January 5, 2009
The golden age of Kosher deli is long gone, but a slice of it, pun intended, is thriving at Ben’s Best in Rego Park, Queens. If the old school neon sign and the Hebrew National salamis in the window aren’t enough to prove you’ve found the genuine article, the spicy deli scent overtakes you the moment you enter the store. Read on to find out why Ben’s Best is worth the trip to Queens.
Which dish is dearest to Doctor Dyspepsia’s heart? Would King of Ketchup rather eat Katz’s?
Who doesn’t like free cole slaw & pickles?
Let’s get something straight right off the bat, this is not Ben’s Deli, this is Ben’s Best. Ronnie, the man behind Ben’s Deli, used to work at Ben’s Best. He took what he learned and opened a deli with the same name, underlying concept and a cole slaw I grew to love. That is until I tried the cole slaw at Ben’s Best. This is the best cole slaw I’ve ever had and I can eat as much as I want for free. Good things do happen to good people. This cole slaw is crisp, sweet and juicy with just the right ratio of mayo to vinegar. If it didn’t come with nearly-perfectly pickles, you could serve this slaw as Kosher deli dessert.
Not all potato pancakes are created equal…
What do we want from a pancake? First, we want it to be fresh. Second, we want it to have a flavor that exudes more than just potato. And third, we want a crisp outer shell which dissolves into potato that’s just began to soften. The potato pancake at Ben’s Best didn’t deliver on any of these fronts. It tasted re-fried and bland and lacked the outer/inner balance we were hoping for. This more closely resembled a hearty McDonald’s hash brown. That being said, it’s still fried potato and once I doused it in apple sauce, it was edible just not that enjoyable.
And “stuffed derma” is what, exactly?
Here’s the definition of stuffed derma according to KosherBlog.com:“Stuffed derma, also known as kishka (Slavic for “gut”), is traditionally a cow’s intestine stuffed with a mixture of grain, fat, and sometimes ground meat and vegetables. Nowadays, kishka is most commonly made with a synthetic casing, and when made at home, some people use chicken skin as a wrapping instead.
Typical filling recipes include flour, matza meal, salt, pepper, chicken or beef fat, grated carrots, and grated onions. It’s eaten plain, with sauce, or on top of the traditional Sabbath afternoon stew (called “cholent”).”
This was my first stuffed derma experience and while it lacked an outer skin of any sort, it delivered the flavor of a spicy bread stuffing combined with some sort of animal fat, most likely beef. The beef gravy was highly disappointing; it tasted generic and devoid of any natural beef juices.
The esteemed Jewish food expert, Doctor Dyspepsia, heralded for his tuna fish with ketchup and mayo recipe, still gave the derma a thumbs up, stating: “It’s closest to Grandma Sarah’s recipe.” I’m glad I tried it but in the end it’s not delicious enough to occupy precious stomach space next time I’m at a Kosher deli.
A bad day for brisket…
I’ve been spoiled by Kensington Kosher Deli in Great Neck, Long Island. Their brisket sandwich with fried onions and gravy is one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. Naturally I have lower expectations for other brisket purveyors but Ben’s Best embarrassed themselves with their dry and flavorless brisket sandwich on a generic, entirely too tall club roll.
Apart from the toothsome beef, the fried onions were disappointing as well. You really never know what to expect when trying a restaurant’s fried onions for the first time, but the ones below are what you hope does not arrive. Despite asking for for the onions to be fried well done, they arrived vastly under-fried, closer to raw, and didn’t blend at all with the dry brisket.
The French can keep these fries
Next time I’m at Ben’s Best, I’m going to avoid fried food at all costs. If you’re going to cut fries into quartered potatoes, at least have the decency to honor a well done cooking request. The French fries were under-fried and starchy in the middle. Heinz ketchup is the only thing that saved them.
Corned Beef & Pastrami, reunited and it feels so good…
Ben’s Best offers twenty five decadent combo sandwiches. Doctor Dyspepsia and King of Ketchup both chose the “Sears Special.” Corned beef and pastrami topped with cole slaw on seedless rye. Both eaters were extremely pleased with their choice and called the cole slaw the key to deli delight. “The coolness of the slaw juxtaposed with the warmth of the meat created the perfect balance of savory and sweet,” said the Doc. The meats were tender and contained “the right amount of marbling,” he added. Russian dressing was requested and arrived lighter than usual so King of Ketchup did what he does best and mixed in extra Heinz. The Doctor refrained, but schmeared Russian below the meats and some spicy mustard, (“better than Gulden’s,” says Doc) on top.
Pastrami fit for a King
NYC Food Guy always sticks with the classics and the pastrami at Ben’s Best is just that. Warm, juicy, thinly sliced and containing just the right amount of fat, this is pretty close to Kosher pastrami perfection. It’s truly the parma prosciutto of Judaism. The peppery edges surrounding each thin slice of meat provided a subtle spice which lingered briefly after each bite. It’s the pastrami alone that will bring me back to Ben’s Best. Tender, delicious and prided on by generations of meat slicers, the pastrami at Ben’s Best is far superior to that of the Ben’s Deli Chain.
Katz’s Deli or Ben’s Best?
Doctor Dyspepsia said comparing Katz’s pastrami (below) to Ben’s Best is like “comparing apples to oranges.” King of Ketchup called them “different beasts.” I have to agree with both, Katz’s isn’t kosher and it’s cut much thicker than authentic Kosher deli pastrami, leaving us with more fat and more spice. But decadent deliciousness is still achieved and that’s all that matters.
In the end, the Doc said it best, “either one on a Sunday afternoon would be just fine.” But which of the city’s pastrami really deserves the title of Pastrami King? Stay tuned for another NYC Food Guy adventure.