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Dining review

Essen Room in Pikesville serves up abundance of traditional deli fare

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Talk about serendipitous timing.

Since the Essen Room opened up on Hooks Lane in November, brimming with Jewish deli fare, another Pikesville fixture with a similar menu, Suburban House, closed after more than half a century. Not that the two events are related, mind you. Just saying it’s a little extra luck for the Essen Room.

Located in the former Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. space at the Hooks Village complex, the Essen Room is fueled by good old-fashioned values, starting with the onsite cooking of such deli staples as knishes, kreplach and kugel.

As owner Neil Parish put it last summer when he was getting ready to open, “We utilize a traditional Jewish deli approach. … Our meats are never pre-cut, and every sandwich is completely made to order.”

Of course, those sandwiches offer sizable portions. Maybe not like those leaning-tower-of-Pisa piles made famous at New York’s now-gone Carnegie Deli, but who really craves that excess anyway?

SCENE & DECOR: You don’t expect fancy in a deli. You don’t get fancy here. Counters line one wall; at the opposite end of the room, a soda fountain and a well-stocked pickle bar. In between, plain tables dot the floor, without making it feel too cramped.

APPETIZERS: The potato pancakes ($8; $5 half) tasted more of grease than potato. But the cheese kugel was sensational. This version of the traditional baked treat ($9; $5 half) revealed an exquisitely moist cross between pudding and pound cake. I’d save it for dessert.

ENTREES: Any deli worth its matzo serves lean, flavorful corned beef, which is what we got on fresh rye ($16.95; $12.95 half), with a most agreeable cole slaw on the side. As for the tuna salad sandwich ($16.95; $12.95 half), what’s not to like? Solid white, of course; neither too little nor too much mayo. Sandwiches come with choice of bread and a side (in addition to cole slaw and potato pancakes, choices include potato or macaroni salad, tossed salad, fruit salad or chips).

In a place like this, fries matter, and the Coney Island ones we added for $2 had an excellent external crunch, rich potato taste inside. (Fries are also available separately for $6, $4 half.) A delish knish — we tried the triple-meat variety ($6) — packed crumbled corned beef, pastrami and brisket into flaky dough.

From the deli’s list of “traditional favorites,” a hefty platter of thin-sliced brisket of beef proved super-lean, if dry ($18). For a side, I tried kasha varnishkes, the traditional Jewish buckwheat groats-and-pasta dish that, in this case, tasted gummy and bland.

Among the hot open-faced sandwich selections, our choice of turkey ($18) arrived thin-sliced and ordinary-tasting. But the chicken pot pie ($16) was an unreserved hit, well-stuffed with meat and veggies, cradled in a not-too-thick pastry.

And, since breakfast is served all day, we sampled the challah French toast ($10), which would have benefited from a crispy surface, but boasted a delectably moist center.

DESSERT: With rows of temptations in the baked goods case, you’re spoiled for choice. We dug into a massive portion of checkerboard cake ($9); redeeming the dry chocolate portion was the very fresh-tasting white part, not to mention the generous, fudge-y icing. But I’d still go for the cheese kugel.

DRINKS: A self-serve soft drink stand.

SERVICE: When you use the familiar system of ordering at the counter, taking a number to a table and having your food served, you need personable and patient staffers at that counter to make a good first impression. The friendly Essen Room folks impressed. So did the server who checked on the table later, handled additional orders and supplied the inevitable take-home containers.

The Essen Room

Backstory: Opened by Baltimore native Neil Parish, the deli is patterned after his Kibitz Room, which he started nearly two decades ago in Cherry Hill, N.J., just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Before moving north, Parish learned the ropes of the deli business working at several Baltimore-area establishments.

Signature dish: Corned beef or pastrami on rye

TVs: Six

Where: 25 Hooks Lane, Pikesville

Contact: 410-653-6682, greatpastrami.com/pikesville

Open: Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Credit cards: All major

Handicap accessible: Yes

Bottom line: Like any place with an extensive (almost exhaustive) menu, there’s bound to be a mix of hits and misses, but it’s easy to put together a satisfying nosh here.

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