Jewish delis have come and gone in West Hartford, where a good number of residents mourn Hartford's old-time North End nosheterias with heartbreak (and heartburn). Reuben's, which opened in January, is not your grandpa's deli, but then it's not trying to be. The place was overwhelmed with eager diners when it first opened, but service has improved.
The vibe: You won't be enveloped in garlic- and spice-scented steam here. Sleek blond wooden tables, ketchup-red walls and open shelves stocked with mustard containers, pickle jars, wine bottles and other provisions greet you. T-shirts with sayings such as "Your Cardiologist's Favorite Place" serve as artwork and wait-staff uniforms. A glass case encloses cheesecake, rugelach and babka as well as fixins for "Design It Your Way" salads. (The only greens you saw in the old delis were pickles and way-over-the-hill corned beef.)
The food: On several visits, friends and I sampled a range of traditional dishes.
The potato latkes were nicely crisp and soft inside but lacked what's known in Yiddish as "tam" — zesty flavor. A little grated onion couldn't hurt. The matzo ball soup was flavorful, with three fluffy orbs bobbing in the chicken-y broth.
A cheese, mushroom and onion omelet arrived light and toothsome, and the bagels, from New York City, were chewy outside, tender within. A bagel with lox, cream cheese, onion and tomato drew raves.
A friend found the corned beef hash underwhelming, but we enjoyed various sandwiches. The pastrami, though not offered hot, was tender and spiced right, as were the corned beef and tongue. Generous slices of meatloaf were enlivened by a barbecue-style glaze but were a bit too chilled.
A well-seasoned red Bliss potato salad and coleslaw in a piquant, non-creamy dressing complemented the sandwiches. We had to remind our servers to bring the half-sour pickles, but they were worth the wait: audibly crunchy, not too vinegary or salty, and full of that old-time zip.
If you're looking to avoid the salt and fat most deli-lovers crave, try the designer salad for $8.95. You pick from four kinds of lettuce and a boatload of add-on vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, croutons and more. Eight are included at no charge; more can be added at 50 cents each. Hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, meat strips or scoops of mayo'd salads can be added for $1 or $2 (nova lox bumps it up by $6.) Dressings range from traditional Russian to low-fat sesame ginger.
The sandwiches were overstuffed, but not the jaw-dislocaters you get at the classic New York delis. We were overstuffed, too, so we passed on desserts but saw some impressive cheesecake slices on their way to other tables.
The bill: Nothing here tops $14.95, and that's for a platter of sable, the smoked fish. Hand-sliced nova is $12.95 a platter. The menu says pickles are 99 cents, but we were served them twice at no charge. Soups are $3.95 a bowl, $6.95 a quart. Sandwiches start at $5.95, $12.95 for oversized combos. Entrees include meatloaf, chicken or turkey platters for $11.95 and brisket for $12.95. Breakfast items range from eggs at $4.95 to lox, onions and eggs at $13.95. Challah French toast with berries is $8.95, and a bagel with cream cheese is $2.49. Beer, wine and champagne are available, from $4.95 to $8.95.
The particulars: Reuben's is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Major credit cards accepted.
The verdict: As their T-shirt says: "A little nosh, a lot of naches." And that means pleasure, not Mexican chips. Reuben's Delicatessen 35A LaSalle Road, West Hartford 860-233-3354. Visit them on the Web at www.reubensdelicatessen.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun