Rye Ridge Deli an old-school experience
Years back I added delis to the list of endangered food. If I lived in North Dakota or Mars (is there a difference?), this would not be a surprise, but Connecticut is situated squarely on the East Coast, an hour’s drive from “deli heaven” New York City.
Let me amend that statement. New York City was once deli heaven, but now is also suffering the deli famine. When I say deli I do not mean your corner store that sells ham sandwiches and doughnuts; I mean the classic Jewish deli, whose pride is classics like pastrami, chopped liver and half-sour dill pickles.
It is sad this unique cuisine is dying out, but not surprising. Classic deli foods are neither trendy nor healthy. They aren’t gluten-free or infused with kombucha. If anything, it is the opposite of modern food — swathed in fat, old-school and mired in tradition.
I love real deli food. I was raised on it and it is my “soul food.” There once were some pretty good delis in Fairfield County, but, alas, many went out of business and the remaining ones are not so great. With this said, I am happy to direct you to the Rye Ridge Deli, which proudly bills itself as a “New York Kosher Style Deli and Restaurant.” Yes, it is!
Old-style delis have always offered more then just pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. Their menus were vast, and their specialties often included such labor-intensive dishes as Chicken in a Pot, blintzes with sour cream, Beef Flanken with Matzo Balls and luscious platters of white fish and sturgeon. The Rye Ridge Deli serves all these and more. Using my cultural knowledge of this style of eating, I dove into the menu and this is my report.
First, let me say that although this is not a fancy, formal restaurant, I was seated in a comfortable booth with a crisp white linen napkin on my lap. The attentive waiter placed a generous bowl of whole pickles on the table before he took my order.
As is often the case, I wanted to say to the waiter, “Bring me one of everything,” but I pulled back and ordered what I considered a good test of the essentials. This might sound strange, but the first thing I ordered was a malted milk. For those of you who read this column regularly, you know my stand on contemporary milk shakes: too thick, too unbalanced and resembling a pint of ice cream with a straw stuck in it. I waver between ordering the malt and the even-rarer New York-style egg cream ( a seltzer-based fountain treat, which contains neither eggs nor cream). When the malt arrives, I know I made the correct choice. It is perfect, the right ratio between milk, malted milk powder and ice cream. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is rare to find a good one.
Once I finished off the malted milk, I got serious, ignoring the waiter’s shocked expression as I ordered an open-face hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes, Hungarian beef goulash and Chicken in a Pot.
“That’s a lot of food,” he says. “Are you expecting friends to join you? I shake my head “no” and say, “I am really hungry.”
Rye Ridge Deli
1087 High Ridge Road, Stamford
I was really hungry, which was a good thing, because when the Chicken in a Pot arrived, it was a manly portion. It is also perfectly traditional: rich chicken broth, three large pieces of kosher chicken, two giant matzo balls, steamed carrots and fine egg noodles. It is grandma cuisine, guaranteed to cure what ails you. The matzo balls are exemplary, baseball-size, yet airy and tender.
The hot roast beef sandwich is a foot wide on its plate. Slices of freshly cut beef lie between dark gravy and slices of plain, squishy white bread. It too is a blast from the past, from a time before people ate pho and microgreens. It came with a side salad, which I waved away, trying hard to fool the waiter that I was a dainty eater.
The Hungarian goulash arrived. Being from a Hungarian family, I am not easy on this dish. I hate to say it, but the Rye Ridge Deli’s version was identical to what I make at home. A sour cream-based sauce rosy with paprika featured tender strips of beef and lovely broad egg noodles. Again, I tried to bluff the waiter by forgoing the side salad. He was not buying this.
As he was packing up my “leftovers,” which were considerable, I looked again at the menu. How could I do this write-up and not taste the Kasha Varniska (bow tie noodles with barley), gefilte fish or a pastrami on rye sandwich? What about a black-and- white cookie or Matzo Brei (scrambled eggs with crumbled matzos)?
All of this, dear reader, rests heavily on my shoulders. But do not fret, I valiantly move on. Happily loaded down with leftovers, I walked over to the cashier to pay the bill. I noticed a bunch of halvah bars, a sesame candy that is pure nostalgia for me and something I have rarely seen for sale anywhere.
“I’ll take eight of those, please,” I say to the cashier. “That’s a lot of food,” he says. “I’m very hungry,” I tell him, as he adds them to my shopping bags.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.