel's food is as good as ever. My special-order pastrami with turkey, Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye is excellent. The bread is wonderfully fresh, studded with caraway seeds. The piled-up pastrami and turkey are succulently moist.
A hard-salami sandwich is stacked so high it borders on the ludicrous. But you won't hear me complaining. We're talking serious salami here--enough for a week's worth of normal sandwiches.
And the soup! Your poor mother should make such fine chicken soup. With matzo balls yet. It is clearly made from scratch with a lovely broth flavored with carrots, parsley and shredded white chicken meat. The matzo is dense and delightful. Next time I require some warmth and comfort in a bowl, I know where to come.
The fact is, there is nothing I sample at the new, improved Munch a Bagel that doesn't please me immensely. From knishes to kishkes, latkes to, yes, even French fries--it all tastes authentic and good.
For those seeking excellent value at moderate prices, this clean family restaurant now offers dinner two nights a week. For just $7.95, choose from half a roasted spring chicken, brisket with gravy or stuffed cabbage every Friday and Saturday night 'til 10 p.m. In addition, you'll receive a cup of soup and salad and bagel and pickle bowl and a choice of potatoes or latkes. The spring chicken I sample is cooked to perfection: moist and tender inside, crispy outside. The brisket with gravy is bountiful and quite tasty. And I love the tomatoey, sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage. Such a deal!
If you can, save room for dessert. (Hah!) The sugar-sprinkled, rolled confection known as the chocolate chip stick is large enough to share. I also like the dense, but smooth, cheesecake and the fudgey killer chocolate cake. Of course, more hours and more tables mean an expanded staff. We suffer through service from a zombie waitress one Friday night. Obviously new, she is so unfamiliar with the menu she makes us feel we are speaking a foreign language. She has no concept of pace or timing (or busing). Her idea of checking back to see how we are doing is to slap down the check a minute after we've received our entrees with an "I'll take this whenever you're ready." Yeah, like we'll be ready after dessert, okay?
Thankfully, she is clearly the exception, not the rule. The rest of the waitresses here are pros. Some have been around for years. They sense when you're in a hurry and when you're not. I've seen people playing chess at Munch a Bagel unmolested. I've seen businessmen who breeze in and out so quickly I barely noticed what they had ordered. The first question the waitresses ask you is, "Coffee?"
Munch a Bagel's food and service is strong enough to overcome its atmosphere, but a little artwork wouldn't hurt, no?
I have a good time at Scott's Generations. My dining accomplice and I visit early one Sunday afternoon. The radio is tuned to KOOL-FM, which is pumping out hits from my high school days. For some unimaginable reason, hearing Grand Funk's "Closer to Home," Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" and Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" elevates my spirits. And I don't even like Chicago.
Our affable waiter also does his part to cheer me. He jokes and cajoles. Delivers sandwiches much too large to eat. Brings me a take-home container (for half of my four-inch-high sandwich) before he is asked. Acts pleased and surprised when we order dessert. I like him very much. He displays the perfect balance of casualness and attentiveness I seek in a deli waitperson.
As for the food at Generations, for the most part, it is good and generous, though a tad greasier and saltier than that of the other delis I visit. This is especially true of the chicken soup, pastrami and turkey. Oh yeah, and the French fries cool off much too soon.
Yet I like the Scottwich, a buttery sandwich of grilled pastrami, onion and melted cheese. And I also like a fabulous dessert (also sold elsewhere) called Wunderbar. This chocolate-chip cheesecake on a stick, hand-dipped in dark chocolate, is sinfully rich and, I imagine, highly addictive. Indeed, our waiter confesses he has not yet tried this frozen dessert, but tells us, "I had a lady come in here yesterday who was desperate for one." Wunderbar also makes a frozen chocolate-covered cherry confection. I advise the weak-willed to steer clear of these temptations on a stick.
The decor of Generations is plain. Wood paneling is prominent and hand-lettered Day-Glo signs listing food items provide most of the wall decoration. Unfortunately, the restaurant is not as clean as it could be. The floor needs sweeping and the tables need wiping. No major infractions, mind you, but a good washing wouldn't hurt.
Scott's Generations serves dinner six nights a week. The offerings are more diverse than Munch a Bagel's, but similar: meat loaf, stuffed flounder, chicken-in-a-pot, flanken-in-a-pot, stuffed peppers, and of course, brisket and stuffed cabbage. All are priced at $9.95 and include salad, soup and a choice of two other side orders.
So what are you waiting for? We should send you an engraved invitation?
I'm not going to spend too much time kvetching about the last two delis in this roundup. Katz Delicatessen & Sandwich Shop may have been a fine noshery once upon a time, but that time has come and gone. The restaurant is a shadow of its former self, and a grimy one. I can feel grit under my shoes.
For regulars, I'm sure the wood-paneled restaurant, complete with a counter and stools, has a homey, welcoming feel. Many meet and greet the waitresses and crew like old friends.
But my dining accomplice and I are not known here. And so, once our food is delivered, we are on our own. When we are finished, we must flag our waitress for our check. She is not busy with tables, mind you, just gossiping with fellow employees about Martina Navratilova's 100-mile-per-hour serve. I am not impressed with my sandwich, nor with the cranberry-sauce-size container of coleslaw and sliver of limp pickle. When I ask for a takeout container for my half sandwich, our waitress deposits a sheet of wax paper and a wax-paper sandwich bag on the table. "I guess they don't want to encourage leftovers," I say to my accomplice.
I would have tried the Wunderbar here, but no one seemed to care if we stayed or left . . . so we left.
Finally, I will never understand what keeps Nosh-A-Rye open. My lunch in this dingy restaurant couldn't end soon enough. Our sandwiches are the stingiest I've ever been served in an allegedly kosher-style Jewish deli. I receive two tablespoons of uninspired chicken salad and some worn-out stubs of iceberg lettuce pressed between two thin slices of rye bread. Institutional-looking coleslaw and tired pickles complete the picture. My accomplice's pastrami with melted cheese on an onion roll is measly for $4.45.
But no matter, I'm in a hurry to escape Nosh-A-Rye's aging linoleum, cracked menus and grease-darkened walls. Regrettably, before I pay the bill and slip outside into the sunlight, I happen to look under our table and spot a layer of grunge that sickens me.
Nosh-A-Rye must have a devoted following to stay in business all these years. All I can say is, these customers must be living in a nostalgic haze. Who would want to eat in such a place?
Munch a Bagel, 5114 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 264-1975. Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Katz Delicatessen & Sandwich Shop, 5144 North Central, Phoenix, 277-8814. Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday and Saturday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday.
Nosh-A-Rye, 3947 East Camelback, Phoenix, 956-8781. Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday.
®MDBU¯munch a bagel
In its new digs across Seventh Street from the old location, Munch a Bagel is shiny and new and enlarged.
We're talking serious salami here--enough for a week's worth of normal sandwiches.
The first question the waitresses ask you is, "Coffee?"
This chocolate-chip cheesecake hand-dipped in dark chocolate on a stick is sinfully rich and, I imagine, highly addictive.
Katz Delicatessen may have been a fine noshery once upon a time, but that time has come and gone.
Our sandwiches are the stingiest I've ever been served in an allegedly Kosher-style Jewish deli.
TAKING HIS LUMPS JOE MYERS MOVES OFF THE... v9-18-91
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