Back in line at Loeb's
By Justin Rude
March 18, 2011
On Sept. 30, Loeb's NY Deli closed the 15th Street NW location it had occupied for almost 32 years. The Lafayette Building, which housed Loeb's, was set to undergo renovations, leaving David Loeb, along with his siblings and co-owners Marlene and Steve, to find a new spot for the treasured lunch counter their parents had opened across from the Treasury Department in 1958. They recently settled into a long, narrow storefront at 1712 I St. NW, just off Farragut Square.
"We looked at over a dozen different spaces in the area," David, 46, said. "But as soon as we found out that 17th and I location was available, we grabbed it."
Though the new spot has a lot going for it, including increased foot traffic and proximity to their regulars, opening in the space wasn't necessarily smooth sailing. "Delays happen in construction," David explained, "and with getting permits in D.C. ... the D.C. government doesn't really try and help you in any way. They take their time." What was supposed to be a one- or two-month gap quickly turned into four, with Loeb's finally opening Feb. 3. It didn't take long for word to spread that the restaurant was back in business, and the hungry lunch crowds were back by the end of that first week.
On the menu: Though the bulk of the restaurant's kitchen equipment is brand new, the menu has remained largely unchanged. Walter's Favorite - hot corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye - still leads a lunch menu of piled-high sandwiches, and the matzo ball soup is still made fresh daily. If you are looking for differences, a few regularly recurring specials have been added to the daily menu, including an appropriately named Italian cold cut sandwich, the Little Italy.
Joining Walter's Favorite on the must-try list are the chicken, tuna and egg salad sandwiches, due in no small part to the fact that their main components are prepared each morning; the Times Square (pastrami, fried egg, cheese, slaw and Russian dressing); the Loeb (hot corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye); and the big-enough-to-split Greenwich Village (corned beef, chopped liver and Swiss cheese on pumpernickel). Loeb's isn't particularly known for what comes out of its fryer, but onion rings are a safer bet than french fries.
At your service: Wait in line, get a tray, tell the folks behind the deli counter what you want, get your food, stop by the cash register and then jostle for a table - yet more things that have not changed at the new location. When you get your seat, though, you will notice a difference: The interior of the new Loeb's, decked out in red and gray, feels clean and bright. The 90 inside seats are split between long, common tables in the middle of the narrow space and two- and four-tops along the walls. When the weather gets warmer, the Loebs plan to unveil 12 or so seats outside under the awning.
Bottom line: Stacked sandwiches and an old-school deli atmosphere will make Loeb's as popular a destination on 17th Street as it was three blocks away.
During lunchtime, you might stumble across a few machers (big shots) in this downtown deli. The setup is pretty basic: You stand in line, then you nuzzle up to the counter with a tray and tell the counter guys what you want. They hand you the food, you pay the cashier, then jockey for a table.
The owners, three of the Loeb siblings (the place was founded by their late parents), have created a nice New York deli ambiance.
The matzo balls at Loeb's may be the best-tasting of any I sampled in the Washington area. They were firm, but not too firm, and the matzo and egg flavor blended nicely. Unfortunately, the soup lost a few points for being served in a plastic foam bowl with a plastic spoon.
Steve Loeb says he makes 40 to 60 matzo balls a day.
"It's my father's mother's recipe," he says.
Asked about the secret ingredient, he simply says, "I won't tell you."
--Allan Lengel (Dec. 9, 2007)