The Deli Decalogue

Can Goldbergs' lead us to a pumpernickel, pickle, and pastrami Promised Land?

TO OUR READERS: When we wrote the preview of Goldbergs' Famous Delicatessen that appears below, we jumped to a conclusion: that their years of experience in the restaurant trade and the deli business would ensure an opening which, if not without bumps, would prove capable of delivering the basics. Sadly, this is not the case. After announcing lunch service, Goldbergs' has suspended it and will be opening only at 5 p.m. until further notice. There is no provision for takeout, either sandwiches or cold cuts. Both front-of-house and kitchen staff are yet to be thoroughly trained. Goldbergs' still offers immense promise, but we regretfully suggest that you suspend any plans to visit the place until this notice disappears. Meanwhile, please read the following encomium as tinged with a bit too much wishful thinking. —The Editors UPDATE MONDAY, MAY 9: The long-awaited Goldbergs' Deli in Factoria Mall officially opened May 4 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and take-out. By Friday, May 6 a sign on the door said that breakfast and lunch were off until further notice; the take-out menu was also suspended, though persistence and vigorous argument procured a cold-cut platter and a sandwich. By Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, Goldbergs' was once again open for lunch and take-out, and customers were waiting up to an hour to be seated. For further developments, stay tuned to this page. A READER'S REPORT ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 11: As someone who spent the first 40 years of his life enjoying the sublime pleasures of Detroit delicatessens, including Steve Goldberg's wonderful Stage Deli—their transcendent rye bread (sorry New York and Chicago, Detroit rye bread makes yours look like Wonder Bread doing Brenner Bros.); their natural sour brine dill pickles; corned beef made in a different part of the galaxy from any I have found in Seattle; and the common wisdom that lettuce, onions, or tomatoes have no place on a proper meat sandwich (besides, with at least an inch of thin and densely layered sliced meat, there's no room)—I had monumental midlife-crisis-solving hopes for Goldbergs' Delicatessen. The biggest hope I had after 11 years in this real-rye-bread-free zone is that their specially made rye bread would match the staff-o-Detroit life. I could maybe get by with Seattle's "when your best just isn't good enough" corned beef. We walked in, saw the uncut loaves in the display, and they looked right. A glazed sheen reflected off a hard crust ... could it be? I quickly found a napkin to make sure my drool didn't hit the floor. I ordered a side of chopped liver. Dog one and I each ordered a Reuben. Dog two ordered blintzes. "Dad, why's this menu so big?" They forgot our foray back home last winter. We waited, and we waited. We looked around. Did I die and go to heaven? A bunch of short, loud, complaining, dark-haired Jews, just like me. In freakin' Bellevue. Is that ... no, she died eight years ago. Why, she looks just like Aunt ... couldn't be, moved to Florida after Uncle Bernie died. Finally, the chopped liver came, with their properly thick-sliced rye bread to spread it on and a side dish of sour dill pickles. I was too excited to eat the bread. It looked so right. So I fingered some of the chopped liver into my mouth. I couldn't believe it. It was better than my grandmother's. Forgive me, Rosalie. The pickles were also the real deal. Take that, Bubbies. But now let's get serious. I tore a piece of the bread, squeezed it, smelled it. Uh-oh ... tasted it ... Oh, no. Potemkin rye bread. No body, no chewy texture, OK crust. Maybe it is a water thing. Not polluted enough here. The blintzes were first-rate. The sandwiches did have excellent corned beef and the right ratio of meat/sauerkraut/Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. Sure, as has been reported, the service was spotty. Food took forever. Got sent back to be rewarmed. The most commonly overheard comment from the wait staff was "Sorry." And I think the Messrs. Goldberg need to attach their white-bread help to bad-self-izers so they become more like the crack staff they have back in West Bloomfield, Mich. But this is all solvable with a little time. The rye bread, though, that's serious. It must be solved before Seattle can ever hope to become a world-class delicatessen city. But hat's off to the Goldbergs for getting closer to the ideal than anyone else in this town. —Bob Gordon, Bothell

Two Goldbergs are better than one: Bill (left) and Steve at their Famous Delicatessen.

(Pete Kuhns)

   When you search for the manifestation of God's Presence, you will come to this place that God chooses. There, before God, shall you eat with family and servants and the Levites, who have no portion or inheritance. All will rejoice before God. OK, maybe quoting Deuteronomy is a little extreme. Maybe it was actually Bill Goldberg, co-owner of Goldbergs' Famous Delicatessen, who chose the restaurant's Factoria Mall location. Still, its opening gala on Monday, May 2, felt momentous. (It opened to the public on Tuesday) Though all we have to go on is one night of great food and a lot of enthusiasm on the part of Goldberg and his business partner, Steve Goldberg (no relation), there's no good reason not to get excited. No deli this ambitious has ever been attempted here—and we include the late, lamented Matzo Mama's. If we're the Israelites in Egypt, yearning for the freedom of a full-scale East Coast delicatessen (via Detroit, home of Steve's Stage & Co. deli chain), it's tempting to think that the Goldbergs might just be our Moses. In any case, here's a quick look at the Ten Commandments of Successful Delicatessens, and how closely Goldbergs' is adhering to them so far. Thou shalt procure excellent corned beef At the heart of any great deli's menu is corned beef: pickled in brine, then steamed or boiled. Just a few weeks ago, in a competition sponsored by The Detroit News, Kelly Corned Beef, the brand served at Steve's Stage & Co. Restaurant and Delicatessen, beat out four other heavy hitters in the Detroit corned-beef biz. The judges' comments included the following: "Excellent! Absolutely fresh, tender, and succulent. This is the best corned beef I've ever tried." The Goldbergs are having it, along with other East Coast– and Detroit-made foods (pastrami, salami, and pickles among them), shipped here on a weekly basis. Thou shalt have somewhere cool and cavernous to put all that meat According to Bill, that shouldn't be a problem. "We've built an on-site walk-in [and] an additional walk-in that's in the mall in a special storage area," he said. If you were skeptical about a deli located in a mall, that'll teach ya. Thou shalt choose a central location "I looked for six months for a location for this place, and I didn't rule anything out," Bill told me. "What we were looking for was really a place that had accessibility, visibility, and parking." An easy drive from downtown Seattle, South Lake Union, Mercer Island, and the Eastside, Goldbergs' is located "right in the crook of I-90 and I-405." Thou shalt create a massive menu Goldbergs' menu, almost an exact replica of the Stage's, is a leviathan. The appetizers list alone—18 items—would make a decent menu at a smaller deli; throw in a separate smoked-fish section and 17 salad choices, and you're still on the first page. Goldbergs' sandwich options go on for several pages more, to say nothing of the Jewish/Eastern European home cooking that awaits you on the entrée page. And then there's breakfast. . . .  Thou shalt offer hard-to-find items I nearly teared up when I found kishka and gravy on the menu. Described euphemistically as "an old-fashioned Jewish delicacy," kishka is a dish of beef casings stuffed with seasoned matzo meal and chicken fat. It's delicious, and Goldbergs' might be the only place in town that serves it. Other wonderful rarities: gefilte fish (you see jars of it on your supermarket's "kosher" shelf, but homemade trumps them all), latkes (potato pancakes), pickled cow tongue, fried chicken livers, and the decidedly unkosher Swankee Frankee, a hot dog filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon. True deli food, a rich mishmash of tradition and populist innovation, is often a little odd. Goldbergs' has the good sense to acknowledge this with an amazingly inclusive menu. Thou shalt provide plentiful seating Goldbergs' seats around 200. Thou shalt establish promising partnerships When asked about the division of labor between him and his partner, Steve replied: "I'm gonna make the sandwiches, Bill's gonna eat 'em." But seriously, folks: Steve knows deli. His father opened the first Stage Deli in 1962; today, Steve oversees that restaurant, plus three "quick-serve locations." Steve and Bill were childhood pals who went to college together, then parted ways after graduation. Although they stayed in touch, the idea for a Seattle deli simmered "for a good eight years," Steve says, before they got serious about it. Thou shalt serve sandwiches named after Broadway musicals In accordance with the "stage" motif that rules Steve's Detroit delis, Goldbergs' offers such Great White Way tributes as A Chorus Line (sardines, lettuce, tomato, and onion), Bye Bye Birdie (turkey and pastrami with Russian dressing), and Phantom of the Opera (turkey, Muenster cheese, tomato, and honey mustard on challah). Thou shalt think big "We're not at all limited to a Jewish clientele," Steve Goldberg assured me. "Over the years, our clientele [in Detroit] has become less and less Jewish and more and more . . . everyone. I think that what people really crave are just authentic experiences." If Jewish cuisine goes mainstream hereabouts, could stuffed cabbage become the new phad thai? Thou shalt open with a bang It was the Jewish cultural event of the season, though Goldbergs' opening gala drew plenty of non-Jews, too. In a short speech, Bill said the deli's high-tech kitchen resembles "the space shuttle," yet what emerged from it was old-fashioned enough—and delicious enough—to make a 90-year-old Jewish grandmother weep with joy. Fat, crispy latkes, as good as any homemade I've ever tasted, circulated on trays, as did little sandwiches stacked with hot corned beef and petite slices of rye bread topped with cream cheese and the tenderest, most flavorful lox I've eaten in Seattle. When I was a kid in Detroit, eating at Stage & Co. meant salamis hanging above the deli case (Goldbergs' has 'em), sandwiches as big as my little head (yep), and a noisy good time. From what I've heard and seen at Goldbergs' so far, everything old is new again. Welcome to the Promised Land. nschindler@seattleweekly.com Goldbergs' Famous Delicatessen, 3924 Factoria Blvd. S.E., 425-641-6622, BELLEVUE. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily for the first week, then 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.

 
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