Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Can a German Catholic Girl from Iowa . . .

make better chopped liver than most Jewish delis? That is the question of the day.

As much as we enjoy sampling various regional foods on our travels, every once in a while we want a taste of the familiar. And we have a real fondness (alright, almost an obsession) with Jewish deli sandwiches. And you need to be near a major population center to find them. “At Chompie's, Arizona's New York Deli…you'll enjoy the ultimate in East Coast tradition…in the Valley of the Sun. Founded in Phoenix by the Borenstein family, originally from Queens, New York, Chompie's serves up a huge menu…at our three valley locations…” (From the Chompies web site)

It’s not just the menu that reminds the diner of NYC. The walls are decorated with murals depicting famous New York scenes like Macy’s, the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, and Ebbets Field. There is a neon outline of the New York skyline along the top of one wall. And the entire interior is meant to remind one of Grand Central Station.

As soon as we sat down and started reading the very large menu, a plate of full sour and half sour pickles appeared on our table. I am especially fond of the crisper half sours, and lucky me, Chuck doesn’t eat pickles, so these were mine – all mine.

As I said, the menu is large. If we had wanted breakfast, we could have chosen from pages of pancakes, French toast, Belgian waffles, skillets, benedicts, crepes, omelets, “South of the Border” items, bagels, bialys, and choices listed under “Fitness Boot Camp.” But we wanted lunch. Here the menu is equally long. Choices include “Mile High Sandwiches,” “Colossal Reubens,” wraps, burgers, chicken sandwiches, “Chomp-a-dillas,” traditional dinners, soups, and salads.

Chuck looked to the section entitled “Signature Sandwiches.” Here he had his choice of: Ken Witover’s New Yorker - pastrami or corned beef smothered with coleslaw and 1000 island dressing on double baked Jewish rye; Lou’s Phoenician - oven roasted turkey breast with coleslaw and 1000 island dressing on double baked Jewish rye; Aaron’s Choice - hot corned beef and pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and 1000 island dressing on an onion roll; and a host of others. What he chose was Neal’s Nifty Nibbles - three challah cocktail rolls individually stuffed with chopped liver, corned beef, pastrami and Swiss cheese.

I, on the other hand, went to the list of triple deckers where I could chose from: the 5-Town Special - oven roasted turkey, bacon, avocado, jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on multi-grain bread; the Brooklyner - hot pastrami, corned beef, and braised brisket on double baked Jewish rye; the Holland Tunnel Hot - corned beef and pastrami, salami, coleslaw, and 1000 island dressing on double baked Jewish rye; and more. My choice was the Penn Plaza - hot Pastrami, chopped liver, coleslaw, and 1000 island dressing on double baked Jewish rye. We both got a side of cole slaw and added an order of fries and onion strings.

The slaw was good and was light on the vinegar. The fries had been tossed in a light coating (maybe corn starch or a mixture of corn starch and flour). The onion strings were suitably thin but could have been crisper and came with a very good chipotle mayo dipping sauce.

The corned beef that came in one of Chuck’s challah sliders was good quality commercial corned beef (one web reviewer thought it was Hebrew National) and was nicely lean. But I thought it had been sliced too thick, which we have found to be a problem at many restaurants and meat counters. And no amount of indicating that I want the meat sliced very thin seems to work. On the other hand, the pastrami was superior. Heating the meat had rendered the residual fat and made the pastrami moist, tender, and flavorful. And the brining spices that still coated the exterior were like perfume in my mouth.

The downer was the chopped liver which had an overly pronounced liver taste and a pasty texture. Here is where I tie in to this blog’s start. I make what we consider to be the world’s best chopped chicken liver. The livers are cooked with a couple of bay leaves which sweetens the liver taste. And texture is provided by adding finely chopped egg and sautéed minced onion. Since my recipe substitutes butter for schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), it is decidedly not kosher. But we have been hard pressed to find chopped liver that is better or equal at most delis.

So here’s the plan for our next trip to the Phoenix area. We go to Chompies and buy pastrami from their deli counter and rye bread (which was loaded with caraway seed and had a nice chewy crust), and I make the chopped liver at home. And while we are buying the liver and bread, we just might pick up a few pastries from Chompies amazing pastry counter.

With our leftovers in hand, we left satisfied, but not overwhelmed, and give Chompies a 4.0 Addie rating.

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