Ilyse Fishman Lerner is the first to admit that On Rye is "like a bit of an identity project."
Lerner grew up eating at Jewish delis in Boca Raton, Fla., and her new restaurant, opening Nov. 11 in Chinatown, is an homage to it. "There's been a lot of conversation about the end of the deli," including the pending closure of New York's famed Carnegie Deli, Lerner said. "What we're doing is taking a totally updated approach."
She wants to honor the past while "moving it forward."
Lerner calls On Rye a "modern sandwich shop," rather than a deli per se, since it won't have the large displays of meat and by-the-pound offerings which are often part of the tradition. Instead, she's focusing on a fairly tight menu of ten sandwiches and three salads. Meat selections include smoked turkey, pulled chicken and corned beef and pastrami made from Wagyu beef, which will be cooked sous vide (in a water bath) to reduce the need for as much salt.
On Rye will mostly rely on a set menu, rather than a build-your own strategy, though Reubens and some of the other sandwiches can be made with a choice of meat or veggies, including smoked beets or roasted portobello mushrooms. (Half the sandwiches are or can be made vegetarian.) You'll also be able to get your meat straight up with mustard on marble rye. Also available: a Thanksgiving-inspired turkey sandwich with an apple-cinnamon spread (kind of like haroset for Passover, minus the nuts), fennel and sage.
Lerner's corned beef bacon, cooked and rendered just like the pork version, will go on an all-day breakfast egg sandwich, as well as into a kind of deconstructed turkey club salad. There will also be a roasted beet salad and a Chinatown chicken salad with mandarins, crispy wontons, scallions and an orange sesame dressing.
Other deli standbys include latkes (one version with potatoes, another with rutabaga and broccoli), matzoh ball soup, black and white cookies and egg creams, a frothy beverage made with Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer.
Of course, Lerner will continue offering babka ice cream sandwiches, made with bread from Green's & Ackerman's Bakery in Brooklyn and vanilla bean gelato from Dolci Gelati, which were available this season at Nats Park and at several other shops around town. (Lerner, whose husband is a grandson of Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner, isn't sure whether she'll be returning to the stadium but said: "We'd be delighted to continue if they'll have us.") The babka will also feature in a French toast available at brunch.
Lerner, a former attorney who studied restaurant management at the Institute of Culinary Education, said On Rye has been about four years in the making. Construction itself took about a year on the space that will seat 60 diners in more than 2,500 square feet.
On Rye's debut comes a few months after that of chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley's Smoked and Stacked, which has had pastrami-loving fans breaking out in meat sweats since Day 1, possibly hinting to the potential of Lerner's iteration of the deli.
Plus, said Lerner, "There's nothing like a good sandwich."
On Rye, 740 Sixth St. NW. 202-795-5100. Opening Nov. 11 for lunch and dinner daily and weekend brunch.