A Taste Of New York

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris July 11, 2021 11:23 in Dining Diary

There is a question that comes up infrequently on the radio show, and I would like the answer to it myself. It is: where is there a great Jewish bagel around town? Curiously, despite a respectably-sized Jewish community here, local bagel options are few. A regular caller to the radio show is a big fan of Stein’s Market & Deli, and he said the Davidovich bagel there, imported from the Northeast, is a great one.

And that’s what brought me to Stein’s Deli on this drive-through-for-food-Saturday. I invited my brother to meet for a quick lunch, but he took so long to confirm that I just ordered it for pick-up. After leaving the place I called to thank him, because had he come to meet me, I would have had to stay there, and eat, and that would have been untenable.

I have often said that for me a large part of any dining experience is the atmosphere, or in this case, the hipper, newer version to describe the feeling of a place definitely applies - vibe. And this vibe is edgy….urban...gritty, and frankly, a little scary to a rural dweller like me. Like a place you would find in the East Village, it is grimy, loud, buzzing, cluttered, and full of people I don’t want to chat with, and vice versa.

It started on the phone when I placed the order. It was a gruff guy, very Northeastern in demeanor. Our conversation was short, and I’m really glad I knew what I wanted. The guys behind the counter were much nicer in person. They seem to have a blast working together. The order was ready when I arrived, and I added an everything bagel at the last minute.

Normally I would linger a while to soak in the place, but I did a quick pass around and left. It’s not much of a market, with a few shelves of some eclectic ingredients, some drinks in a case, some housemade loaves of bread, of course deli meats, and an unusual amount of T-shirts. The remainder of the walls were crammed with pictures and a portrait of owner Dan Stein. The little coffee corner was buzzing. It is appropriately called Whatever.

The above diatribe explains what to me is wrong with Stein’s Deli, but what is right for so many others. What IS right with it for me is everything in my bag. Delicious!

I ordered a Muphuletta, their version of our classic local sandwich, A Dan, which I mistakenly thought was their version of a club, a Reuben, and an Italian hoagie, as well as a Greek salad. And the bagel, which turned out to be the least good thing in that bag.

The Muphuletta was the first thing I tried. Tom says that the sandwich is named for the type of bread - muffuletta is a word from a rarely-used Sicilain dialect, meaning a thick round loaf of bread. This sandwich had a smaller and denser seedless round loaf of very toasted Ciabatta, filled with Mortadella, Tuscan Ham, Molinari Sopressata, aged Provolone, housemade olive salad and garlic vinaigrette. This was to be eaten Tom’s way, room temp ingredients between toasted bread. This was a delectable sandwich, overstuffed with first class meats sliced paper thin and held together by a dense and flavorful bread, toasted just so.

The Italian hoagie also sounded great, but it turned out to be similar to the Muphuletta. It too was overstuffed with deli meats like Mortadella, Molinari Hot Coppa and Genoa Salami, as well as aged Provolone. Dressings like lettuce, tomatoes, and onion were accompanied by garlic vinaigrette as well. All this on an Amoroso hoagie roll.

The Dan was unimpressive, except for more first class ingredients. Thick slices of Honey turkey,(and plenty of them) were layered along with Nueske’s bacon, pretty slices of red tomato (with actual tomato flavor) as well as fresh green lettuce on untoasted wheat bread smeared with mayo and mustard. A boring presentation but the first class ingredients made it tasty. And tomatoes that taste like anything are always a real find. 

The Reuben might have been the best example of ingredient perfection. The corned beef was the pinnacle of this deli item, layered thickly with all the other classic regulars on this sandwich. Great sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on a delicious rye bread, this was good stuff.

The small Greek salad was also very nice. Generous for $3.99, the container bursted over with fresh green lettuce, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, and slices of purple onion and cucumber, the lemon vinaigrette was a perky touch.

I would like to have tried some sides, so I ordered potato salad and coleslaw, but I didn’t discover them missing until much later.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the thing that prompted the visit - the bagel. I thought it doughy, but otherwise okay, but just that. It’s a new-fangled artisan bagel from a bakery founded in 1998, so it’s not even classic New York. I’ve had way better.

There was a television show recently where Mason Hereford, (another transplant and owner of the famous Turkey and The Wolf) declared “The best sandwich in New Orleans is Stein’s Deli right down the street,”

I disagree. The place to get a sandwich in New Orleans should be a New Orleans sandwich, maybe a block away at The Little Jewel, a place with New Orleans-style sandwiches and a New Orleans vibe. Stein’s Deli makes wonderful sandwiches for a New York or Northeastern style deli. But it doesn’t represent New Orleans. It doesn’t even have a fryer, and in this town, that could be considered blasphemy.