First, A fact: Please know that I love an authentic Jewish Deli. I have always been a huge fan. Something about the combination of cured meats, matzo balls and breakfast all day makes my goyish self want to blow up.
Second, A background: Like pretty much no one in my tiny east Texas town growing up, I went to a Catholic church. (It's all about the Baptist faith, son!) Every Sunday we would drive to an adjacent city for Mass, which started at 9:30 am, and was promptly followed by Sunday school. Due to the fact I wasn't allowed to eat breakfast before I took communion and the vanilla cookies in Sunday school tasted like blackboard chalk, I would be STARVING by the time I got home. So, while I circled the kitchen like a hyena, my dad would cook french toast for brunch.
To say that I ate an average amount of french toast growing up would be a joke. From the moment I could eat solid food, I killed about half a loaf of white bread every Sunday. I really am a huge fan of french toast. Not only is it delicious, I love how in one bite you can cover several of the basic food groups-- bread, fruit, eggs, and syrup!* Plus, french toast isn't as difficult to cook as pancakes.
Ok... review time!
The Bagel Deli
I arrived in Denver, Colorado with one bulging suitcase, a four day reservation in Vail and a pair of black Nordica ski boots in hand. I was so excited. It was time, at last, for my family's annual ski vacation. I scampered off of the plane and checked to see when my kinfolk would be in the Mile High City. (Most families travel together. We don't.)
And of course, I had arrived 5 hours before everyone else. I was left to hangout alone.**
Being an efficacious daughter, I descended the second-tier stairs of the airport, weaved through the crowds and went to pick-up the rental SUV we reserved for the trip. I spoke with a charming Budget staffer named Courtney about how to drive in slush. Then jumped into a red Chevrolet Transverse, which features heated seats, XM radio and televisions in the headrests. Imported from Detroit!! As I pulled out of the lot, I decided to spend the remainder of the free time I had cruising around the city, checking out the sights and listening to the Bangles and Nicki Manaj.
Denver is an adorably bold and vibrant city. It reminds me of a punk/artsy version of Houston, Texas-- only more active and outdoor oriented. The road salt and dirt stained snowdrifts are lame but a longtime staple of the city during the winter. After an hour, I started to get hungry and pulled into a Starbucks to google all of the golden food spots around me.
It seemed like an injustice to the entire Food Network crew if I didn't check out some hip places they recommended. After searching 'Food Network Denver' on my iPhone, I noticed The Bagel Deli, a diner featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, was only 10 minutes away from my current location. I decided to Danica Patrick it to the deli.
The best places to eat are located in the worst spots. We should all know this by now. So, once I saw The Bagel Deli was sharing a wall with a Goodwill and the facade was more evocative of a government soup kitchen than a Jewish deli, I knew this spot was going to be solid.
I parked at the Goodwill and trudged through the muddy snow sprinkled parking lot to the restaurant. There was a gust of cold air as I walked to the entrance. When I opened the door, I suddenly realized I might be dressed like Angela Lansbury in Pirates of Penzance. I was in an over-sized red t-shirt with skinny black topshop leggings and black suede riding boots. I also had on a jangling necklace, composed of ashen discs, and my hair was secured in a high ponytail with the ends poorly curled. Arrgh, matey!
This deli is a fabulous relic of the pre-fast food nation. It is split into two separate entities partitioned off with a large fridge and wooden panels. The left side is reminiscent of a meat market and stocked with everything imaginable. Meats. Cheeses. Pastries. The works. Really-- I think I saw the Star of David. (It was in cookie form.) The right side of the diner looks like a Grandy's. It has small orange-y booths and tables. Plus, a faint feeling of southern hometown charm. I noted that on the wall separating the two areas adorned a huge map of the United States spattered with thumbs tacts. I pinned Texas.
A waitress, who looked like the perfect Jewish grandmother, gestured for me to sit at a booth in the back right corner. She was petite, with fluffy auburn curls and apple peel thick lips. A small pair of wire rimmed glasses were suspended from a gold chain around her neck and a black apron was tied around her waist. She pointed at the booth again.
“That table is clean,” she announced in a thick accent as she organized her money pouch. “How are you doing today? You OK?”
“Yes, thank you.” I said, as I slid into the booth.
“What can I get you to drink?” she asked, her eyes sharp.
“Water.” I said. I wasn't going to fill up on soda when I was at an actual Jewish deli!
I opened the menu and saw something astonishing: French toast made with Challah bread. At first I thought I was imagining things, but then I blinked. Yes, butter bread french toast. Oh. my. God.
“Yes.” I replied with a grin. “I'll take a bowl of matzo soup and two orders of french toast.”
“You waiting on someone to join?” She asked.
“No.” I said.
Matzo Ball Soup***
There is something about this bowl of matzo ball soup that is comforting and safe. It tastes like a sharp chicken noodle, conveying the depth of authentic broth without the artificial taste. The matzo ball has the texture of stove boiled Cream of Wheat and the integrity of a meatball; it absorbs the broth.
When I'm sick there is nothing I want more than to cocoon myself in a down comforter, watch a marathon of 80's movies and sip on this soup. A soup so heart-warming and magical it can solve all the problems on earth. ( I know that you are thinking. Britt, can it even save those crying sea lions on the Arctic coast? Why yes, I believe it can.)
The french toast is thick and finished with the perfect harmony of melted ingredients. When I first bit into the victual, the texture was super-soft and the flavor was fresh and delectable. The syrup is surprisingly light and soaked in the bread like a distilled surprise of sweetness. The dish tastes like... butter! The best french toast I have ever had. Period.
Even bad french toast is gold. But, the ultimate french toast is that which you will find at the Bagel Deli. The Challah bread topped with powdered sugar and syrup is beyond delicious. (Sidenote: It's pronounced like if you said HOLLA and simultaneously hacked up sputum.)
I don't know about you guys, but I think The Bagel Deli deserves a slow hand clap. Kosher times a zillion!
*Buddy the Elf says syrup IS a food group. Thanks, Buuuddy!! (Mr. Narwhal voice)
** This is just part of the middle child gig.
*** I admit it. When I looked up exactly how matzo ball soup was made, I may have got a smidge distracted. An hour later I was reading about Anne Hathaway's ex-boyfriend and watching the American Greed special. Raffaello Follieri, you are dumb.
(Final disclaimer: I carelessly forgot to charge my phone at the airport so it died before I got my soup and french toast. Therefore, the food pictures were taken from the internet. Yay for the World-Wide Web!! )