With Val’s Delicatessen, a new Jewish comfort food institution rises in West Bloomfield

Mar 4, 2020 at 1:00 am
Val’s sandwiches pack a lot of pastrami.
Val’s sandwiches pack a lot of pastrami. Tom Perkins

Metro Detroit's Jewish delis are arguably some of the best under the sun, and for decades, Steve's Deli has stood as an institution. Yeah, there's something of an ongoing debate over whether Steve's or Stage Deli is king, but there's no denying its place in the mix.

Part of the reason for Steve's ongoing success was Val Izrailov, who helmed the kitchen for 26 years through 2019, when he departed and struck out on his own with Val's Delicatessen. For fans of Steve's or Stage or Bread Basket or any of the others in the genre, this is welcome news. It's likely the start of a new institution.

Like most in the genre, it's in West Bloomfield, which as we discussed just a few weeks ago in our review of Pars Iranian restaurant, sits a few miles south on Orchard Lake Road. This stretch has some of the region's best and most diverse eating.

The brisket entree alone is worth the trek if you don't live in the area. The layered stack of super thin and tender beef has likely braised for an age in a broth packed with aromatics like onions and carrots. Val's entrees come with two sides, and the mashed potatoes are an obvious choice here, and everything on the plate should be mixed with the fantastic, deep gravy.

Also excellent is the stuffed cabbage. Its bright flavor seems to stem from a generous amount of acidic vinegar or perhaps lemon in the tomato sauce. The cabbages are nearly football-sized packages, stuffed plump with a piquant mix of ground beef and rice.

Val's offers the usual long list of sandwiches found at Jewish delis, and its Reuben is stacked with corned beef that's fairly tame, which is a good thing, but a better option is the pastrami, which is almost rich and doesn't need any accompaniments. The meats are cured, cut, and smoked in-house.

Val's knishes are big, golden-brown pucks. The thin-but-soft and slightly flaky shells are wrapped around a mix of light ground beef or starchy potato and cheese. One is nearly big enough to fill you up, so order accordingly. The blintzes come with meat or ricotta cheese, wrapped in a soft pancake shell — effectively a crepe, and it's hard to find a flaw in this version. The potato latkes — potato pancakes for the uninitiated — are moist and do their job.

One sure measure of a Jewish deli is the strength of its matzo ball soup, and Val's prepares a light and fluffy matzo ball — but not too fluffy — that sits in a glistening broth, with plenty of depth and carrots bobbing in it. Better than most. The broth is also utilized in the kreplach, which arrives with a firm dumpling, stuffed plump with salty, intensely flavorful beef that works well with the broth. All the sides are more than solid — the pickle-packed potato salad, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, and so on.

Though I gravitate toward meat-heavy dishes, Val's menu holds the requisite long list of salads, and even vegetarian chopped liver. Breakfast is served all day, and there's a fine selection of pastries and cakes, though a slice of seven-layer that we ordered was too dry.

There's also a disappointingly small selection of smoked and cured salmon, though this isn't really unique to Val's. If there's a legitimate complaint about Detroit's Jewish delis, it's that there's not enough pickled herring, sturgeon, smoked sable, and so on in their cases. I hauled back over a bill's worth of pickled, smoked, and cured fish from New York City's Russ & Daughters on a recent trip, and it's hard to understand why there isn't more of that here. Still, when the brisket and blintz play is as strong as it is at Val's, it's easy to forgive that one small gripe.

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