Saturday, January 2, 2010

Do You Ever Get a Craving . . .

for a particular food? For us, it has been a craving for hot pastrami on pumpernickel with chopped chicken liver pate and sliced onion. Add a half-sour pickle on the side and I am in deli delight.

One of our first tasks was to find the best Jewish deli in Phoenix. I thought we were on to something when I found information on Scott’s Generations, named the 2008 Best Jewish Deli by the Phoenix New Times. In particular, one reviewer raved about the creamy chopped liver.

“The Snyder family came to the valley in 1988, with the vision of bringing a piece of the Big Apple with them. Six short months later, Scott’s Generations was born. Since June of 1989, Gene and Scott Snyder (father and son) have been serving the valley authentic New York, kosher style deli cuisine. From homemade soups, salads, knishes, meats, and cheesecake to East Coast smoked fish specialties flown in weekly. “ (From the restaurants web site.)

A recent visit proved that even New Times can be wrong. We decided to share one hot pastrami with chicken liver and onion sandwich and one order of potato pancakes. Both items were disappointing. My ideal potato pancake is made from coarsely grated potatoes mixed with egg, flour or matzo meal, and a little grated onion. Fried in oil, a great potato pancake should have a crisp exterior – especially the lacey edges – and a softer, but not mushy, interior.

These reminded both of us of the potato pancakes our mothers made from leftover mashed potatoes. Only slightly crisp with a smooth and soft interior, they had little flavor. And the side of applesauce was of a mediocre commercial variety.

The sandwich was no more satisfying. Yes, I usually prefer lean meat. But pastrami is the one exception to that rule. Without some residual fat to render and moisten the meat, pastrami can be a dry and unappetizing meat. So was the case with Scott’s pastrami. And, while pastrami is a smoked meat, the smoke flavor is usually so understated to be undetectable. This meat reeked of smoke. And, yes, the chopped liver was creamy, but it also had an overly pronounced livery taste. Yuk.

We also ordered a side of fries which turned out to be thick cut crinkle fries and which also weren’t all that great. I am not a fan of thick fries and these did nothing to change my mind.

We were not impressed, and we were not satisfied; Scott’s Generations only merits a 2.0 Addie rating.

So not being thrilled with Scott’s Generations, the search continued. Fortunately, after a further review of the 2008 New Times Best of Phoenix, we learned a local mini-chain (three locations) was deemed to have the best hot pastrami. The Miracle Mile Deli on Camelback in Phoenix became our next dining stop.

While Scott’s had an old fashioned (and somewhat dingy) dining area, Miracle Mile was a bright cavernous room, too brightly lit with fluorescent fixtures. Here, the menu is posted above a cafeteria-style line, and it was so busy that day that dithering to study the various offerings was not an option. So we duplicated exactly our lunch at Scott’s.

What can I say? This is hot pastrami. It was tender, thinly sliced, moist and juicy, and had just enough pepper and seasonings. And no heavy smoked taste. And the moist and creamy chicken liver had been mixed with finely chopped egg. This sandwich could compete with Ben & Irv’s in Southampton, PA.

The potato pancakes were an improvement, but were still not perfect. They had the texture of grated potatoes and had a crisp outer crust, but still lacked the really crisp edges that are my favorite part of a good potato pancake. And I couldn’t detect any taste of grated onion which made them a little bland.

But the accompanying apple sauce may have been one of the best apple sauces ever. Full of quarter inch chunks of apple that retained some texture, the apple taste was not overwhelmed by either sugar or cinnamon.

The Miracle Mile is not a perfect deli, but the sandwich did assuage our deli craving and earns a 4.0 Addie rating. Oh, by the way. Both sandwiches came with great half-sour pickles. Since Chuck doesn’t eat pickles, they were all for me.

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