America's deli

If you love latkes and blintzes, it helps to speak Vietnamese

Aaah, the melting pot. Cindi's is it: the kind of Jewish deli food especially beloved by New Yorkers, served in white-bread North Dallas by an enterprising Vietnamese woman. How American can you get?

The venerable Cindy's, a senior citizen if you're measuring in restaurant years, was given a change of vowel and a new lease on life by a young Vietnamese immigrant whose harrowing escape from Vietnam and struggle to succeed is the stuff TV movies are made of. She's worked her way to ownership of the venerable deli and even expanded it, with a second location in further North Dallas.

It's not that easy to get to Cindi's right now; the wasteland of what used to be Central Expressway is right outside the door. You have to go around and circle back, negotiating different obstructions and construction on different days. But Cindi's faithful following finds it. Perseveres. Loves it. Even nurtures it. Whether it's "Cindy's," as it was for years, or "Cindi's."

Inside, the orange vinyl booths and Pothos ivy in hanging baskets are familiar to anyone who has taken a car trip across the U.S.A. This is where you go for breakfast after you've spent the night in a motel in Evanston, in Missoula, in Bakersfield, in Magnolia. The insulated gold-and-black pot of coffee, the nondairy creamer, the mostly middle-aged waitresses in polyester are part of the lingua franca that unifies the American landscape as seen from the highway. But the selection of food at Cindi's goes beyond the middle American wake-up call of eggs and bacon, pancakes and waffles, tuna melts and burgers.

The menu is astoundingly complete; it ranges from blue plate specials to chopped liver to hamburgers--your waitress will tap her fingers to the bone if you take the time to read it all. Skip a step, take my advice and go for breakfast or the deli specialties. A Philadelphia steak sandwich, for instance, is not a particularly good bet here, although it will do in a pinch. Who knows? To regulars, who relish the sense of familiarity more than the sense of taste, it may be a favorite. Nor has Cindi's caught up with the public's increased familiarity with something like Caesar salad. They do serve it here; just don't let them serve it to you. On the other hand, the German-style pancakes are a wonder--thin, huge, golden crepes, dappled with brown, really nothing more than beaten eggs bound with a little flour. Syrup would overwhelm these; they're folded around citrus butter, come with a lemon wedge and a dusting of confectioner's sugar. The tartness cuts the richness.

Latkes, blintzes, chopped liver and onions, egg cream, bagels, nova lox--these are the reasons to eat at Cindi's. You may say that the latkes, an onion-scented patty of potato, are, really, as heavy as hockey pucks. So they are. The applesauce is complementary but doesn't alter that weighty impression. At its best, this is not food noted for delicacy. "Lightness" was not a positive thing for the civilization that produced latkes.

Like real East Coast delis, there's a meat case, filled with cold cuts you can have sliced to go. And there's a feeling of family, an atmosphere of loyalty. This is a restaurant for regulars, not tourists. When we were paying our bill at the counter, I admired a vase full of miniature roses next to the cash register and was told, "Oh yes. We have a customer who grows miniature roses. They bring us a bouquet every week they're in bloom."

As I said, Cindi's is a melting pot. And that's exactly what it proclaims on the menu: "A Little of Everything for Everyone"--just a little rearrangement of e pluribus unum. -Mary Brown Malouf

Cindi's Pancake House and New York Style Deli, 11111 N. Central, 739-0918. Second location: 7522 Campbell Road,248-0608.Open 6a.m.-9 p.m.

Cindi's N.Y. Style Deli & Pancake House:
German-Style Pancakes $4.25
Silver Dollar Pancakes $3.35
Potato Latkes $5.25
Cheese Blintzes $5.15
Nova and Cream Cheese on a Bagel $6.

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