Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking
New York Deli 420 Catron St., 982-8900 Breakfast & lunch 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily No alcohol Takeout available Vegetarian options Handicapped-accessible Noise level: quiet to moderately noisy Credit cards, local checks
The Short Order
You won’t overhear anyone exclaiming, “I’ll have what she’s having!” at New York Deli’s new “Upper East Side” location on Catron Street (formerly Bagelmania). This is no Katz’s or Carnegie
Deli, and the bagels will never compare to the Big Apple’s. But if you’re a Santa Fean — displaced Manhattanite or otherwise — with a hankering for classic deli food, it might cure what ails you. Recommended: Reuben, tuna melt, chicken matzo-ball soup, and cream of spinach soup. New York Deli’s “Upper East Side” downtown restaurant is no Katz’s or Carnegie Deli, but if you’re a Santa Fean — displaced Manhattanite or otherwise — with a hankering for classic deli food, it might cure what ails you. The interior of the Catron Street building (formerly occupied by Bagelmania) has been renovated since owner Jeffrey Schwartzberg resumed proprietorship of the space. The layout is a little more sensible, the palette more vibrant and warm, but the dining room is still somewhat cavernous and utilitarian. You can always sit at the counter and read a twoday-old sports section while you wait.
You’ll find plenty of old-school items on the menu. Tuna, egg, chicken, and whitefish salads are served in scoops, in sandwiches, or stuffed into tomatoes. You can order melon and cottage cheese; a Cobb salad; a patty or tuna melt; or a classic deli sandwich made with corned beef, pastrami, salami, or roast beef. Some newer-fangled offerings have gotten a footing on the menu, too: a grilledportobello sandwich, tofu scramble, and the “Oriental chicken salad.”
As you sit around taking in the photography of New York landmarks, you might get the feeling that this could be a good place to order a Reuben. The mere mention of that word incites a Pavlovian frenzy around my house, and I feel safe declaring that this is the best Reuben in Santa Fe. The kitchen’s a little stingy with the corned beef, but still, with every bite you’ll pull back a mouthful of crispcrusted griddled rye; creamy, stretchy cheese; tangy sauerkraut; and bold, peppery meat. Ask for an extra napkin — you’ll probably need it.
Chilling in glass-front coolers are assorted soft drinks and teas, but please, for the love of mustard, order a Dr. Brown’s soda — preferably black cherry, which author David Sax has called “the libation of choice for deli drinkers.” Yeah yeah, I know, the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. Just this once won’t kill you. If you’re feeling wistful about childhood, order a frothy egg cream — a drink that must have been designed so grown-ups could have chocolate milk without feeling silly.
Ignore the overly sweet coleslaw that accompanies most sandwiches. If you’re going to bother with sides, hunt for a needle in a haystack of matchstick fries, cooked just to the point of snappy crispness. The meatier French fry wedges are coated in a mildly spicy batter — because what fried potatoes really need is a layer of extra carbs, right?
I’m not the first person to remind expat Manhattanites that bagels in Santa Fe will never measure up. Once you’ve accepted this fact, have one of New York Deli’s smeared with cream cheese and stacked with rosy sheets of Nova lox, thin rings of red onion, capers, lettuce, and tomato. You’re 1,700 miles from H&H and Murray’s; it’ll have to suffice.
Both soups I sampled were very well seasoned. The cream of spinach — a bright-emerald daily special — had a strong vegetal flavor and an enjoyable, almost cheesy tang. Golden orbs of fat floated on top of the chicken matzo-ball soup’s salty sea; big, fluffy icebergs of matzo balls lurked beneath the surface.
Some dishes are mediocre. The “42nd Street hoagie” was forgettable. A flavorless, oily dressing transformed the Caesar salad’s crisp romaine into a limp mess; the kitchen tried (unsuccessfully) to compensate with a blizzard of sawdust “Parmesan.” The crab cakes were, to their credit, heavy on the crab and light on the filler, but they seemed deep fried and were dark brown on the outside and undercooked in the center.
Almost everyone I know has a fond memory involving the cornily titled “Moons Over My Hammy” (ham, eggs, and cheese, here served on two halves of an English muffin). That morning classic is on the menu here, and you can order it — or any other breakfast dish — at any time of day. That’s a big point in New York Deli’s favor, because sometimes, especially when you’re feeling nostalgic or homesick, the best thing to eat for lunch is breakfast.
Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles. This reflects the reviewer’s experience with regard to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value.