Table Talk: Election could mean menu change at Chick & Ruth's
Among other sandwiches, the jumbo lump crab cake is still looking for a namesake
Former governor Marvin Mandel and staff assistant Paul Dorsey (right) read area newspapers after ordering lunch at Chick & Ruth's Delly in downtown Annapolis. (File photo)
Chick Levitt began the sandwich-naming tradition right after opening his family's Main Street delicatessen in 1965. Only about half of the first group of sandwiches were named for politicians — the rest were for local institutions and landmarks. Then, in 1968, Levitt had a revelation. "My father decided that all of the sandwiches would be named for politicians," Ted Levitt remembers. "They came in all the time, and my father wanted to honor them."
Ted Levitt now runs the family business. He's always happy to talk about the tradition — he gets asked a lot. One rule evolved naturally: that the honor would generally be reserved for Chick & Ruth's regular customers. Today, too, a sandwich is named only for a sitting politician; the defeated and the retired usually have their names stripped off the menu.
There are exceptions to both rules, but more when it comes to the second one. A handful of sandwiches have, in fact, become permanent menu items. Most prominent among these is the No. 16, the Marvin Mandel, which always has been and always will be corned beef and chopped liver on rye. Not that the 90-year-old former governor still indulges in his former favorite sandwich, although he is still a regular customer. Sandwich No. 8 — salami, Swiss and onion on rye — is still the William Donald Schaefer. The regular rule doesn't apply to sandwiches named for the sitting president and vice president, and no rule applies to sandwich No. 17, lox, cream cheese, onion, and tomato, served open face on a bagel — the Golda Meir.
Levitt explained that the decision about who merits a sandwich name is entirely his and his family's; no one has ever bullied his name onto Chick & Ruth's menu. Usually, there's a waiting period for fresh incumbents, as they establish themselves as regulars. The honoree gets to choose his sandwich from among the specialty menu's unclaimed sandwiches. The fried haddock, No. 6, is currently unclaimed. Alternately, he or she may create a new sandwich, with the Levitts' guidance.
But then, there's No. 53. Levitt introduced a jumbo lump crab cake to the dinner menu last year, which has turned into a runaway success for the restaurant. (This is not to be confused with No. 79, the crab cake wrap still named for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Levitt is proud of the cake itself — which he thinks has few rivals in the state — but even prouder for keeping its price at $12.99. ("Why should I need to make more money on the crab cake than I do with another sandwich?") Whomever the crab cake is named for, Levitt believes, it is the biggest naming decision he'll ever make.
"I always think of what my father would have done," Levitt says, "and then I can't go wrong."
Chick & Ruth's Delly is at 165 Main St. in Annapolis. Call 410-269-6737. The website, where you can view — and even print out — the current list of specialty sandwiches is chickandruths.com.
Gordito's It's been years since there's been a reliable Mexican restaurant on the Charles Street corridor. A downtown version of Holy Frijoles was the last one, and that closed years ago.
Featuring a sizable menu of Tex-Mex classics, Gordito's Cafe opened Monday, in the Charles Street space where Milton's Grill gave it a good try for a few years. You can take a look at gorditoscafe.com. Gordito's Cafe opens daily at 10:30 a.m., and stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends. The phone number is 443-759-7420.