Indelible Delis

BY GREG SVIRNOVSKIY, JUNIOR, MARQUETTE- HIGH SCHOOL

From the mouth-watering frozen custard of Ted Drewes, to the hot toasted ravioli at Sportsman’s Grill, St. Louis is home to some great restaurants and food traditions  It’s the birthplace of the ice cream cone, gooey butter cake, and a delicious pizza pie cut into squares and coated in provolone cheese. St. Louis is also a quiet hotspot for traditional Jewish restaurants. Along with my brother, Elliot, and our 1999 Lexus, I set out to find the three best Jewish restaurants in St. Louis. The catch: each meal ordered had to fit a high schooler’s budget of $10 or less. 

Pumpernickle’s Deli: Graeser Square, 11036 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur

The restaurant had the hustle and bustle of a New York City deli. The place was teeming with customers, every seat filled with an eager diner. We sat by a family with two young daughters, their faces buried in mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwiches with fresh salmon. On the other side, a large breakfast party of 12 chatted eagerly with the hostess. Waiters and waitresses rushed from table to table like NASCAR racers, bringing food to each table with startling haste.

With our $10 budget, we ordered latkes. Crispy flakes of potato surrounded the soft, mushy complement at the center of the pancake. Instead of simply pan-frying a mushy mixture of ingredients, Pumpernickle’s somehow has perfected the art of keeping the outside of the latke crispy and flavorful, while keeping the inside moist and gooey.

Protzel’s Deli: 7608 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton

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Our next stop was Protzel’s Deli, a small hole in the wall nestled along Wydown Boulevard, in the middle of the affluence of Clayton.

As we walked into the shop, we were immediately surprised with its inherent differences from our previous stop at Pumpernickle’s. Protzel’s is as homely and quaint as Pumpernickle’s is loud. 

With our $10 budget, we ordered the pastrami reuben sandwich for $8.25. It was heaven. Warm pastrami and heaps of sauerkraut shoved in between pieces of grilled Jewish rye, each lathered with creamy Swiss cheese.  Russian dressing added flavor and moisture to what would’ve been a dry sandwich, a mastery of flavor, texture and presentation. Nothing in the world can taste so good for under $10.

Kohn’s Deli: 10405 Old Olive Street Road in Creve Coeur

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Kohn’s Deli are the walls. Enlarged foods — bagels, apples, Brussels sprouts — all nestled together in a blue background. The rest of the place is just as exciting. A long counter, full of cold cuts and sandwiches, separates the food preparation area from the plethora of tables.

More so than a restaurant, Kohn’s functions primarily as a shop, and in addition, is the only kosher deli in St. Louis. As we sat, a line of diners crowded around the counter, buying pastrami sandwiches.

We ordered the corned beef sandwich for $7.50 and potato salad for an extra dollar. Being that it was Passover, Kohn’s used a flaky matzah based bread as a platform for the corned beef. It was perfectly seasoned, and the addition of mustard served to add another dimension to the abundant meat and lettuce.

Undoubtedly the star of the meal was the potato salad. Bits of potato, covered in mayonnaise and adorned with onions and other vegetables scooped onto a styrofoam plate. It was creamy, savory, and abundantly flavored– all the characteristics of a perfect salad.

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