Hungering for a slice? Longing for a corned beef on rye? Or maybe it's a black and white cookie you can't live without. While the specialties of New York are featured this week at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall, some of the same New York comfort food is available in the unlikely location of Fair Lakes. This sprawling development of offices, malls, big box stores and apartment complexes in Fairfax County is better known for its warehouse-size discount stores than for its restaurants, but a treasure trove of New York-style eateries has a found a home here.
Why Fair Lakes? Why not may be the better question. "Nobody else was doing it here," says Eric Roller, owner of Chutzpah: A Real New York Deli. Roller, a former food distributor who grew up in the Bronx and Queens, got the idea to open his own deli after years of hauling corned beef back from New York for hungry friends. His notion turned into a storefront restaurant and carryout that specializes in homemade-style chicken soup, corned beef, beef brisket and cole slaw, along with a helping of New York attitude tempered by Virginia manners.
If pizza is on your wish list, try Tony's. "There's was nothing New York-style here, just a lot of chain places," explains Giovanni D'Agostino, owner of Tony's New York Style Pizza, who was born in Naples and learned the art of pizzamaking in the Bensonhurst section of Brookyn. The growing community of young families, not to mention the large numbers of pizza-starved ex-New Yorkers, drew D'Agostino to open his pizza place. Six years later, he offers a variety of items, including two versions of Sicilian-style pizza, calzones, subs and a long list of specialty pies.
Rounding out the trio is Ed Schiffman's Bagel Buddies & New York Deli, next to Tony's. When former New Yorker Schiffman began looking for a location for his bagel shop, Rockville was first on his list. After an unsuccessful search, he happened upon Fair Lakes. From day 1, the place has been New York themed, serving egg creams and rugelach along with the bagels. As time went by, Schiffman has added products requested by his customers: knishes, bialys, black and white cookies and New York-style rye bread.
Naturally, there have been some challenges. D'Agostino has probably had the easiest time; as he says, "Everybody knows pizza and they can see we're different from the chains, that's it a family-run business." Schiffman has used the New York theme to distinguish himself from the national chain bagel places. For Roller, educating the customer is important. "Every day I explain to customers what a bialy or a matzo ball is -- there's a learning curve -- but they keep coming back."
Bagel Buddies & New York Deli
Knishes, black and white cookies and bialys come directly from New York. Skip the square knishes and try the harder-to-find round versions, available with a variety of fillings: spinach, potato, sweet potato, kasha and broccoli and cheddar ($1.99 each). The black and whites are big cakelike, saucer-shaped cookies frosted with semicircles of chocolate and white icing ($1.99). For a change from bagels, pick up some bialys (79 cents each). Don't forget to order a loaf of rye -- it's tangy and loaded with caraway seeds; 24-hour notice needed (two-pound loaf, $3.29). (13081 Fair Lakes Boulevard at Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fairfax; 703-631-8700)
Chutzpah: A Real New York Deli
The menu is long, but the star is corned beef. It is cooked on the premises and served hot from the steam table. Order the sandwich on rye ($6.95) and make sure to leave room for cole slaw -- a perfect blend of creamy dressing and crisp cabbage (free at the table, $2.89 a pound for carryout). A close runnerup is the brisket, also cooked here and served hot ($6.95 for a sandwich). To start, try the chicken noodle soup , a overflowing bowl of broth filled with noodles, pieces of chicken and carrots ($3.25). To make it a meal, take a pass on the heavy matzo balls, but add kreplach -- the Jewish version of meat-filled ravioli -- to your soup ($3.95 for chicken noodle with kreplach). (12214 Fairfax Towne Center, Fairfax; call 703-385-8883)
Tony's New York Pizza
There's nothing wrong with plain cheese pizza at Tony's ($1.65; whole pies start at $7), but the options don't end there. The Rustica -- stuffed with cheese, ham and salami; or cheese, spinach and broccoli -- is great for large appetites ($3.25 a slice). If you are looking for thick-crusted Sicilian pizza, it's here for $1.75 a slice; whole pies start at $8). Calzone fans will find four meat or vegetable versions ($4.50 each). And sub lovers will enjoy the meatball sub with light meatballs and a fresh-tasting marinara sauce ($5.20). On your way out, try the sfogliatella, a small, shell-shaped pastry filled with cream and candied citrus peel (95 cents each). (13087 Fair Lakes Boulevard at Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fairfax; 703-502-0808.)