Kenny & Zuke’s delicatessen: Paradise for the inner carnivore

What am I… Chopped Liver?

If the sight of an employee with a shirt saying “Body by Pastrami,” a bustling meat counter, the sausages hanging along the wall and the slightly smoky smell of cured meat as we walked into Kenny & Zuke’s aren’t enough to redefine your definition of a “deli,” try the food.

Their claim as an “artisan delicatessen,” (not just “Deli”) is well-deserved, as Kenny & Zuke’s appeals to the adventurous, and guarantees a meal to satisfy a hungry appetite.

We were received and seated within a few minutes, and our waiter klunked water glasses on our table accompanied by what resembled a glass milk bottle filled with water–eyebrow raising. Next, the friendly statement, big and bold on their menu “Please, no cellphones at dinner. Mute your ringer at other times & respect the peace of other diners. Thanks!”– truly, another world. Their menu presented a whole range of (unpronounceable) foreign vocabulary– like kugel, Lox, knish, and rugelach among the familiar sandwich. A person not faint of heart could even try their tongue (oddly enough, like chicken, although with a distinct chewy texture) and chopped liver (minced with spices, resembling a pasty, hummus-like consistency.) Although they specialize in meats, they do also provide a small selection of dishes– including Latkes, salads, and a Hungarian Mushroom Soup to appease vegetarians, and a page of their menu devoted to breakfast foods, and an acceptable-priced, eye-catching dessert section (that I wished I tried), all with the same exotic tag.

The waiters (we had several) didn’t undertake any extra efforts to be friendly and acted more impersonal despite the atmosphere, but nevertheless, compromised to our needs, and our food arrived promptly. Those who come hungry will not be disappointed–one must be warned though, that a “double-decker sandwich,” despite its normal-sized slices of bread, is a good 3-inches thick.  I was tempted to try their famous pastrami (as they claimed), but instead went for the supposedly more normal-portioned Classic Reuben, (– $16, notably pricey for a sandwich: all of their sandwiches stay in the range from about $12 to $17) with a side of fries, and still ended up packing leftovers. Though probably authentic to the type of food, the Jewish-American flavors of caraway-seed (that sprinkled everything) were not particular favorites of mine, and the corned beef contained a rather overwhelming infusion of spices, which, along with the Russian sauce, rendered the kraut to resemble it’s ancestor: tasteless cabbage. Nevertheless, sandwiched between toasted rye bread and swiss cheese, it made for a meal that fulfilled my standards.

We took the right choice in coming early as the room filled within the hour, and several groups stood waiting in line on our way out. All in all, it deserves a good, solid, B+. For those who are looking for a unique dining experience, and “foreign” food to broaden one’s horizon of tastes, and is a fan of sandwiches–Kenny & Zukes, tucked away on the corner of Stark Street in downtown Portland, is no let-down.