When I walked up to Steve’s Deli, a man was standing in the doorway with two teenage girls. I asked: “Are you standing in line?”
“Yes,” he said.
“But it’s Thursday.”
“No one out here cooks anymore,” he said.
He objected (jokingly) when we were seated first, but tables for three aren’t easy to come by at Steve’s. Laid out like a railroad car, long and narrow, with tables on either side of a central aisle, a party of three has to wait for two adjacent tables to be vacated.
Steve’s Deli is decorated with hanging salamis and there’s a pleasant cacophony of china clattering against china coming from the other side of the wall (the dishwasher, no doubt). It’s a very friendly place, with lots of hugging going on as friends run into friends.
More points in its favor: Steve’s is a stone’s throw from the Landmark Maple Art Cinema III — and it’s open on Sundays.
Everyone has their own yardstick for measuring the quality of a deli. For me it is a pastrami sandwich. Like corned beef, pastrami starts as a brisket pickled in brine, but then the two meats part company. Pastrami is coated with cracked peppercorns, garlic and other spices, then smoked. Steve’s makes a great pastrami sandwich on hand-cut rye bread with a crunchy crust. It’s piled high with meat, but not so high that you can’t get your mouth around it. The sandwich is not too fatty, but not without fat, served with a good mustard, and two dill pickles, one “new,” one “old.”
At first I wished for the little extras — like tomatoes (which you can get for 55 cents), but then I realized the sandwich was perfect as is, the essence of pastrami.
The co-diner’s yardstick is corned beef, and he found a corned beef and chopped-liver sandwich on the menu. “Sounds like the Bronx version of beef Wellington,” he opined. It turned out to be a surprisingly good combination.
Owners Joanee and Steve Hurwitz modeled their deli after one in New York called EAT. Steve’s slogan is “A little bit of New York right here in Bloomfield Hills.” Manager Stan Snitz says that they go to great lengths to bring New York to customers. The pastrami, for example, comes from Goldie’s in Brooklyn. Steve’s also imports cheesecake and marble cake from the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. The co-diner was delighted to find Dr. Brown’s cream soda.
Other fine ingredients come from close to home: The rye bread comes from the Star Bakery on Coolidge near 10 Mile, surely the best Jewish bakery in metro Detroit.
But tastes are changing, Snitz laments. Steve’s combines old deli standards with newer food trends. Now they serve almost as many turkey sandwiches as pastrami, egg-white omelets, and a “ton” of fat-free tuna and chicken salad. There’s even a “no-carb plate” for disciples of Dr. Atkins.
Steve’s Deli, according to Snitz, is practicing a dying art. Everything is made from scratch, including the gefilte fish. The turkeys are roasted every day, the matzoh balls are molded and boiled, and all kinds of pastries are baked daily.
Among the other things we tried: matzoh-ball soup, which comes in bowl size, but not a cup. You’ll see why — the ball’s too big for a cup. Blintzes are filled with cheese and nicely proportioned. The stuffed cabbage is similar to grandma’s. We also had brisket with potato salad and coleslaw and that great Star Bakery bread. Both salads were way above average; the brisket was good and there was lots of it. We had yummy rice pudding; the marble pound cake from the Carnegie Deli was full of chocolate chips but dry. Skip it and go for something made on the premises. Our server recommended the carrot cake or the brownies.
Steve’s also does a brisk takeout business, and has a catering menu.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.