Koch’s: A Surprisingly Underappreciated Gem
I have no idea why more people don’t go to Koch’s (it’s only at 43rd and Locust streets), but one of the two managers, Rami Shabbat, was very concerned about that. “Make sure people know that it’s not that far,” he said. “We don’t get as many students as we used to.”
So let me make this clear: Koch’s is not that far. And it’s the best damn deli you’re going to get within walking distance of campus. Everything at Koch’s is homemade. When I asked the other manager, Ezra Haim, why the Russian dressing he put on my sandwich looked chunkier than the Russian dressing I was used to, he responded, “Hush, my friend. That’s a secret recipe. It’s homemade.” I think they put pickles in it though.
Which, by the way, are incredibly delicious. Ezra cuts pickles up into quarter spears and hands them out while you wait (everything that Ezra uses to make sandwiches gets cut up and passed along to hungry waiting patrons), and I probably ended up eating a whole pickle by the time I sat down. Koch’s makes its own pickles, and they do a good job with it: Half–way between the half–sours that are too briny for my taste, but not overwhelmingly sweet like pickle chips; a perfect side for a great sandwich.
And, jeez, was this sandwich good. I was given the Special K ($12.25), which is corned beef, turkey, pastrami, kosher salami, potato salad and Swiss cheese; to try both, Ezra put mustard and Russian dressing on different halves of the roll. As Rami predicted, I preferred the side with mustard: The creaminess of the potato salad and the thickness of the Russian dressing did not blend well. But the mustard half was divine. The potato salad and Swiss cheese balanced out the salty, spicy edge of the mustard and corned beef, the turkey added some welcome heft to the sandwich, while the pastrami and salami finished off this palate adventure with a decent kick. I can see how this sandwich might be overwhelming to a deli novice—there’s a lot going on here—but I’ll definitely be back for more.
Location: 4309 Locust St
Hershel’s: New York Food in Reading Terminal Market
Sometimes writers write things without fully knowing what they mean, and this is one of those times: Hershel’s East Side Deli in Reading Terminal is the most Philly place I’ve ever been. On my left is a nice Jewish man who brags that he studied with Benjamin Netanyahu at Harvard. On my right is a union carpenter who wants to talk about Bernie Sanders, complains about his sandwich giving him “the itis,” and wanders off mid–conversation to take a nap. This place is fantastic.
Andy, the manager, brings me a pastrami Rachel ($12.75). I’m a little nervous. I want to try the best thing on the menu, and Andy says this is it, but I’m not a huge pastrami fan. This sandwich made a believer out of me (Ed. Note: Not a trace of doubt in your mind?). The meat was unbelievably tender, almost soft enough to melt in your mouth. The deep saltiness of the cured meat blended well with peppery smoky flavor that comes out in the cooking process. You know that crispy skin you get when you cook a meat that has a lot of fat on the outside? This pastrami had a ton of that, and it was delicious. The weight of the meat was softened by the coleslaw and Swiss cheese, which added some crisp, crunchy texture to this soft pillow of a sandwich. I could see why that guy needed a nap, I almost fell asleep in class afterward.
Location: 51 North 12th St
Schlesinger’s: A Family–Style Jewish Deli Fit for Bubbie
Schlesinger’s is the kind of place you go to with a purpose. You take your grandparents there, you show it off to people, you buy a cookie and decompress there. Schlesinger’s is a legit Jewish deli with the food to prove it.
I started at the pickle bar, with pickle chips and macaroni salad. Both were great, but even better when you get a little bit of both on your fork. Pickle chips are really sweet, and go well with the hint of spice in the mustard and pepper from the macaroni salad. Then came the Jules Reuben ($10.95), which is corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on toasted rye. Take a bite to personally experience the golden ratio. The dollop of creamy dressing takes the edge off the intense saltiness of the beef, leaving just a hint of rock salt bitterness. Swiss cheese can be too light for this sort of hearty sandwich, but the sauerkraut is there to give the sandwich some kick and crunch.
Here’s the thing about dessert: I’m picky about rugelach ($14) and I’ll admit it. I once corrected a coffee shop back home for spelling it “ruggela.” But this was damn good. I suggest what my waitress called “the peach nutty one” for a lighter treat. As the chunks of sugary peach are juxtaposed with the moderately tart pastry, with nuts on top and just a hint of cinnamon, this might just be the best rugelach I’ve ever had.
Location: 1521 Locust St