December 11, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
A Deli without Soul

Lansky’s Old Fashioned Deli bites off more than it can chew. Photo: Steven Richter 
Lansky’s Old Fashioned Deli bites off more than it can chew. Photo: Steven Richter

        If you’re old enough you may recall the brilliant ad wisdom of “You don’t need to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” Agreed. I never doubted Chef-partner David Ruggiero could pull off Lansky’s Old World Deli in a sprawling space charmingly done-up like a vintage clasic in tile and etched glass on Columbus Avenue. The Brooklyn-born ex-boxer, one time starry chef at La Caravelle has boundless imagination, as we learned when he pleaded guilty in 1999 to stealing more than $140,000 by padding tips on customers’ credit card bills at his own 57th Street restaurant.

        So here we are, seated at a tiny two-top, the Road Food Warrior facing Little Rascals movies on a TV screen behind my head, me just far enough not to be distracted from I Love Lucy on another. We crunch on sour pickles and polish off a big bowl of innocuous cole slaw (neither over-mayo’d nor over-vinegar’d but alas, not actually seasoned) while studying the menu, an exhaustive encyclopedia of Jewish deli options and themes with variations, like six different Ruebens and Lansky’s Devil Dogs, foot long deep-fried hot dogs with any three of fifteen toppings. My pulse races.  Potato pancakes. Noodle pudding. Stuffed derma. The triple-decker: a heart attack on rye with Russian dressing. Everything I ever loved in a deli. And so cheap. Why isn’t the place jammed, I wonder? In one slurp of soup I know. The cheese blintzes are not offensive but the listless mushroom and barley sludge served in a bowl the size of a small sink is. Macaroni is cheese mucilage in another big bowl. “Is this really the $3 side of macaroni?” I marvel.

        “Oh yes,” the waiter says proudly. Okay, it’s big. For some New Yorkers that will be joy enough.

        A runner tries to find room on the teeny table for our sandwiches. “Take them back,” I cry. “That’s our main course.” The waiter scolds the poor innocent and sends him away.

        Steven’s corned beef is dry and flavorless. (One should probably not ever say “lean” in a deli.) Amazingly, my pastrami with admirably rare roast beef, commercial Swiss cheese, and cole slaw with not enough Russian dressing is still warm when it returns. Though I have to unstuff the too soft, hugely overstuffed rye bread to get my mouth around it, it’s not bad at all. I take home the second half for a homeless man who sleeps on a bench outside the subway.

        Maybe you can go home again. But you can’t go deli again. Not if, like me, you have memories of The Carnegie when it was the real thing.

235 Columbus Avenue at 70th Street. 212 787 0400