By Zachary Fagenson
By Bill Citara
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It's said that Jewish history, along with the religious holidays that celebrate it, can be summed up in three sentences: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat!
At no time of year does this ultimately concise historical summary seem more accurate than now. Thursday is Purim, a holiday where religious rules mandate that Jews gift others with food, and personally scarf down as sumptuous a feast as is affordable; even rabbis are required to drink enough wine that they can no longer distinguish one blessing from another. In April comes Passover, with its lavish seder dinners. And in May, Israel's modern independence day tradition is an alfresco feast — meaning barbecue time for most. There are those, though, who think a picnic of Jewish deli pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on rye is far more appropriate.
So even folks philosophical enough to accept that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away can't help but believe the scheduled April closing of 53-year-old Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House is mighty poor timing on the part of Somebody upstairs. Fortunately The Famous Kosher Restaurant, a bustling eat-in/take-out deli with a comforting classic NYC feel, opened late last year to help fill the gap.
Since heaping bowls of creamy coleslaw and fresh pickles (sours and half-sours, both admirably crunchy) arrive almost as soon as diners slide into their booths, appetizers aren't really necessary. But it'd be a shame to miss two "nosh" plates: potato pancakes and fried kreplach. The former were mostly finely grated potato, with ample onion to make the crisp-crusted cakes savory. And although dietary laws make dairy products a no-no at kosher meat eateries, the parve (neutral nondairy) sour cream supplied upon request was an astonishingly good ringer; a dining companion could not believe it wasn't the real thing.
The plumply stuffed kreplach (particularly popular at Purim owing to their triangular shape, symbol of either the pockets, three-corner hat, or ears of the holiday's villain, Haman) could have used more spicing in its ground beef filling. But the generous mound of fried onions topping the noodle dumplings more than compensated for the meat's mildness. Liberally salted and peppered at the table and dosed with more of the rich sour cream, the kreplach were a scrumptiously sinful treat.
Sandwiches come regular or extra-large, described as "mile high" on the menu. Ex-New Yorkers expecting Carnegie Deli-like creations — mountains of drippingly juicy fat meat, too big to get even a Sandra Bernhard-size mouth around — will likely be disappointed. An allegedly extra-large two-meat pastrami/corned beef combo, on very small slices of rye bread, was more mouse than monster, especially since slices were nearly paper-thin, minimizing any interesting chewiness. But the flavor of the housemade corned beef and New York-made pastrami was pleasant, if mild.
Surprisingly, since both Nova Scotia salmon and saltier lox are available at the deli's take-out counter, the menu offers no eat-in lox and only two Nova items: a "Jewish Western" salmon/veg omelet, and a smoked fish platter with choice of bagel and light-textured parve cream cheese, plus green-leaf lettuce, tomato, green pepper, onion, and cucumber. The quantity of fish was sparse, but the quality was high: Properly custom-carved from slabs, the slices were silky yet firm, unlike standard mushy presliced smoked salmon. With per-pound prices relatively low, take-out is the way to go for smoked salmon mavens.
From chicken soup to bargain-priced (under $20) mains with soup or salad plus two sides — including the latkes — there's much more for eat-in diners to enjoy. At least enough to get you through Passover.