The more authentic New York delis we have in our area, the happier I will be.
I grew up in Albany, eating corned beef and knishes at delis whose owners brought the joys of lox, matzo balls and pastrami upstate. One of the things I missed most when I moved west was Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda – never pop.
So I was immediately intrigued when Reuben’s N.Y. Deli opened in the Maple Forest Plaza in Amherst. It’s in a long, narrow space with a deli display on the left, where cold cuts and other food can be ordered, along with a dozen tall seats at the counter. On the cold day when John, Pat, John and I stopped in, the seven or so tables on the right were occupied from the back to the front, because the opening and closing door let in a cold breeze. We’d worn extra sweaters, so we were OK.
Reuben’s menu contains all the usual deli selections, from sandwiches of corned beef, pastrami, brisket, tongue or spiced meat, which is cured and smoked in house (all $8.95), to Hebrew National grilled dogs ($6.95), knishes (2.95), noodle kugel and potato pancakes ($4.95).
Reuben’s also offers a variety of modern dishes, including a vegetable Reuben ciabatta ($7.95), in which a nine-grain ciabatta roll is filled with sweet peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions, chopped spinach, sauerkraut and Swiss, topped with Thousand Island dressing and baked. The strawberry citrus salad ($7.95) is made with chopped romaine topped with mandarin oranges, strawberries and grapes, sprinkled with Gorgonzola and toasted almonds and served with a tangy raspberry vinaigrette.
House soups include homemade chicken and mushroom barley ($2.95 cup, $4.95 bowl), matzo ball ($3.95/$5.50), a soup called mish mash that is made with noodles, matzo ball and kreplach ($6.95) and borscht “right out of the Catskills” ($2.95/$4.95).
We started our lunch with a cup of the matzo ball soup, in which the tennis-ball-sized matzo ball was half-immersed in a lake of deep golden chicken broth, rich with diced carrots, celery and onion and shredded chicken. The soup tasted like it was made by somebody’s grandmother. The matzo ball itself was slightly spongy and yielding, soaked in broth.
Served at the same time were metal dishes of bright green, crunchy pickles, which tasted very cucumber-y with a hint of dill, and coleslaw, also crunchy and fairly dry, which is better than the gloppy, overprocessed version.
The half-sandwich and soup combo ($6.95) allowed us to match any regular sandwich with a bowl of the homemade soup, so we sampled the regular chicken soup, too. It was brimming with thin kluski noodles, along with the same chicken and vegetables as the matzo ball soup. The half-sandwich could be made on any of the available breads, which are rye, challah, a bagel or deli roll. We picked a roast turkey sandwich on a soft roll. The turkey was good, but for some reason (perhaps the thick breadiness of the roll), it was dry.
A turkey Reuben ($8.95) was made with the same sliced fresh turkey, perfectly grilled on rye.
We were entranced by the prospect of the brisket latke, in which tender slices of brisket are piled between two fried potato pancakes ($8.95). It was built like a sandwich, but because of the slick lower surface of the bottom latke, it was impossible to pick up. Sectioned and eaten with a fork, all components were delicious.
Both the turkey Reuben and the brisket latke were served with a generous pile of hot, crispy french fries.
Finally, the real test of any deli is its corned beef, and Reuben’s namesake dish did not disappoint. The corned beef was nicely cured, thin-sliced and tender, with a very slight fatty edge left on. The classic sandwich was made with a nice balance of sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island dressing. An order of sweet potato fries served on the side (add $1.25) came in a large basket, drizzled with honey and butter. They were an unnecessary, but very enjoyable, indulgence.
Reuben’s New York Deli
Where: 714 Maple Road, Amherst (636-0546)
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays for breakfast only.