There are three delis in Dallas. They are: Cindi's New York Delicatessen, Deli News and Gio's Café and New York Delicatessen. If you just thought inside your head, "But what about Jason's Deli?" you should come here so I can slap you. Stay quiet and learn something.
A note to New Yorkers and the like: I am in no way asserting that we have New York deli in Dallas. What we have is food that appears to look and taste similar to that from the New York and surrounding areas, but please do not shit all over me for what you read below. Put a less-than-perfect bagel made with Dallas water in your mouth and cool out.
Each of these three delis are reasonably similar, with a few exceptions. Cindi's is Vietnamese-owned, Deli News has a serious Godfather complex, and perhaps most impressive of all, Gio's gets their meat straight from Carnegie.
So rather than talk about them individually, I've jotted down a few things to know about doing deli in Dallas.
Delis are basically diners with more fish and fewer burgers. The menu is large and encompasses everything from early bird to late night (as in, 9 p.m.). You want an omelet and some pie? Done. Tuna stuffed inside an avocado? No problemo. A platter of smoked fish (called "appetizing," a noun, in the northeast), some stuffed cabbage and a babka? It's all here. Lox, eggs and onions? That's actually one menu item.
Old, crotchety career waitresses are standard. If your waitress is under 45, her dad probably owns the place. If your waitress is an Asian dude, you're probably at Cindi's. If your waitress is nice, patient and polite, you're somewhere else entirely. And this is fine. A deli is supposed to be a little slice of New York City, where they don't have the time or desire to wait while you choose between the #6 on rye or the double decker Rueben. Get your shit together.
Old folks in track suits. The average age inside a Deli at any given time is 67.8. I made that up, but I think you'll find it a stat that's hard to argue with. Nonetheless, old folks are adorable, and they order fattening food like it's going out of style. So much to admire.
The coffee sucks, so deal with it. You will want to order coffee with your brunch at a deli. Fight the urge, unless it's absolutely necessary, as the gray stuff you receive in your advertisement-covered mug will likely give dishwater a run for its money. There aren't enough tiny half 'n half containers in the world to repair that cup of swill.
Egg cream and phosphate. No, they're not paint colors. But they are beverages available inside a deli. A phosphate combines bubbly club soda with phosphoric acid and flavors like chocolate, cherry or vanilla. Ask your grandpa. An egg cream is made from chocolate syrup, soda water and milk. Sounds disgusting, right? It's not. Give it a try. It sure as hell beats that shitty coffee.
Pickled things. You can bet that at a deli, the pickles are made in-house. Half-sour, full-sour, kosher, etc. And they often come out before you order like an amuse bouche. Before pickling everything was super trendy, delis were pickling tomatoes, meat, beets and more.
Meat, glorious meat. If you are a vegetarian, you should probably stick to the breakfast item pages, or stay far, far away. Delis are monuments to meat. Hard salami, pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, kosher salami, turkey, smoked turkey, brisket, roast beef and the hits just keep on coming.
Numbered sandwiches. And the #1 is always a good choice. Real deli sandwiches generally come stacked high with a combination of two or more meats, Russian dressing and coleslaw. Sometimes there's a Swiss cheese component, and the default bread is good rye. Stick with what works.
Fun fact: chopped liver cures hangovers. It's not the only thing that supplies that rich combo of enough iron and protein to kill the Pukey Blues, but holy shit it tastes amazing smeared on a bagel chip with a string of red onion. Order the chopped liver appetizer platter for the table and you'll be back in business before dessert.
Bread is a side dish. Many dishes come with a choice of bread. That bread can be one of the following: bagel, bagel chips, toasted bagel, toasted toast (rye, marble rye, pumpernickel, wheat or sourdough), pancakes, English muffin or biscuit. Choose wisely.
Latkes can also be considered bread. Deli News has a dish called "My bubbe loves me." I think they call it a sandwich. But what it is, is four latkes for bread on top and beneath a thick layer of brisket, all covered with gravy. It's a growing Jewish boy's wet dream.
Borscht, knishes and kreplach. You don't speak Yiddish? That's okay, I'm here to help. Borscht is a soup made from beets or tomatoes, served cold or hot, respectively. Knishes are doughy breads filled with ingredients like meat or potato. And kreplach are dumplings also filled with ingredients like meat or potato, but they go in your chicken soup.
The "lite" plate. Yeah, don't order that. Even though the words have three out of four letters in common, you do not go to a deli to diet. End of story.
So many desserts. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone order one. There's rarely even room for Jell-O after an appetizer platter, a triple-decker deli sandwich, four pickles and three cans of Dr. Brown's soda. But the dessert menu at a deli is always stacked with everything from the iconic black and white cookie to pastries, pies and cakes.
Jews. So very many Jews. Obviously. And we all know each other.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.