Cafe Reviews


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.

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Penelope Corcoran

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