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.