110 N. Washington St., Rockville 762-6696 Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Prices: Most items about $4. Cards: None accepted.
It's easy to find exotic ethnic foods in the Washington area. We've got plenty of futo maki and aushak and tandoori chicken. But a good corned beef sandwich? Scarce as a hen's tooth.
Now there's hope. Transplanted New Yorkers longing for the likes of the Carnegie Delly may find a reasonable facsimile in the newly opened Rich's, where the corned beef and pastrami are imported from Baltimore, the rye bread is made on the premises, and there's even the obligatory barrel of dill pickles from which you can help yourself.
This is a nice looking place, too, a roomy, modern cafeteria in Rockville's forest of new office buildings. It's light, bright and sparkling clean, and the staff behind the counter maintains a sense of good cheer that isn't diminished even by the lunchtime crowds. Most of the prices here are commendably modest: $3.75 for a reasonably generous corned beef or pastrami sandwich these days is pretty close to a bargain.
Rich's house-made rye bread is the genuine article, dark and sourish, with a nice, chewy upper crust. The corned beef, thinly sliced and piled high, has solid, authentic flavor and the proper fine-yet-grainy texture. The pastrami is fattier, as expected, but good, a bit less spicy than some.
These days, a lot of restaurants take the easy way out when it comes to turkey sandwiches: they use turkey roll, an abomination that feels like liverwurst in your mouth. Not Rich's. Here they roast real turkey breasts for the sandwiches, and it shows in the meat's flavor, juiciness and texture.
They also serve up a good roast beef sandwich, rare and tender, on a passable kaiser roll. The chopped liver, a deli specialty if there ever was one, is a little on the runny side, but it's fresh-tasting and seems laced with the right jolt of chicken fat. Side dishes are mainly worth ordering, including good potato salad, slaw and chili.
Rich's also performs well in the non-sandwich department. The matzo ball soup, another deli standard, is excellent, with a rich, fatty chicken broth and remarkably light matzo balls. The various daily special soups can sometimes be good bets, too. We had a top-notch bean-barley soup with a fine beef broth and firm beans. But we also had a surprisingly bland navy bean soup that was missing all the expected flavorings, including salt and pepper.
Don't overlook the daily special dishes. One of them has been a Wellington-style dish whose mixture of beef, ham, mushrooms and cheeses is so beautifully flavored it makes you forget the sogginess of the pastry.
We found only two unequivocal busts at Rich's: an astonishingly soggy, undercooked Belgian waffle, and a mushy side dish called lima grands whose main flavor seems to be sugar.