The New York Deli is a clean, well-lighted place sandwiched into a bland strip mall. By some measures, square footage chief among them, the place bears little resemblance to its clattering, cramped Northern deli cousins.
One awkward, sideways bite of a Reuben might bring memories flooding back. When it's time to pay, however ($7.25), you know you're far from the Big Apple.
Owner Diane Chiaro once operated a 400-square-foot Italian takeout on 41st Street across from Grand Central Terminal in New York. She opened her 1,800-square-foot store in Columbia with seats for 40 about six months ago. Its formula is mix-and-match: "I try to do a little from each neighborhood: mostly Jewish and Italian," she says, although she sold "a ton" of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day.
Although the Reubens and Rachels ($6.75; with turkey and coleslaw instead of corned beef and sauerkraut) "fly out the door," there's no market for lox and bagels, and the stuff is expensive to throw away, she says. Her breakfast customers like the corned beef hash ($1.99) and the egg sandwiches ($1.99 to $3.99). At lunchtime, patrons from the local office parks "didn't know what a knish is," so for now, the true deli offerings are limited to pastrami and corned beef, and chicken, tuna and potato salads. There's rice pudding ($2.49) and New York cheesecake ($2.49) from the Cheesecake Factory. Chiaro makes her own corned beef, roasting it overnight alongside the chicken she chops each day for chicken salad sandwiches.
Italian specialties are popular; one is a meatball sub ($5.95) in thick homemade tomato sauce, dripping with mozzarella. So are somewhat-Southern sandwiches, such as pulled pork with mild barbecue sauce ($5.95) and jumbo-shrimp salad ($8.95), both served on soft, chewy sub rolls. Chiaro searched for good bread and finally settled on a Virginia bakery that slices the rye thick enough so mustard won't soak through; she knows all about the ubiquitous New York buttered roll.
The New York Deli serves burgers ($5.95 for a quarter-pound of Angus), and Nathan's hot dogs with chopped onions and sauerkraut ($2.39). Salads ($5.95) include Caesar, Greek, chef's and the New York, with field greens, walnuts and chunks of Gorgonzola cheese.
Although Chiaro says she's "serious about deli," she seems more so about her clientele. Scrapple, for example, isn't on the printed menu. But so many people have asked for it, she keeps some in the back. Upon request, she has even made grits, a dish rarely seen in New York. "If six people come in tomorrow and ask for whitefish, I'll put it on the menu," she says. "If they want to know what a knish is, I'll tell them."
-- Martha Thomas (Good to Go, March 24, 2010)