February 4, 2008 | Insatiable Critic

Second Avenue Deli: Shy of a Renaissance

 Sliver of its former self, this deli is more of a burp than a trend. Photo: Steven Richter.
Sliver of its former self, this deli is more of a burp than a trend.  Photo: Steven Richter.


    The new reconstituted Second Avenue Deli on a quiet side street is a bittersweet triumph – a mere sliver of the landmark it once was, minus the Molly Picon room and its walk of Yiddish stars in the pavement out front, bereft of its mostly surly waiters. It’s almost sacrilegious going from Jewish haunts on Second to Irish turf on Third (although corned beef is a shared obsession), leaving Zero Mostel memorialized in front of yet another bank.


Icon of carefree days before cholesterol was invented.  Photo: Steven Richter


     Yet puckering up over sour pickles and biting into a very good pastrami and tongue sandwich with cole slaw and swathings of Russian dressing (on wimpy rye), brings back a cherished old deli nostalgia. Growing up in Detroit, we found our corned beef at Boesky’s…yes that same Boesky, only we pronounced it with three syllables.  Our sixsome, eager to taste everything again, eats with the innocence of the days when calories counted but not much and cholesterol hadn’t been invented. Crisp curls of gribenes, deep-fried chicken skin and onions, make a delicious amuse bouche, a touching lagniappe from Jeremy Lebewohl, nephew of the founder Abe. My craving to taste stuffed derma once again gets stifled in the jockeying for traditional favorites.


And the coleslaw is healthy. Photo: Steven Richter

And the coleslaw is healthy. Photo: Steven Richter

    A $9.95 portion of the dark, grownup, deliciously meaty chopped liver (unpolluted with chopped egg as some are) is enough for a couple of smears each.  Then we’re on to sharing sensational egg barley with mushrooms, the classic mushroom barley soup, thickly primitive potato pancakes (fried too far ahead perhaps or in a factory somewhere?) and shockingly commercial fries from a house whose fries were once major contenders for best in town. Does it really matter?  Who needs fries when the salami is spunky; the pastrami respectably peppery, and the house-cured corned beef reasonably juicy (triple deckers $16.50 to $22.95). The frail, aging, Chinese bus “boy” is still around in his Second Avenue Deli tee and our Egyptian waiter brings small glasses of dairy-free egg creams and foil to wrap up the leftovers.


162 East 33rd Street near Third Avenue. 212 677 0606.

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