By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
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By Lori Midson
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By Nate Hemmert
There are two items on the menu at Zaidy's Deli: potatoes and everything else. Zaidy's does great things with potatoes -- truly phenomenal things for which it deserves a medal. Now if only those bastards at the American Farm Council's tuber division would get off their asses and start planning the Potatolympics, like I've been suggesting for years. Seriously, if you can think of another sanctioned sport-cooking event where a nomadic team of pasty, eyeglass-wearing Irish Jews would be a handicapper's mortal lock for gold, I'd love to hear about it.
Zaidy's is everything you could hope for in a New York-style Jewish deli, except for one little detail: It's not in New York. And that's good, because we're not in New York, either, and if Zaidy's were a Gotham original, then all the Denver movers and shakers who pack this place every day would bankrupt themselves flying back and forth for some decent potato kugel and the best chicken matzoh-ball soup I've ever tasted outside of someone's grandmother's kitchen.
As a matter of fact, you really can't even call this place a New York-style deli -- it's a Denver Jewish deli. It has all the Big Apple trappings, like giant art prints hanging on the walls and antique photos of family members tacked up on the pillars separating one long line of tables from the next. But rather than the ubiquitous New York City skyline shot or a photo of Grand Central Station, with those gorgeous bands of light streaming in through the high windows, Zaidy's prints show downtown Denver back in the day -- back in the day when the whole world was black and white -- and the snaps are of customers' long-gone relatives, now enshrined in a place that maybe they would have liked, too.
121 Adams St.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
Potato latkes: $6.25
Lox and eggs: $6.95 Lox and latkes: $8.95
Corned-beef hash: $6.95
Whitefish bagel: $8.95
Matzoh-ball soup: $3.95 Knish: $2.50
Potato kugel: $1.95
Turkey and chopped liver: $8.95
Like most good delis (regardless of area code), Zaidy's has cold cases by the front door that are full at 6 a.m. and almost barren by 3 p.m., with only those meats and oddments left over that cruel (or funny) grandmothers use to freak out children -- barbecued sable, tongue, whole sides of salmon, raw brined brisket and gray-brown slabs of halvah. The comfortable booths are done in dark wood and deep-green leatherette; the tables are always set with little glass pots of jam, cold plates of dill-pickle spears and vinegary sauerkraut. And the staffers are the sort of pure veterans you only find in diners, interstate roadhouses and busy delis. They know their regulars by name (and me by a fake one), turn tables fast -- calling in surgical strikes of busboys with a waved hand or just a look -- and track orders with the concentration of serial-bingo junkies. They have their own notion of timing, bringing plates to tables as they come up, then piling on the bagels, the bread, the sides; they juggle multiple takeouts and a dozen tables each without ever seeming rushed or overwhelmed. If you need something -- an extra side of sour cream, maybe, or another knish -- a server is always right there, because, like their diner and roadhouse brethren, they've learned the trick of faster-than-light travel and can be in three places at the same time. Easily. This comes in handy during breakfast and at peak lunch hours, when Zaidy's can rock like no other joint in town. At noon, every inside table is full, every patio table is full, the small parking lot is full, and customers will gladly do gladiatorial combat à la Deathrace 2000, fighting for spots along the narrow streets of Cherry Creek and sometimes walking from blocks away, only to wait for a table to open up.
And then they'll do it again the next day. And the next. They'll do it because one fat little knish -- with warm, salt-and-pepper-spiked mashers baked inside a paper-thin pastry wrapper -- is worth it. Because this is the only place I've found in town that makes its own corned-beef hash. Because Zaidy's fresh-cuts its fries daily; because while its bagels are merely good, the Nova lox is fantastic -- for a million reasons. According to the Bible, the ancient Jews spent forty years wandering around in the desert looking for the promised land, but -- like our president's speechwriters -- the original authors of the Good Book were notorious for their dramatic exaggeration. Personally, I think those wandering tribes were simply looking for a good deli -- for some nice whitefish and kippers -- and got bad directions. The faithful will go a long way for a decent kosher hot dog or a fat, stacked Reuben sandwich on toasted rye with high-quality Russian dressing. So aren't we lucky we only have to go as far as First Avenue?
On any given day, the crowds packed into Zaidy's make it seem like you're actually sitting down to breakfast (or lunch, or now, on some nights, dinner) in a throbbing, thriving metropolis. Recession? What recession? There's no restaurant depression here. Not with a ten-table-deep waiting list on a Monday afternoon and whole pies and baked cheesecakes moving out the door like they're filled with heroin. Bring me another plate of lox and eggs -- scrambled fluffy and right with onions by the most ass-kicking, steel-box crew of breakfast cooks around -- and the New York Times business section, my good man. And while you're at it, have someone wax my Hummer....