For as long as I have known my friend and fellow food writer, chef Judi Gallagher, she has told anyone who would listen that what downtown Sarasota really needed was a great New York-style delicatessen. Lately, I haven’t heard much out of her, because her face always seems to be buried in a pastrami on rye ($13.99) at Sol Meyer NY Delicatessen on Main Street. I’ve even heard her whisper, over lunch, “I hope she can’t hear me, but this kugel is better than my Nana’s recipe.”
Similar comments are passed around among the people standing in line on the sidewalk to get a cramped table inside. The opening weekend was so busy that the restaurant had to close down on Sunday, because the kitchen was out of everything and the staff hadn’t slept in days.
Subsequently, management decided to eliminate early-morning breakfast, and now the deli is open from 10:30 a.m. until closing, often around 10 p.m. (Breakfast may return by spring.) The name of the deli is a combination of the first names of the two owners, chef Solomon Shenker and his brother-in-law, Dr. Meyer Rubin Samotin, who lives in Naples, Fla.
Shenker says he grew up on Long Island eating classic deli food, as did his sister, Samantha, who is running the front of the deli. Shenker is a traditionally trained chef and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has held positions at country clubs, private restaurants and catering businesses, and most recently was the chef at Sarasota’s Hotel Indigo. But he has always yearned to have his own New York-style deli.
The restaurant seats 44 in tight quarters. The size and location of Sol Meyer means you can forget about finding a nearby parking space unless you get really lucky. But walking a few blocks to and from won’t hurt, because the food here is calorie-intense, the servings are generous and nobody in the place is talking heart-healthy.
Essentially, it’s Jewish soul food.
The corned beef sandwich and the pastrami ones, too, are outrageously stacked, juicy (oh, that gorgeous fat) and can come with cheese and sides of coleslaw (underseasoned) or potato salad (also needs a flavor boost) and pickles. Of course, you want a Doctor Brown’s soda to go with it. The chicken liver paté is laden with schmaltz; the rye bread (nicely seeded) is made by a Sarasota baker to Sol’s specs. Sol’s wife, who is of Polish heritage, makes the pierogen (five with sour cream on the side, $8.99) and some of the desserts. Cheesecake, high, light and velvety, is $7.99 a slice and big enough to share (although I don’t see many people doing that.)
Lunch and dinner includes sandwiches, many not offered at other places locally, such as tongue ($12.99), or a combination of pastrami and corned beef on rye ($14.99) or the King Sol, open-faced latkes and brisket with gravy for $14.99. A classic Reuben is $13.99, and the Dr. Meyer sandwich combines chopped liver and pastrami on rye for $13.99. If you want to eat heavier at lunch or dinner, sample the stuffed cabbage ($16.99), grilled liver and onions ($18.99) or half roasted chicken ($16.99). Maybe you’ll just start with a cup of chicken soup ($4.99) and work up to the more serious food.
The menu also offers some unusual dishes, such as Eastern European egg salad ($6.99) made with roasted chopped eggplant, or the egg barley farfel (pasta) with mushrooms and brown gravy at $6.99. The Sol Meyer house chopped salad (a meal at $13.99) combines turkey and roast beef with the usual greens and accents it with hardboiled eggs, Swiss cheese, cucumbers and more. I suppose this could be the “healthy” dish on the menu.
The service at Sol Meyer is high-energy, friendly and brisk, but in case you have to wait a bit for your order or you’re standing in line, browse the last page of the menu. It’s a dictionary of Yiddish words that could help you be deli smart. Learn the difference between a schlemiel and a mensch or when to kvetch rather than kibbitz and find out why a lot of Sol Meyer customers leave the place feeling downright schmaltzy.
The Verdict: A long-awaited downtown deli brings authentic New York-style dishes, along with friendly, high-energy service, to Sarasota.