After reading many food posts on various websites written by “extramsg” a.k.a. Nick Zukin, I was intrigued when he opened his own place. The rants about food quality in his posts on Citysearch and Willamette Valley Weekly were spot on and displayed a deep passion for great food so I thought it was high time I hauled myself from the Westside into town to check out the restaurant. The moment you open the door and walk in the smoky smell of meat introduces itself to your olfactory senses in a very pleasant manner. Immediately you know you have made the right choice by coming here. The décor is strictly Portland Diner; delicatessen clean, lean and comfortable. It almost reaches the upscale moniker but not quite and I think this works better for Kenny and Zuke’s. In our city glitzy decor comes with a “you better be able to back it up with a style of food that compliments and enhances said décor.”
The service is typical Portland casual, hip and precocious at the same time. The menu is almost typical Deli with a few ingenious twists on Deli fare. The quality of all the products made here is what separates this glorious outpost of gastronomy from your local ubiquitous delicatessen. House made pickles, marble rye, borscht noodle kugle, pastrami cured for five days and smoked for ten hours. It’s all made on premise with love and attention to detail.
The on tap beer selection is impressive considering they only have four taps. On this visit we chose the Terminal Gravity IPA from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene. If there is a better IPA made in America, I have yet to taste it and I’m always looking for the next great beer.
The service was impeccable, sensitive and efficient. We had the Pastrami Ruben and the Deli Club, a huge sandwich of their famous pastrami and roast turkey with Swiss cheese on rye toast. We both had French fries and they arrived cooked to perfection. The food was excellent. We enjoyed every last morsel.
On our subsequent visit, we brought the in-laws. We were just as impressed on our second visit. The Laurelwood “Tree Hugger Organic Red Ale” that was on tap was an amazing example of Northwest Organic Brews. We had the beef borscht, which was sublime. Beets, beef, potato, stock and spices were simmered deftly leaving the texture creamy and the acidity balanced. The mushroom soup, which is vegetarian, was executed with the same care and precision of flavors. The chicken salad sandwich is awesome with just the right amount of mayonnaise, herbs, onions and spices to bind together huge chunks of chicken. It works just as well as a salad with lettuce instead of toast.
Kenny and Zuke’s Corned Beef Ruben was every bit as good as the Pastrami, just less smoky. If you have a reluctance to indulge in the flesh, I suggest the egg salad. It was also awesome and the latkes with applesauce rock. Did I mention the mushroom soup? All the ingredients were of top-notch quality heightened to unequalled quality by the respect they were shown as they were lovingly prepared.
The technique used to cure the meat produces one of the best pastrami sandwiches I have consumed to date, rival smoke meat. Kenny and Zuke’s achieve something close duplicating the quintessential N.Y. Deli experience. Well, almost. There is something about the Katz’s or the Carnegie Deli experience that one can only experience in New York. On the other hand, the type of experience you get at Kenny and Zuke’s and now Sandwich Works on N.W. Thurman can only take place in Portland, Oregon.
As we were leaving the restaurant and driving home, there was a program on NPR about Chris Schlesinger’s new concept in Cambridge, the “All Star Sandwich Bar.” The program was very timely because it spoke of just the same type of experience we encountered at Kenny and Zuke’s. A great chef interprets classic sandwiches using time-honored techniques and regional fresh ingredients. The food will be great, reaching a level close to ethereal in the case of both these restaurants, but not the authentic experience those who are nostalgic for a New York state of mind are looking for. I think I will choose to remain in the present and return to Kenny and Zuke’s frequently. I suggest anyone who enjoys great food do the same.
Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen
1038 SW Stark St
Portland, OR 97205
Photo credit: sandoaday.blogspot.com