2nd Avenue Deli
Lower East Side/Alphabet City, NY
Review by Diana
Some background: this is THE Jewish deli of New York City, located in what used to be the predominantly immigrant Jewish Lower East Side. When the area went into a downhill slide, it was nicknamed Alphabet City, since the avenues here are numbered alphabetically, Avenue A, Avenue B, etc. Through it all, Abe Lebewohl kept the faith and kept this place going, catering to people who would return on the weekends from their new swank homes on the Island, in Westchester, or Jersey. It's said that he fed the homeless, film crews, stikers, tourists, Mets fans -- you know, the rabble of the universe! And for that, he was beloved, as well as for the quality of his food and service. Alas, Abe was murdered in 1997 for the cashbox; the guilty party was never apprehended, and on the door of the restaurant is a poster declaring the Lebewohls will pay $100,000 for information leading to the conviction of Abe's killer. There are many who would see justice done if they could find the thief, for no reward at all except to put the man's soul to rest in peace. But fortunately for those left behind, even that tragedy didn't kill off the 2nd Avenue Deli.
The neighborhood has improved, as Manhattan real estate has escalated in price. Doctors who work at NYU hospital live here now, walking their dogs in Tompkin Square Park. Even so, this eatery is still frumpy and Jewish to it's core. This is the food Jewish grandmothers cook, as sure as Italian grandmothers cook tomato-ey things. In the old days, no one went to a restaurant (disrespectful to mama!), but if you did, you go to a mom and pop type of place like here.
They still serve a clear, rich chicken consommé, poured at the table over a plate of boiled carrot coins, firm farfel (confetti-like noodles), and a single, tender, awesome matzoah ball. You must never boil the components to serve the soup in the same pot as the broth -- doing so will make the broth cloudy and taste gummy. It's true! Unlike Hellenic diners, this place doesn't do the millions of items schtick, and breakfast -- though served all day -- is not the raîson d'être, they have good Jewish breakfast specialties: challah french toast, matzoah brei, blintzes. And you can have a pastrami sandwich at breakfast too -- the meat isn't the lean pressed sawdust you get elsewhere, either. And since they give you a stack of rye bread, pickles, and "health salad" (no mayo in this coleslaw, thus the "health" moniker? The deli cuts half a ton of cabbage a day!), the overly large sandwich is not obtrusive. You have enough bread and fixings to share comfortably with tablemates (not like at Carnegie Deli!).
We had a big brunch, and the bill came to about $40 for four of us. Not bad for such delectable food. You can tell it's a family-owned place -- they are genuinely concerned that you are happy with the food, and yet the waitresses are not nosey about it. Nothing is too much trouble for them to do for you.
So was it love or the food? Both ... but for love of the food, or for the man, this girl says, "So nu?"
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