Last month, the pair reopened their popular sandwich spot inside the Little River co-working complex 360 Spaces, a short hop from culinary attractions such as the Citadel and Pack Supermarket, which boasts the city’s best affordable fried chicken.
The menu here is tight and focused, as a proper deli's menu should be. The center of gravity are the three billowing smokers situated outside that slow-cook turkey, pastrami, and brisket. All three are arranged in different juicy iterations in either half or full sandwiches.
There’s the classic Reuben ($9/$17), with pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled rye from Zak the Baker. Swap the pastrami for corned beef and make it a Rachel.
The most unctuous option is the brisket melt ($9/$17), in which the tough cut is smoked into delightfully fatty submission and tucked into rye bread with au jus, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and horseradish mayo. There are also classic deli sides, hot dogs, and sandwiches — just meat and bread for $8.50 for a half and $15 for the whole thing.
For years, the deli has been poised to become Miami’s next big food thing but never quite took off. In the middle of the 20th Century, thanks to its large Jewish population, Miami was a hub of the deli universe with places such as Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in Sunny Isles Beach and Stephen’s Deli in Hialeah. More recently, enthusiastic chefs and owners such as Zak Stern of Zak the Baker tried to relaunch delis but saw a tepid response. Hank & Harry’s, from local restaurateur-turned-politician Buzzy Sklar, popped open in several locations around town, only to shutter en masse in the summer of 2018. Still, the hopeful hang on, as Stephen’s Deli, now under the ownership of Matt Kuscher (Lokal, Kush, Vicky’s House), is set to reopen with original cook Junior Biggers still manning the kitchen.
“It was odd jobs, anything from dishwashing to lifting pickling barrels,” he says. “Eventually, I learned how to brine the pastrami and corned beef, smoking, and everything like that.”
As he grew older, he left the deli to work in construction but kept the recipes in his back pocket and brought them out for special occasions and family gatherings. In 2003, he and his family relocated to Florida to take advantage of the lucrative real-estate boom, but a heart attack ended his days on the job site, and he and his family moved to selling jewelry. Despite his hatred for the business, it worked out until 2015, when thieves broke into the store and cleaned the place out, leaving the Oleks with nothing. With a big family, a passion for cooking, a few old recipes, and literally nothing to lose, they decided to give smoked meat a whirl. It worked.
“We started selling 200 pounds of pastrami a weekend, but we were so broke we had to go buy old refrigerators, whatever we could to keep up,” Lisa says.
Now they’re working in a building with an industrial kitchen adjacent to their restaurant space. It can be difficult to find, but don’t be discouraged. Keep circling the block and you’ll be rewarded with juicy, thick-sliced meats the likes of which have come and gone in Miami but will always have a home.
The Pastrami Joint. 360 Spaces, 370 NE 75th St., Miami; 954-295-2604; facebook.com/thepastramijoint. Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.