2nd Avenue Deli,162 E 33rd St, 212-689-9000 Price range: $21-$35
Many New Yorkers of a certain stripe mourned when the 2nd Avenue Deli closed last year due to a rent hike. They felt lost, unable to satisfy a craving for tongue on rye without going to the tourist trap imitations uptown — I’m looking at you, Carnegie. But in December there was a collective sigh of relief when the famed spot reopened. On an uninviting stretch of 33rd Street, not far from Third (but nowhere near Second) sits the reincarnated 2nd Avenue Deli. And though some things have changed — the waiters seem less surly, the atmosphere more intimate — the chosen cuisine is still, mostly, spot on.
The space itself is classy but not off-putting, like an upscale diner from the 20s, with etched glass, dark wood and an ebulliently tiled floor. Every meal starts with an assortment of oversized homemade pickles, coleslaw and gribenes, crisp fried nibbles of chicken skin topped with fried onions, a revelation to lovers of cracklin’ and pork rind.
Their matzoh ball soup ($7) is an exercise in perfection. The clear yellow broth, glinting with chicken fat, is heady with chicken, dill and aromatics. And the single large matzoh ball is fluffy yet firm, rippled with schmaltz. Personally, I prefer leaden matzoh balls, sinkers (a fault of my own, I suppose), but this was one of the few “proper” balls that sated me.
A potato latke and a spinach knish were both very poor, however, premade and reheated, neither worth close to their $5 price. They were forgotten as soon as a hot pastrami and center-cut tongue sandwich ($17, but more than enough for two) arrived. Please don’t be put off by tongue’s provenance, which is clear when you see a cross section. The thick, rich cut is the true king of the sandwich world. And the pastrami ain’t too bad, either. It isn’t thick cut like Katz’s specialty, but it is nearly as flavorful and much easier to keep between two anemic slices of rye bread. Schmears of brown mustard and Russian dressing (basically ketchup and mayo) hold the mass of meat and bread together.
The 2nd Avenue Deli wasn’t gone for long, but to many the city felt somewhat empty. It’s not cheap, but even if you aren’t an aficionado, the new version can provide a welcome bite of nostalgia for the city’s Jewish population and just plain unpretentious good eats for the goys.