Conquering Stage Fright at New York Deli News

Sometimes life puts obstacles in front of us that seem almost insurmountable: a Super Bowl loss from our beloved Broncos, another soul-sucking day at corporate headquarters, an open-faced sandwich of such daunting proportions that we should have been training for it all summer. But we persevere -- conquer, even -- because we're Americans and that's what we're supposed to do. And so it was with equal parts trepidation and hope that I left New York Deli News with a to-go bag containing "The Stage": what felt like three or four pounds of beef, potatoes, cheese and sides.

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The Stage is built on two burger-sized latkes -- thick, fried potato pancakes, for those unfamiliar with Jewish deli food. Sizzled to a shade of brown beyond golden but not approaching burned, the latkes pack enough savory punch that they could stand in for weakling quinoa or bean patties in a hearty veggie burger. Each pancake is topped with a fist-sized mountain of shaved meat -- corned beef and pastrami that the Deli News imports from New York City -- and a velvet robe of Swiss cheese. Russian dressing, pickle spears and potato salad round out the platter.

The first decision is where to start with the Stage; I munched on a pickle spear while contemplating the enormity of the dish. As with beer and wine tastings, with deli meats it's best to begin with the lighter flavors and work toward the stronger, so I started with the corned beef before moving on to the smoky, peppery pastrami. The juicy, fat-laced meats, still warm from the steamer, offered complex, salty flavor in much the same way that an MMA champ offers kicks and punches to the head of his opponent.

It's not a subtle dish: The flavors are bold and just keep coming at you, bite after bite (after bite). But it's all so good, so inherently nurturing, that it's hard to stop, goaded on as you are by your tastebuds and your inner grandmother insisting, "Eat, eat; you'll starve to death." And you don't want to disappoint your inner grandmother.

Unlike that MMA fighter, I'm not here to compete, even if I felt like I needed to get the best of the Stage. I am somewhat ashamed, though, that I was unable to finish even half of the dish. But like all great Americans, from Washington to Patton to Elway, I returned to the fray and eventually came out victorious -- after two more meals of leftovers. But as your inner grandmother will tell you, good food makes good leftovers. Or you could just share the Stage with your friends, family and office mates. It'll probably take all of them to help you out.

Yeah, I Ate That will feature fun, unique and over-the-top foods from metro area restaurants. Cultural collisions, fast-food mashups and the culinary offspring of evil genius are all fair game. Have a suggestion? Post it in the comments section below, or send an e-mail to cafe@westword.com

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