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Philadelphia's Jewish Delis


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#1 rlibkind

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:11 AM

The appearance tomorrow night of David Sax, author of Save the Deli, at the Free Public Library (7:30 p.m., Central Library, 19th & Vine) prompts me to start this topic where we can write about our favs (or not favs). Although there are a couple of topics about a particular deli, a topic search didn't uncover a central repository for Jewish deli info in Philadelphia.

At Tuesday's author session, which is free, noshes will be supplied by Hershel's and Rachel's Nosheri. Hershel's will be providing pastrami.

I haven't been to Rachel's for at least a dozen years. Back then I didn't regard it as a standout, but that fact that it's been in business for 15 or 20 years at that location suggests they must be doing something right. Anyone been recently?

Here are some other Center City delis that I have yet to try, or haven't been to in quite some time. Can anyone offer any recent reports?

  • Pumpernicks. From the folks who used to operate the short-lived deli under the Bellevue where the jazz club later located. Pumpernick's pastrami was nice and fatty last time I tried it, but that was about a dozen years ago.
  • Pickles Plus. The pickled tomatoes on the bowl always found my favor.
  • Famous Fourth Street. I frequent the original, but has anyone been to the new location on S. 19th?
  • Pastrami & Things. Never been here.
  • Kibitz in the City. I was only there once, about 8 or 9 years ago; pastrami was okay, just too salty; at that time they were importing their pastrami from Chicago (Vienna Beef).
Any I've missed in Center City?

I haven't listed Hershel's or the original Famous because I frequent both. But no reason why we can't comment upon them here.

The Famous is a stage set of a deli, ready for the camera. And the food is spot-on, from the bowl of pickles to the rye bread to the kishka. This place is more than corned beef and pastrami. It's a cross between a deli and an old-fashioned "appy" or appetizing store, which specialized in fish and dairy products rather than meat. Since The Famous isn't kosher they sell meat, fish and dairy. As good as the sandwiches are, I'd rather come here for dinner and order the stuffed cabbbage or flanken platters. Russ Cowan (a serial deli operator) certainly improved upon the quality of food when he took over the joint.

Hershel's, open for about two years, is located at center court in the Reading Terminal Market. They started out falling just a tad short in my initial pastrami test, but they've constantly improved and now offer the best in town. Plus, all meats are hand-carved, just like at Katz's. The corned beef and pastrami are cured in-house, and the brisket is heavenly, especially when you ask them not to trim too much fat off! But if you like it lean, that's their standard.

Feel free to add posts not just about Center City delis, but any of your favs in the Northeast and burbs.
Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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#2 mattohara

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 11:44 AM

Kibitz Room on 15th and Locust. The meat is god but the overall corned beef sandwich experience is lacking. It's just a bunch of meat on some soft bread. That's all I've had so I can't go into more detail. In addition somebody else goes and picks it up for lunch so I've never even been inside the place.
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#3 Holly Moore

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 12:51 PM

I'm a semi-regular at Rachel's in the AM for a bagel and cream cheese. Do the occasional Pastrami or corned beef special. I'd rate them as fine, but not extraordinary. People are nice. Rachel's father, who is still active in the business, used to run the Latimer Deli back when it was the official deli of the Philadelphia Ballet.

I want to be a fan of 4th Street in its current form, but am not. Quantity rules, quality sometimes comes in a poor second. Was really disappointed with a couple of breakfasts - the corned beef hash and scrambled eggs with lox and onions. Also, my perception at least, the Famous chocolate chip cookies they give away with the check are smaller than the real ones. Cheesecake is good, some of the other humongous desserts, not so much. Haven't tried them for dinner though I did take home an overcooked rotisserie chicken once.

My favorite, by far, Hershel's.

Edited by Holly Moore, 02 November 2009 - 12:55 PM.

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#4 Sfuffy

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 01:46 PM

Kibitz Room on 15th and Locust. The meat is god but the overall corned beef sandwich experience is lacking. It's just a bunch of meat on some soft bread. That's all I've had so I can't go into more detail. In addition somebody else goes and picks it up for lunch so I've never even been inside the place.


I've eaten at the Kibitz Room a couple of times. The corned beef, thankfully, isn't thin, cold and tightly packed Philly-style but I find it much too lean, a little fat would give it some more flavor. I agree about the bread - soft rye bread seems to be a common problem around here. I remember having a corned beef sandwich at Kibitz in the City a while back where the heat and moisture of the meat practically disintegrated the bread.

One nice thing about the Kibitz Room is that they have a pickle bar (a la Harold's in NJ) with various pickles, pickled green tomatoes, new kraut, etc. Though the Claremont Salad (or Health Salad as they and the natives put it) needs to be marinated longer.

#5 Bluehensfan

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 05:02 AM

While wandering around with son in halloween costume last week around Rittenhouse in the rain, we were in need of a quick bite and stopped into the Kibitz Room on Locust. My wife and son split a pastrami sandwich and found it to be delicious. It was very good IMO and we all found it to be less salty than say Katz's or Hershels. I saw a glaring hunk of rare roast beef, so I ordered a sandwich and found it to be very good as well, although not quite as good as when you get rare roast beef at DiNic's prior to entering the dunking tank (Bob can explain this one...) The potato pancakes with the sandwiches were tasty and I picked up a few decent rainbow cookies on the way out. They also had a lot of mammoth looking desserts in the case but thankfully I passed on them. All in all it was very good and I would not hesitate to return.

#6 cinghiale

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 06:20 AM

IIRC, Russ Cowan is/was behind Pastrami and Things (it's hard to keep up with what he's opened/upgraded/sold). Same with Kibitz in the City, plus Famous 4th Street (twice), and now the Famous CC branch and, apparently, Kibbitz Room. He's pretty close to cornering the Philly market on Jewish delis -- or maybe he's a Johnny Appleseed type...

#7 rlibkind

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Posted 03 November 2009 - 07:11 AM

As I noted earlier, Russ is a "serial" deli guy. They are not at all uncommon: folks who are entrepreneurs, start a business, develop it and get it operating efficiently, then make their real money in selling it as a turnkey operation. A cousin from Queens did this regularly with Manhattan coffee/sandwich shops, and I've known a couple of deli guys who've done the same. Keeps them from getting bored.
Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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