What are the signs of civilization? Indoor plumbing, a literate population and a good deli, right? There’s something about a real deli that’s big city and major league. If you’ve never eaten at a genuine deli, how do you understand half the jokes on Seinfeld? The black and white cookie, the marble rye — these are deli things.
Unless you had a bubbie (that’s a Jewish Grandmother) at home by the stove, Cincinnati people used to have to go to New York (to Katz’s or the Carnegie) or to Cleveland (to Corky and Lenny’s) to know kreplach from kasha and kugel from knishes. No longer! Now, we have Rascals’ NY Deli in Blue Ash, and long may it prosper.
Already you’re doubting me! Already you’re saying, this can’t be the real thing! Well, bubbellah, listen to Tanta Anne. I know! And in a meal that made the table groan, I didn’t taste a bite that wasn’t better than good.
We arrived later than we should have, when the Rascals’ staff had already spent a long day on their feet, but we were seated with perfect hospitality. I had to have an egg cream — a Brooklyn beverage that is made with neither egg nor cream but somehow bears the name. It’s actually a chocolate soda made with chocolate syrup and seltzer with a good froth on top. Very refreshing, this one was served in an authentic Junior’s World Famous glass.
Our server started a fresh pot of coffee and brought us a couple bowls of homemade pickles to get started. Wow, the pickles! There were cucumber chunks and chunks of crisp green tomato, so garlicky and strong, and laced with dill seeds. Just a warm up while you study the five-page menu, a deli compendium so complete that nothing is left out.
I knew we wouldn’t have room for soup, but the choices are extensive.
We spoiled ourselves with an order of Rascals’ homemade Noodle Kugel ($3.95) split four ways and a mixed order of cheese and fruit Blintzes ($3 each). That kugel is Eastern European comfort food at its finest — rich and sweet with sugar and cinnamon. The cheese, cherry and blueberry blintzes were buttery and beautiful.
One of the best things we tasted — oh, everything was good! — was the sandwich my vegetarian guest picked. The Avocado Melt ($6.50) is a grilled feast of gooey Swiss cheese and avocado slices with Russian dressing on marble rye. Pretty incredible. But if you’re a meat eater? You’ve absolutely got to have the Pastrami ($9.95). It was the best pastrami that’s ever passed my lips. So moist! Not fatty, but so juicy that it melts in your mouth. Even the Turkey Pastrami ($8.50) was impressive. We had a turkey pastrami Rueben that I finished off for breakfast the next morning and it was wonderful even the second time around.
All the sandwiches at Rascals’ come with homemade potato latkes, slightly bigger than silver-dollar-sized potato pancakes that are skillet fried so they’re done just right. If you’re put off by big, oily potato pancakes, well, they bear no resemblance to these. And the applesauce is doctored up with a secret ingredient that gives it a rosy color and a kick: Red Hots! Warm, spicy cinnamon applesauce — mmmm.
For my entrée, I decided to go with the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ($13.95), a meal I ate often as a child but one that you just don’t see anymore. Probably that’s because while cabbage rolls are made of inexpensive ingredients — ground beef, rice, cabbage, tomato sauce — they’re a hell of a lot of work to put together. It’s a simple dish, but there’s a lot going on. You don’t want the cabbage over-cooked or undercooked, the filling can’t be too assertive and the sauce has to add a little spark. Rascals’ version filled the bill, especially with an authentic sweet and sour tomato sauce that really complemented the cabbage and would never be confused for marinara. Bravo.
Dinners come with two sides and I let the server choose for me. The Kasha Varnishkes ($2.95 on their own) are a healthy serving of buckwheat groats, toasted and sautéed with finely chopped mushrooms and onions, then mixed with bowtie pasta. This was maybe a little earthy for my taste, but I fell in love with the Knishes ($1.95 each on their own). Flaky pastry with savory mashed potato filling. There is a reason that knishes rhymes with kisses.
Stuffed to the gills, we had to take a box of dessert home. I had half of the Black and White Cookie and half of the Chocolate Babka for breakfast the next morning. Oh, that cookie! And one of the Rugelach — beautiful little crescent cookies made with cream cheese in the dough and jam or nuts in the filling. Oi! This Rascals’ Deli! My toochis will need a diet tomorrow! But I’ll be back again, and soon.
Go: 9525 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Accessibility: Fully accessible
Red Meat Alternatives: Many, including a vegan plate with hummus, tabbouli and vegetables