Restaurant review: Pickles & Rye Deli is an institution 

Pickles & Rye, Oh My!

The delicatessen is an institution, beloved by a legion of devoted customers, and reviled by the customers of a rival. The owners of the new Pickles & Rye Deli are taking a big chance, moving in to the old Deli Unique location, and seeking to reclaim a clientele that may well have fled across the street to a longtime rival. They claim to be a "traditional deli ... with a twist," a slightly updated iteration of the classic with some more gourmet sensibilities applied. There's vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes available, along with the traditional low-fat and kosher options. The clientele evolves, but it stays the same, too.

There's little pretense in the place: Tables are spread throughout a spacious and neutrally-decorated dining room, and a small deli case of to-go specialties sits just inside the front door. It's a deli. Let's not make any bones about it; you're there to eat. The menu certainly doesn't make any excuses: It's all small print, on a large double-sided sheet. There's a lot of food here, available all day, prepared to suit your tastes.

The eponymous items are an appropriate focus here: A bread-and-pickles basket is offered to the table, and should be taken: House-made pickles of the day and dill pickles are a great way to start a meal. The rye bread, made fresh daily, is the archetypal deli rye: seedless, with a tender yet chewy interior and a crisp, crunching, flaky crust. Have it with the mushroom barley or chicken noodle soups, both good with full flavors and generous helpings of the non-broth ingredients. (Seriously, dip the bread in the broth. Do it. It's worth it.)

And have no fear: There's classics on the menu, too. The latkes might not look like bubbe's, but they're pretty good: dense and potato-y, with a crumbly interior and crisp exterior. They're fried and crispy, and served with sour cream and applesauce, like they should be. Deli salad platters satisfy, with generous helpings of salmon salad or chopped liver garnished with sliced vegetables, pickles, and hard-boiled egg, the classical accompaniments that can't be argued with.

You want corned beef or pastrami? Sy Ginsberg's will do, the well-reputed, locally made perennial favorite—straight from Detroit to your belly. A full complement of combo and specialty sandwiches is on offer with the whole host of meats, including the aforesaid corned beef and pastrami, hard and soft salami, roast beef, and house-roasted turkey breast. Some standouts in the special sandwich category, a column full of clever names: The "Tums Tickler" with hot pastrami, fried salami, pepperjack cheese, and mustard is particularly satisfying; and the "Sophisticated Pilgrim," which takes turkey pastrami, arugula, cranberry jam, and havarti, throws them on slices of challah, and makes a whole new experience out of the traditional "leftover sandwich." There's a whole subset of those sandwiches that could be called "Reuben Plus" to suit every taste, from the Reuben-on-a-burger to a simple addition of chopped liver. In the make-your-own category, a dizzying array of breads, toppings, and sauces offer a nearly-infinite set of sandwich options.

Pickles & Rye's goals are ambitious: They're starting out with a lot on offer. Eleven green salads, 11 deli salads, seven soups, seven burgers, 17 combination sandwiches (not to mention the universe opened by build-your-own sandwiches,) and that's only one side of the menu. At Pickles & Rye Deli, "variety" is the watchword, and perhaps also the downfall. While they do everything competently or better, the sheer variety of the menu and the particular nature of the clientele creates a gap that the staff is still struggling to bridge. Service was friendly enough, but missed several requests from multiple tables, and was unclear on others; the kitchen seemed unclear on certain requests as well—a plate of scrambled eggs for another guest was not well-done enough twice. With the notoriously picky deli customer out in full force, special orders and unusual requests are common, and must be both expected and fulfilled handily.

The ambition evident in Pickles & Rye is borne out in the tools they've amassed for themselves: They've assembled some fine products and tasty recipes; they have a good location and a clientele ready to eat at a new, delicious deli. Make no mistake, Pickles & Rye deli is good, and serving good food. With time and focus, they have everything they need to achieve greatness. — mt

More by Aaron Egan

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