It’s early Sunday night at Parkway Deli & Restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., and a customer is sorry not to find one of the reasons for his visit.
Time to head to an old-timer, to break bread with the past. Parkway, introduced by Lou Gurewitz in 1963, obliges. Named for its proximity to Rock Creek Park, the business is now in the hands of grandson Danny Gurewitz, 52, who took over the operation from his father, Stuart, after Stuart suffered a stroke in 2005. Danny, who moved to Texas when his parents divorced in 1979 but returned to Maryland to see his father and pitch in at the Parkway, is also the resident fix-it guy, repairing toasters, installing WiFi and assembling outdoor canopies as needed.
The front of the operation is a small food store and deli that you pass through to reach the 110-seat dining room. A semi-visible grill and kitchen hint at what to expect on the multipage, plastic-bound menu: chili, chicken, hash brown omelets, salads galore, Reubens (and enough other sandwiches to fill a Potbelly), “Jewish fare” and dinners of the type that suggest home (roast turkey, stuffed cabbage).
Parkway’s chicken soup — with or without a fluffy-if-undersalted matzoh ball — I know well. While I was working from home during the pandemic, my significant other knew that a takeout order from Parkway was pretty much all I needed to power me till showtime (okay, a dinner review). Tender chunks or shreds of chicken packed the container of golden broth, gently herby and crammed with a fistful of sliced carrots, celery, onion and egg noodles. Every spoonful had the power of a hug.
I can understand why the gentleman from my first sit-down dinner at Parkway was upset about the missing pickle bar. “It gives you something to do while you’re waiting for your food,” says Gurewitz. In the ’70s and ’80s, he says, pickles and sauerkraut were brought to the table. The welcome was later replaced by a help-yourself refrigerated cart and expanded to include pickled beets, bread-and-butter “chips” and more.
The dining room, painted in purple and aqua, is otherwise plain and practical. A band of mirrors lets you play voyeur from just about every table, and a carousel of condiments grants a flurry of wishes: salt and pepper shakers, of course, but also two kinds of hot sauce, three sweeteners, plus a plastic card promoting happy hour specials.
The dinners, served starting at 4 p.m. every day, make me wish more such sources existed. Slices of turkey roasted in-house all but hide the onion-laced cornbread stuffing that supports them. Just like at Thanksgiving, the bounty comes with brown gravy and cranberry sauce. Diners select a side; lightly dressed coleslaw or creamy macaroni and cheese tend to round out my feast. Cabbage stuffed with ground beef and rice is, for some of us, as cheering as a call from home, despite its too-sweet tomato sauce. And I love the crunch and the juice of the fried half-chicken. Alas, the idea of liver and onions is better than the reality: Thin slices of calf’s liver that appear to have surrendered all their juices on the grill have me consoling myself with the crisp bacon and roasted peppers heaped on the entree.
“The menu’s so big, there’s no way the kitchen could make everything,” a young server says when we ask about how a few dishes are prepared. Staples including the chopped chicken liver, knishes (both sweet) and fish and chips are made by a food distributor. Does it necessarily matter, though? The beer-battered cod comes from a vendor, but the tartar sauce and slaw are from scratch. In all, a tasty combo. Similarly, the chunky apple sauce you can get with the crisp golden potato cakes smacks of a home kitchen, but it’s made elsewhere.
Can we talk? The blueberry pancakes are tough and the hash browns inside the omelets are underdone. I like the Reuben, though. Grilled rye bread packing shaved corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, sweet Russian dressing and melted Swiss pushes all the right buttons. Same for the affable service, and the banter at the counter that comes from staff knowing longtime customers. There’s something to be said for a place that has outlasted so many other area attempts at “deli.”
When I later talk to Gurewitz by phone, I’m startled by his candor. “We’re not trying to be top of the line, but we’re not the bottom, either,” he says. His aim at Parkway is consistency and value. The reliability is spurred by a head chef, Rene Santos, 52, who started 28 years ago.
The pandemic forced Gurewitz to raise prices recently, a task he delegated to his managers because, “I can’t justify charging $8 for a grilled cheese.” Still, the custom sandwiches hover around $10, no dinner costs more than $19 and leftovers are almost a given. The best of the pastry case is a moist slab of warm-spiced carrot cake with the heft of a brick that can easily satisfy three forks. Don’t just take my word. The owner says he sells 20 of the 13-pounders a week.
Such comfort and abundance explain the cross-section of patrons on any given day. “We get all kinds of people,” says the owner. “Old, young, all ethnicities,” a reality confirmed during all my visits. In its early years, he says, Parkway was frequented predominantly by Jews nearby; for a long time now, says Gurewitz, the clientele has been a “cornucopia.”
Parkway might not be the deli and restaurant of your dreams. Your mileage depends on knowing the kitchen’s strengths. Then again, the price is right, there always seems to be parking, it’s open three meals seven days a week, and Gurewitz thinks he might bring back the pickle bar sometime soon.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant
8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 301-587-1427. theparkwaydeli.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeout 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices: Sandwiches $7.49 to $16.99, dinners $14.49 to $18.99. Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice Accessibility: Wheelchair users can enter the front door or access rear outdoor dining via a ramp; restrooms have grab bars but are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs. Pandemic protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.