Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Ben's Best

Rego Park, NYC

Review by Diana DeRiggs

If a Jewish deli offers a "pu-pu platter," you have to wonder if it simply has a fun and twisted sense of humor, a lot of confidence, or is run by Chinese. (A Pu-Pu platter is a selection of Chinese style appetizers served in Polynesian restaurants, circa 1950s and 60s, complete with blue sterno flame and tongs or skewers to char/warm your food. It's very festive and we "Hutties" love it when it's done well! A mark of a fun, interactive meal!)

And thank goodness it's the first two. The place is run by Jay Parker, son of the original Ben, Jewish to the core and proud purveyors of what the New York Times billed as the best pastrami in town. It's true -- their pastrami is flavorful, dense (showing that it's been pressed properly while curing, as opposed to being flabby and bouncy), and steamed to perfection. There is just enough fat to lubricate the sandwich so that no condiments, spreads or seasonings are necessary on the soft, pale rye bread. The meat is cut nicely thin, so you're not chewing fibers. It's a delicious, hearty sandwich. And unlike the Carnegie Deli (which is known for it's cantankerous lack of service), they give you plenty of the same bread on the side so you have make more sandwiches. They give you too much meat, enough to de-pile and pack as a sandwich for tomorrow.

They have daily specials and daily soups, but they always have those two Jewish standards: mushroom barley soup, and chicken matzoh ball soup. The first is thick and rich, a real stick-to-your ribs cold weather staple. The matzoh ball soup was presented in a huge "mug" -- a deep cup-like soup bowl with a handle, to make slurping from the bowl perfectly acceptable. It was presented in a dark yellow, rich tasting consommé with thin noodles. The huge dumpling itself was light, fluffy, perfectly digestible.

We also ordered classic "chicken in a pot" -- half a chicken is cut up and stewed with carrots and peas, and presented with kreplach (chicken liver-filled dumpling), a matzoah ball, and noodles. It's the "big brother" version of the more well-known matzoah ball soup. The chicken was wondrously flavorful -- obviously not stewed to death and dumped in this soup as an afterthought.

Another word on that bread -- it's apparently especially baked by a local bakery (the source is a secret!), and not available for purchase by the public. The nice waitresses and waiters will let you pack it up if you ask for extra to take home. Our waitress also advised us "our coffee sucks," when we ordered some. It didn't suck at all ... but she said it just isn't as good as the rest of the food here, so you'd be better off elsewhere for coffee and dessert. Nice of her to warn us, don't you think?

The place was packed on Friday evening with those waiting for meals to take home. The line did not move, so we opted to eat in; the restaurant wasn't crowded. This probably seems weird if you don't realize that Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is the Jewish Sabbath, a holy day when Jews are not supposed to "work" -- meaning no riding, no cooking, only prayer. Most of the Jews around here are secular, but the tradition of not cooking on Friday seems to be one that they gladly hold on to. So just before sunset, Jews double-park on Queens Boulevard to pick up orders called in, and the delimen crank into high gear. Thus the long line. After it gets dark, it suddenly gets quiet again. So if you can, time it not for Friday in the hours leading up to sunset!

All up, the big meal with superlative pastrami (big enough to maybe make about 3 normal sandwiches) and chicken soups came to about $38. Good deal, yummy food, and we'll be back!

Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!