Of all of the Kosher delicatessens and Kosher-style delicatessens in New York, I had never tried 2nd Ave Deli, which is arguably a legendary dining institution in the city — and although Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown tonight, Sunday, September 25, 2022, I thought I would write about my recent experience dining at 2nd Ave Deli the first time even though it basically has nothing to do with the holiday.
Review: 2nd Ave Deli in New York
As with most authentic Kosher delicatessens, the appetizing counter is the first thing visitors to the restaurant see — showcasing traditional delights such as chopped liver, varieties of meats and cold cuts, assorted salads, kugels, and other items which have long been associated with Kosher cuisine.
Deciding to dine in instead of ordering to take the food out, I was seated at a table in the dining area of the restaurant, which was clean and nicely decorated — even down to the tile floor and the old-style punched tin or hammered tin paneled ceiling.
Almost immediately after being seated, I was given a menu — along with a plate which held a sour pickle and a half sour pickle; and a small bowl of cole slaw, which was the vinegary kind and not the sweeter kind with mayonnaise.
Both pickles were some of the best which I have ever had. They were quite crunchy, robustly flavorful, and rather satisfying. Although I prefer the other type of cole slaw, this cole slaw was tangy, crisp, crunchy, and actually refreshing. The vinegar was not overpowering as some similar types of cole slaw.
As a working refrigerator was in the room where I stayed at the Motto by Hilton New York City Chelsea hotel property only a few blocks away — which means that I had room for leftovers — I decided to order a hot corned beef sandwich with potato salad and a hot pastrami sandwich with cucumber salad, with extra lean meat on both sandwiches. The woman who served me advised me that due to the way that the menu was worded, customers tended to believe that each sandwich comes with a side dish at no extra charge — but each side dish costs $7.95:
Make your sandwich into a meat platter for an additional $7.95
served with your choice of cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad or cucumber salad.
Despite thinking that $7.95 was quite expensive for each side dish, I decided to leave the order as is, as I had not had a good potato salad or cucumber salad in a very long time.
When the food arrived, I tried the potato salad. It was nothing like the potato salad that I had when growing up in Brooklyn, which was slightly disappointing but not necessarily a negative aspect. However, some of the potatoes were not cooked enough, as they were still somewhat hard and therefore unpleasant to eat — so I sent it back and was not charged for it.
Reminiscent of what my mother used to prepare during my formative years, the cucumber salad contained crunchy onions, fresh dill, and a mild and slightly sweet vinegar. The cucumber itself was sliced thicker than the way my mother sliced it — but it was excellent nonetheless.
The pastrami was succulent and flavorful. The meat was so tender than it almost melted in my mouth — and despite being extra lean, the pastrami was not dry at all. This was an excellent sandwich which I truly enjoyed.
“We cure our own Corned Beef and Tongue and we think you’ll agree when you taste them…there’s no finer anywhere.” That phrase appears on the menu under the heading of 3 Decker Sandwiches. I must agree. Similar to the pastrami, this corned beef — which was also extra lean — was tender, full of flavor, and not stringy at all. This also was an excellent sandwich.
If I had to choose between which sandwich was better, I could not have given an immediate answer at the time — but I would reluctantly give the nod to the pastrami. You cannot go wrong with either sandwich. I spread some authentic deli mustard on the rye bread of each sandwich, which for me further elevated the dining experience. I also enjoy biting a crunchy pickle with a bite of each sandwich.
At the end of the meal, a small glass containing seltzer and chocolate syrup was served. This is not what is known as an egg cream — as that has milk in it and cannot be served in a Kosher restaurant with meat — but although I never was fond of egg creams, I did drink this beverage. It was okay. “Points” were deducted when I found out that Bosco chocolate syrup was used for this simple concoction instead of Fox’s u-bet chocolate syrup, which some purists might consider blasphemous…
…but then again, u-bet chocolate syrup contains either whey protein or dry milk powder — or both — so those lost “points” have been restored, as u-bet chocolate syrup also therefore cannot be served in a Kosher restaurant with meat. I had no idea, as I never read the ingredients — so I learned something new myself.
Regardless, the complimentary small chocolate soda beverage served as a nice conclusion to the meal.
History of 2nd Ave Deli
One of the reasons why I had not dined sooner at 2nd Ave Deli is because of its unique history, as it was closed for a period of time.
This plaque of Abe Lebewohl — who is the founder of the dining establishment — is outside of the restaurant to the right of the entrance.
The following excerpt of the history of the restaurant is from the official Internet web site of 2nd Ave Deli, as it speaks for itself and needs no improvement, in my opinion:
Upon arriving in America and not even speaking the language, Abe took his first job in a Coney Island deli, where he was employed as a soda jerk. During lunch breaks, he volunteered to help out behind the counter, to better observe the restaurant’s operation. He soon graduated to the coveted position of counterman. Over the next few years, he worked in a number of deli kitchens, learning the secrets of superb pastrami and other traditional Jewish delicacies.
In 1954, with a few thousand dollars he managed to set aside, Abe took over a tiny 10-seat luncheonette on East Tenth Street — the nucleus of the 2nd Ave Deli. Working around the clock for years — often filling in as cook, counterman, waiter, and even busboy — he put all his time and energy into making a success of his tiny establishment.
After decades of struggle, Abe’s dream of success in America was a reality. He loved people, he loved food, he loved his restaurant, he loved New York and New York loved Abe.
On March 4, 1996, Abe was murdered on route to the bank to make a deposit. All New York mourned his death. Abe’s widow Eleanor, daughter Sharon, and brother Jack decided to keep Abe’s dream alive. The Deli remained opened until January 2006 when it closed its doors due to a dispute with its landlord.
All of New York mourned the closing of the 2nd Ave Deli including Abe’s nephews Josh and Jeremy who knew that they would one day continue their uncle’s tradition. Josh and Jeremy’s earliest memories were the times they spent in the deli sampling all of their uncle’s cuisine and graduating to washing dishes, bussing tables and making deliveries. Josh and Jeremy stepped in and reopened the 2nd Ave Deli at 162 East 33rd Street and later opened another 2nd Ave Deli at 1442 First Avenue. Under their stewardship the deli has maintained its excellence while continuing to experiment and evolve.
The 2nd Ave Deli has continued to serve authentic deli fare and to draw crowds of both new and old customers. The perfect tribute to Abe!
Final Boarding Call
I dined at the Midtown East location of 2nd Ave Deli, which is at 162 East 33 Street between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue. Another location is at 1442 First Avenue on the southeast corner of East 75 Street.
Aside from the potato salad, I enjoyed my dining experience. I thought that the food itself was a bit pricey — although the sandwiches are admittedly in line in terms of cost with other delicatessens. Despite the nice decor, the atmosphere felt a bit depressing — perhaps because I was one of only a few patrons in the restaurant. I did dine there during an off hour between lunch and dinner; but I was expecting a more boisterous atmosphere similar to that of Katz’s Delicatessen.
I highly recommend dining at 2nd Ave Deli for a traditional Kosher delicatessen dining experience — it was almost as good as the old Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Rego Park — although I would like to have known what dining at 2nd Ave Deli was like at its original location with Abe Lebewohl at the helm, may he rest in peace.
May you celebrate a happy and healthy Rosh Hashanah tonight; and may the year 5783 be the sweetest one yet. L’Shana Tova! לשנה טובה
2nd Ave Deli
162 East 33 Street
New York, New York 10016
Open daily from 11:00 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening for dining in, delivery, pick up, and take out.
The most convenient subway station is the 33 Street station on the 6 local train line.
Other articles at The Gate whose topic is pastrami, corned beef, or Kosher delicatessen or food includes:
- The Continuing Decline of the Kosher Delicatessen: Why?
- How To Know If Packaged Food is Kosher
- Review: Katz’s Deli. No, Not That One…
- Did Bike Lanes Kill My Favorite Kosher Delicatessen?
- Review: Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Rego Park, New York
- How Delta Air Lines Forced Me to Eat at a Kosher Delicatessen (<— WARNING: Extreme “Click-Bait” Title Alert)
- Review: Hanna Orthodox Glatt Kosher Restaurant in Budapest
- What Is the Beef About Hebrew National Products Not Being Kosher?
- Kosher Food in London?
- The Worst Corned Beef Sandwich I Ever Had Was…
- Revisited: Pastrami and Corned Beef at The General Muir in Atlanta — and The Verdict Is…
All photographs ©2022 by Brian Cohen.