While The Biscuit is doing the Parisian thing, a block away at 837 East 17th Avenue, New York on 17th is, quite obviously, doing the New York thang. And maybe a little too well, since during the lunch rush, employees do a fair imitation of twenty New Yorkers on the subway fighting for the only empty seat while out-of-towners beg them for directions. Translation: It ain't pretty.
Owners Danny and Toni Pisarra, sweethearts now married 25 years, had a deli on Long Island until they had to "get the hell away from Queens," says Danny. So they moved to Denver and set up shop. Their first deli was in a strip mall by Cherry Creek Reservoir; their second was off Colorado Boulevard (both were called New York Deli Way). In February 1999, they found this location in the heart of town, and it's been going gangbusters ever since. At lunch, that is.
Breakfast and dinner are a different story. The first time I stopped by was mid-morning, and I didn't understand why they'd put so many tables out on the sidewalk and so few in the nearly empty dining area. But when I visited again during lunch, my question was answered: The majority of the deli's customers seem to be getting food to go, which not only creates a crowd and confusion, but is also very taxing on the staff, particularly since it has to assemble everything to order. I witnessed lots of wasted motion, lots of long waits, and tempers flaring more than once (okay, one of those blowups was mine).
Once I had my food in hand, however, all was right with the world. The Pisarras understand the East Coast deli concept -- hell, they had one -- and they know how to build a sandwich using decent meats and cheeses (most are from Boar's Head, which isn't exactly top-of-the-line in NYC but will do out here). My roast beef ($7.75) came thickly layered on a Kaiser roll (you can also choose white, wheat, rye or a sub), accompanied by lettuce, tomato and mayo (again, you get choices). The complete package -- the Pisarras label them "overstuffed sandwiches" -- was the thickness of a softball and tasted great. The deli also constructs triple-decker clubs, some of which are truly inspired. The Dagwood ($10.95), for example, was piled nearly a foot high with roast beef, turkey, ham, bologna, salami, Swiss, lettuce, tomato and a good-quality Russian dressing; it was enough to feed three people. The hot sandwiches were right on, too, especially the open-faced turkey ($7.95), with real turkey and roasted potatoes smothered in a gut bomb of creamy beige gravy.
The sides weren't nearly as impressive. The potato salad (50 cents if substituted for chips with a sandwich) was sugary but otherwise bland, and the coleslaw (ditto) tasted like plain cabbage: Either the Pisarras need some new recipes, or their kitchen had some significant production problems. I've tried the baked potato twice now -- one plain with sour cream ($2.95) and one topped with con-carne-style chili, shredded cheddar cheese and onions ($4.95) -- and neither was cooked all the way through. But the potato pancakes ($2.50 each) have always been marvelous, golden on the outside and soft on the inside. And the breakfasts (with a good smoked-fish selection, including sable), milkshakes, salads and burger (a half pound of select ground beef, cooked medium and slapped on a fluffy bun) have been up to good-deli standards.
If you have room for dessert after all that, go for the homemade carrot cake ($3.50), which boasts spices and raisins in perfect proportion, as well as so many carrot shreds they hang like hair off the dense, moist cake.
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It's not the Carnegie Deli, but it ain't bad.
Open-and-shut cases: One of my favorite places to snag a relaxing meal after a hard day of shoe shopping was The Pub at Nordstrom in Park Meadows. But I'm about to down my last brew there: On June 26, chef Jim Begbie will send out his last order of fish and chips, and after that, Nordstrom will devote the Pub's space to men's clothing.
Begbie himself is off for Chloe's, which will open on East Colfax Avenue at Madison Street, across the street from janleone. Here's hoping Begbie has better luck at Chloe's than he did at Anastasia Vieux Carré, his ambitious, New Orleans-style eatery that went even further south back in 1997. Anastasia's former home, at 5946 South Holly Street in Greenwood Village, then became Larry Herz's family-friendly Uncle Sam's -- which will soon be replaced by a fondue joint.
Molten cheese for all my friends!