Chances are, a deli that's been in business for 26 years has little left to prove. And with a second shop that's survived competition on a stretch of Lombard Street known as Corned Beef Row, it's a fair bet that it belongs in the upper tiers of the delicatessen pecking order.
So why would you risk opening a third location less than two miles from your second shop? Well, if you could bring your prized menu to a new spot with a great view of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, maybe it's not much of a risk.
Lenny's Deli opened its Harborplace location a couple of months ago, and while general manager Brian Needel says they treat the corned beef a bit differently and have added a few items unique to the new shop, it's still Lenny's.
11:48 Just before noon, after a quick gander at the lengthy overhead menu, we're able to walk up and order with no wait, though there are already several tables filled. The goal was to pick classic deli sandwiches with a couple of sides. The choices: a Reuben ($8.99) with Western fries and a pastrami and Swiss on rye ($7.99) with onion rings. The sandwiches are a simple test of any deli. The fries and rings? They sounded good, so why not?
Lenny's has logged more than a quarter century at its Owings Mills location, and a couple of decades on Corned Beef Row, which has got to be a tough neighborhood for a Jewish deli; expectations run high, and the competition is Attman's. An early June grand opening marked nine weeks at its newest location, the Pratt Street Pavilion in Harborplace, which recently announced that the Bubba Gump Shrimp outfit will take over the space vacated by Phillips.
Lenny's newest spot will net tourists and office denizens who might never drift east to the Row, to say nothing of hiking out to the wilds of Owings Mills in search of a nice lean brisket. Of course, it also offers diners a premium perk in its view of the Inner Harbor. And Lenny's makes the most of it.
11:56 We collect our sandwiches and choose one of many booths running along the harborside flank of the restaurant. The seating is comfortable and roomy, easily accommodating four adults. Each table is a perch from which to study pedestrian activity: lots of tourists, shoppers, and office dwellers taking in the harbor. The promenade's display of sartorial diversity is probably worth whatever price you pay for your meal. The clear sky flashing on the water and the yacht-filled skyline across the way ain't bad either. Nice location.
As for those sandwiches? If you're a Lenny's fan, you're unlikely to be disappointed.
The pastrami and Swiss on rye is a solid build, with tender, peppery meat, thinly sliced and thickly stacked. You can guide the creation of these sandwiches, and we specified Swiss as the cheese choice. Lenny's delivered its melted glory in abundance. Along with the rye bread, this was a well-balanced and filling sandwich.
The Reuben's quality matched the pastrami's, but the kraut and Russian dressing made it challengingly sloppy and, therefore, more fun. You may be tempted to use a knife and fork. And yes, the bread is grilled to a buttery golden-brown: an important detail.
12:13 A line reaches from Lenny's order/cashier station to the entrance, and maybe a customer or two beyond. Looks like the word's gotten out about Lenny's new location.
Lenny's adds to its sandwich listings salads, baked and fried chicken, and roast beef, chicken and turkey platters along with about a dozen sides, including Western fries ($3.69) and onion rings ($3.99).
The fries are plump and, except for a tissue-thin outer skin, they could pass for wedges of baked potato. Not a lot of seasoning here, but the spuds are hot, hearty and filling. The rings employ the thicker, grainy, yellow-gold variety of batter and the sweet onions play nicely against the crunchy crust.
12:19 We paid when we picked up our orders, so we're free to leave with lots of time to spare in our allotted lunch hour. A staffer comes by to bus our table, a service we did not expect — considering there are stations where patrons can dump trash and stack trays and baskets not far from the exit.
Lenny's at Harborplace serves the same broad menu, breakfast included, from its 8 a.m. opening to its 8 p.m. close. If you work nearby or visit with regularity, this shop will be a welcome dining option for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
Lenny's in Harbor Place
Where: 201 E. Pratt St. Baltimore
Contact: 410-230-0222, lennysdeli.com
Lunch hours: 8:00 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Lunch entrees: $3.99-$14.99
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or Uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]