The (New) 2nd Ave. Deli

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Oh, The 2nd Ave. Deli. Remember how much I loved it? I blogged about the original here, here, and here. It was my favorite New York Deli; more inviting than Katz’s, less touristy than Carnegie. And then it disappeared and became a Chase Manhattan Bank.

When the new one opened up on 3rd Ave. and 33rd Street I was dubious. To state the obvious: who wants to visit The 2nd Ave. Deli on 3rd Ave? Second of all, how can you transfer the magic of a New York institution to a completely different venue? That just doesn’t happen; you can’t relocate The Museum of Natural History, you can’t relocate The 2nd Ave. Deli. I stayed away.

My parents were here this weekend, though, and since I was still feeling crummy I suggested some place that had soup. Preferably chicken noodle soup.

“Which place has that?” asked my mom.

“The 2nd Ave. Deli!” I said, surprising myself. But this was the perfect opportunity to check the new place out: of all the New York traditions I’d adopted for myself since moving here in 2004, one of my most cherished was the tradition of eating chicken soup at the 2nd Ave. Deli when I had a cold. Here was a chance to revive that tradition.

On Saturday at 1 PM, mom and dad joined Craig and I at a table for four near the back:

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My dad, who’s a relatively good sport when we force him to eat froofy four-star food, couldn’t have been happier with the choice.

“Yes,” he’d said instantly when I suggested the idea over the phone.

At the deli, we all ordered the best thing to order there: soup and half a sandwich for $14.95. The soup? Matzoh ball.

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Oh 2nd Ave. Deli soup, you’ve come back to me! Next to Momofuku’s chicken ramen (which I call Asian Penicillin), this is my favorite chicken soup in New York. It’s rich, it’s flavorful, and it’s healing. There’s nothing better for a sick person than The 2nd Ave. Deli’s chicken soup. And the matzoh ball? Light as a feather. And with those big rounds of carrot, this is an iconic New York dish.

(Please note the can of Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda on the upper right; that’s your required drink, with Celery Soda as an acceptable alternative.)

Mom, getting into the spirit of things, ordered potato pancakes for the table:

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I must say, this was the meal’s only misfire. I found the pancakes to be flavorless, and the texture unpleasantly woolen. But who needs potato pancakes when you have soup that good and half a sandwich to look forward to?

Craig, the only non-Jew at the table, did not react kindly to my choice of chopped liver:

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It was a pretty imposing site: that giant mound of pureed chicken liver and onions. My grandmother, strangely, always warned against chopped liver (“It’s an organ meat!” she’d say; when I ask her now what’s wrong with eating organ meat, she says, “I don’t know–but I know it’s bad for you!” It’s her birthday today, by the way; happy birthday, grandma!)

I enjoyed my chopped liver, but I could hardly eat all of it. I scraped a lot off and took a few bites of what was left. Eating this kind of food so early in the day is sort of like a day death sentence; like agreeing to carry around a bag of bricks for the rest of the afternoon.

Craig had half a pastrami sandwich which is probably the smartest thing to do:

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I had a taste of Craig’s pastrami (I think mom and dad both had pastrami also) and I’ll concede it’s not as good as Katz’s. Katz’s pastrami is steamed until it’s dreamily tender and moist; this was tender but not particularly moist.

Still, I prefer the 2nd Ave. experience to the Katz’s experience; you feel more taken care of at 2nd Ave., at Katz’s, it’s a struggle.

At the end of our meal, they gave each of us a shot of chocolate soda:

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It was a nice touch and a gesture that speaks to everything I love about The 2nd Ave. Deli; more than any other New York Deli, it’s a loving, smothering Jewish mother of a deli. Sure they shuffle you in and out; they can be a bit gruff when a waiter asks you to get out of the way; but the bounty of food they put down before you–the pickles, the coleslaw, the mound of chopped liver, the giant potato pancakes, the huge rings of carrot in the chicken soup–speaks to a generosity of spirit that makes this an important New York deli, one that can survive a transplant unscathed.

I am here to report that the greatness survives; 2nd. Ave is back and I couldn’t be happier. Plan to see me there as the weather continues to chill; cold or no cold, I’ll be there.

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