In search of a passable pastrami on rye

FINDING A GOOD corned beef on rye in Dallas is a lot like finding a Highland Park teen-ager who doesn’t have a Trans Am: It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. There’s no shortage of eateries in town that call themselves delicatessens. But a real deli is more than the name. It needs a crowded, frenzied atmosphere; it needs countermen who bark out orders to the kitchen in accents that are pure Flatbush or fractured Yiddish; it needs middle-age waitresses who are curt and efficient -if not downright surly; it needs autographed pictures of the owner or founder with Georgie Jessel and Myran Cohen. And it needs sandwiches that contain at least four pounds of corned beef or pastrami or turkey breast. Other culinary offerings are important, too: potato salad and coleslaw and dill pickles and Dr. Brown’s soda and lox and bagels and baby Swiss and cheese Danish. But the sandwiches are the real test.

We visited a couple of dozen places in Dallas that could be called delicatessens. Some were truer to the name than others – though the latter often were good enough places to grab a bite.

We found a place in Richardson that makes the best bagels this side of Lexington Avenue. We found a place in Oak Lawn that takes a back seat to no one in the cheese Danish department. We found a French cafe and an Italian restaurant that could qualify as delis with their selection of meats and cheeses. And we found a real deli that serves the best Italian meatball sandwich we’ve ever had.

Dallas delis are basically lunchtime-only operations. Most close by 3 p.m., although a few keep serving until 5. A couple are open through dinner and offer some dinner-style meals in addition to the regular sandwich menu. Call and ask for the hours before heading out for an evening of turkey breast on rye.

We should probably start with the bub-bameister of Dallas delidom: Phil’s Delicatessen, 3531 Oak Lawn. Phil’s has the most extensive menu of any other establishment – bagels to blintzes, beef tongues to chicken livers. Most of the sandwiches are served club-style – meats and cheeses layered between three pieces of toasted bread, the whole sandwich then quartered. The meats are generally flavorful and lean, but the helpings are more standard sandwich-shop than deli. And the cheeses are sometimes old and rubbery, not smooth and mellow. In fact, inconsistency is a major problem at Phil’s. The best bets are the Phil Burger – plenty of real, fresh hamburger on an onion bun; and the homemade cheesecake and cheese danish, which are the best in Dallas. Too, the clientele, a mulitifarious m坢lange of Oak Lawn’s old and new residents, makes any visit interesting. The service is sporadic and sometimes sullen, just like in a real New York establishment.

Wall’s Delicatessen, 10749 Preston, is another established noshery. The menu at. Wall’s isn’t as extensive as Phil’s and the crowd is more family-oriented, but the efficient service and consistency might make up for the differences. The sandwiches are offered both club-style and regular-style. We found the corned beef the best bet, and the potato salad is first-class, too.

The Black Forest Delicatessen, 5819 Blackwell, is a different kettle of gefilte fish. It’s a German restaurant more than a deli, though it’s that, too. Besides the sandwiches, the offerings include excellent German potato salad (vinegary and spicy), sauerkraut and bratwurst, keilbasa and other sausages. The Black Forest has a bakery, too, and any trip should include a sample of the baker’s wares. Service is Teutonic-efficient and cheery.

Italian meatballs in a deli? Mac’s Gourmet, 6026 Luther Lane in Preston Center, will make a believer of you. The meatballs are smothered in a spicy but subtle sauce that’s not too long on the oregano, as so many are. Mac’s offers the usual sandwiches, a couple of soups daily and lots of subs. Also, there’s a daily special, offering a bargain price on one of the standard menu entries.

Reichman’s menu is much more limited, but this small establishment, at 215 Preston Royal, features sandwiches that are loaded with good, lean meats and cheeses at their peak age and temperature. You can order your sandwich on an onion roll, pumpernickel or rye, and it comes with a creamy, subtle potato salad. Get there early for the best selection: On one visit we found that they were down to only a couple of meat selections because of a heavy and unexpected lunch run.

You also need to arrive early at Bagels-tein’s (8104 Spring Valley Road). Although it advertises an 8 p.m. closing time, we were told at 7:40 that we would have to order our sandwich to-go because they were preparing to close (they were all going bowling, we overheard while awaiting our order). The sandwiches come with single or double meat, depending on how much you want and how much you want to spend. We recommend doubling, and we recommend the bagels, which are the specialty and are made on the premises.

The Bagel Emporium, 7522 Campbell Road, makes its own bagels, too, and they’re the best we’ve found in Dallas. Tough and crunchy and chewy, like good bagels are supposed to be. The Emporium’s menu is not very extensive, but what the cooks do, they do well. The corned beef is juicy, flavorful and tender, and is perfectly layered between a biafyl, a bagel- like roll that makes for a great sandwich. The service here is prompt and down-home casual. This was one of the best stops on our deli tour.

One of the most authentic delicatessens we found is one of the most unlikely: Cindy’s, at 11111 N. Central Expressway. The atmosphere is early-Denny’s, but the menu is strictly early-, middle- and late-deli. Cindy’s menu is moderately extensive, with no surprises: good, solid sandwiches, potato salad and creamy coleslaw; Dr. Brown’s sodas and cheesecake. You’ll get a healthier supply of goodies in your sandwich than most Dallas delis, and the up-front countermen and their shouted orders to the kitchen make for authentic atmosphere, despite the Formica and Naugahyde.

Ernie’s, 4412 Lovers Lane, serves up the standard corned beef and pastrami and turkey breast, on your choice of breads, plus slaw and potato salad. Basic, if not outstanding.

Grim’s Wynnewood Delicatessen, in the Wynnewood Shopping Center on Illinois, while not anything special, serves up good basic sandwiches. Its menu is limited to the standard fillings, with several kinds of cheeses as an option and includes all-beef hot dogs. Also, you can get your sandwich on rye, egg bread or an onion roll. Good potato salad, too.

Der Deli, 2505 Promenade, has a limited menu, served cafeteria-style. We found the hot pastrami lean and just right; the slightly sweet slaw, a perfect complement.

The last two stops are unusual: One is French-run, the other purports to be Italian, but both offer precooked meats and cheeses by the pound, so we think they qualify.

Frenchy’s Cafe, 5940 Royal Lane, serves its sandwiches on croissants and on French bread, which is a nice change from the usual. The sandwich offerings are limited, but every one we tried was deli-cieaux (how can a croissant packed with rare roast beef miss?). The restaurant is open until 7:30 p.m. and features lots of other goodies: homemade pates, daily specials, quiche, chocolate mousse and other fancier-than-deli desserts.

DiPalma, 1520 Greenville, is a cornucopia of deli fare, plus some of the bestpastries in Dallas. There are usually abouta dozen different desserts available, andvarious hot specials that tend towardquasi-continental. We’ve found that thecold offerings and the deli-style entries arebetter bets than the dinners, which are erratic. Open until 10p.m.


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