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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Restaurant review: Focaccia's **

Among the many things that make New York City such a sterling destination, the delicatessens rank right up there with the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, and the neon excitement of Broadway.

Some of my best eating experiences have been spent in the company of a juicy, tender corned beef sandwich and matzo ball soup at one of Manhattan's many delis. In my opinion, the king of them all is the Carnegie Deli, an incomparable Jewish delicatessen on Seventh Avenue, which serves the world's best, biggest corned beef and pastrami sandwiches.

Focaccia's, located in the pink HCR Manor Care high-rise at Summit and Adams streets, imagines itself in the tradition of the Carnegie and other New York delis. The menu heralds the Big Apple, not just in the choice of deli foods but with bits of New York trivia and dictionary definitions of a dozen Yiddish words.

So, how does Focaccia's match up? Very good in a few cases, not bad in others. But overall, from the food to the raggedy service, it's a pale imitation of the great Manhattan emporiums.

In an airy setting of curved walls, big windows, and blond wood, the deli, which opened in 2000, serves breakfast and lunch only. Meals and sandwiches found in most delis are on the menu: latkes, blintzes, bagels and lox, brisket, tongue, chopped liver, Jewish rye, challah bread, and naturally, focaccia bread. But when we asked about knishes, a staple of New York delis - it's a flour and potato dumpling stuffed with various fillings - all we got back from the server was a blank stare.

Focaccia's also offers Italian, Lebanese, and Polish dishes, from prosciutto to kafta to pierogis. There's a full breakfast menu from 7 to 11 a.m., followed by lunch and a long list of salads, soups, and sandwiches. Desserts range from cheesecake to cannoli.

On to specifics during two recent lunches:

A $2.25 bowl of Focaccia's chicken soup contained more dumpling-style noodles than chicken. The mushroom barley

chicken. The mushroom barley was hot and flavorful, but the thick, cheesy broccoli soup of the day came out cold and had to be returned. The $1.65 potato salad and $1.95 macaroni and cheese were good and hearty, almost surely homemade.

Most sandwiches come in two sizes (regular, $5.95, and NYC size, $9.95). Standouts were the Little Italy, a scrumptious combination of ham, salami, roasted red peppers, and pesto sauce on focaccia bread and the Holy Toledo with sliced turkey, several generous rashers of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.

Less good was the large Empire State Building, piled high with corned beef with unfortunate clumps of fat and sinew. And the New Yorker Dog ($4.95), kosher-style knockwurst with sauerkraut and onions, presented an ergonomic problem: Instead of a hot dog roll, it was served on two slices of rye, making it almost comical to try to transport from plate to mouth.

Service was curt and hurried, even after the lunch-hour rush. Silverware and napkins had to be requested on one occasion, and right in the middle of one meal the server plopped down both the check and a box for leftovers. It reminded me of an old New Yorker cartoon showing a man walking past a restaurant named "Eat 'n' Pay 'n' Get Out."

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com.



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