"Crazy delicious." That's the tagline for the new Jewish deli, Meshugana, in Gulf Gate. "Meshugana" is one of about a zillion ways to call someone a lunatic in Yiddish, and at this deli, it's crazy just how good the pastrami sandwich is.
"For Adam, it's a labor of love," co-owner Liz Woldman says of her chef husband, Adam Woldman.
The couple moved to the Sarasota area in 2018, where Adam took a job as the head chef for Temple Sinai. He had a long background leading a commissary kitchen in Manhattan before heading our way to spearhead the temple's culinary program.
"People started to really take notice that Adam was completely entrenched in Jewish food," says Liz.
Adam began teaching cooking classes to children, catering bar and bat mitzvahs and serving traditional foods for Shabbat on Friday evenings.
"The food really became an anchor for Friday nights at the temple," says Liz.
But after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Adam began toying with the idea of opening his own place.
"He had been begging me for three years to go into business," says Liz.
"I put my plan together secretly, piece by piece, the name, everything. Then I presented it to her and she said, 'Let's do it. It's now or never,'" Adam explains.
Three weeks ago, his dream became a reality. The Woldmans partnered with Your Culinary Place owner Gordon Lippe to get their business off the ground. Their Gulf Gate space is small, with no dining available inside. The meals are meant to be taken home, although you may be able to snag one of the two small tables on the sidewalk in front of the kitchen.
I study the menu before heading over and settle on a pastrami sandwich, potato knish and noodle kugel—a well-balanced meal if you ask me. I meet Liz and Adam as well as their son, Joshua, who helps them run the businesses. If a stainless steel table wasn't between us, I swear Liz would've reached out to hug me when I entered the building. The mood is so warm that I feel like I'm entering an old friend's house—if that friend lived in an industrial kitchen.
The Woldmans package my order in brown takeout boxes that I take home to enjoy in privacy, an act for which I am thankful, as the sandwich is heaping with warm pastrami, almost too big to bite. The meat is sliced against the grain in large chunks stacked between two pieces of soft rye bread. I dress the sandwich with deli mustard and dig in.
The pastrami hits the ideal balance of meat and fat. I don't find a single piece of gristle and the meat is so tender that I barely need to chew. But beyond the excellent texture, the pastrami is packed with flavor—smoky, rich, well-seasoned. I am over the moon.
As I return to Earth, I set the sandwich down to try the knish and kugel. I remember that I have plenty to sample and the sandwich will keep for later if I can't finish it now. The knish is the size of my fist and filled with tangy mashed potatoes dotted with bits of caramelized onion, like jewels. The surrounding dough is soft and gives way to the filling without smushing it out the sides.
As I make my way to the noodle kugel, I study its crisp brown exterior. I've had many a kugel at friends' houses; it's a traditional casserole dessert made with egg noodles, eggs, sweetened cottage cheese, sour cream and cinnamon. Everyone does it differently, but it always tastes the same—like a celebration.
At Meshugana, they add crushed pineapple to the mix, for a touch of tartness in this sweet and heavy dessert. I take a second bite and can't help to wonder how it stands up to chef Judi Gallagher's famed kugel. One day I'll find out.
I head back for more bites of sandwich and knish. Sweet, savory and tangy, this meal hits every flavor note—it's all meshugana.
Meshugana Deli is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m to 7 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 6609 Superior Ave., Sarasota. For more information call (917) 410-3397 or visit their website.