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While some restaurants have a smell, taste, or look, Parkway Deli has a sound. Unlike many outfits bearing the name, Parkway is indeed a deli. But it’s also a restaurant, minigrocery, and most importantly, a neighborhood center for chitchat.
Parkway’s busy all the time, but during lunch the place runs at full throttle. Two linesone of customers waiting for tables, the other of people waiting to get onto the other linemeans the waitresses are stressed. Everybody talks loudly in order to be heard: the counter boy who shares with no one in particular a tidbit about the shared ancestry of bagels and soft pretzels; the housewives forging dinner plans; the man who resembles a walrus, sounds like a rusty pipe organ, and holds his pickle as if it were a cigar. In contrast, the tone in the morning and again at dinner is one of intensity modulated by fatiguethe sound of a community either waking up or winding down.
Only the bagels and some of the meats and smoked fish are shipped in from New York, yet every item seems authentic. The latkes are crisp, dense wonders that you can paint with your choice of apple sauce or sour cream. The omelets are impressively stout, and as you’d expect at a real deli, even the simplest request of cheese or meat involves a multitude of choices. An order of cheese blintzes with blueberries prompts a woman next to me to go on about her waistline and the virtues of fruit for breakfast. Sweetened peaches crown an airy stack of blueberry pancakes, and every plate I get is garnished with a slice of melon.
Parkway’s meat-slicer is constantly in motion, carving cold cuts to stack on burly sandwiches; eating a pastrami on rye is like trying to get your teeth around a football. All of Parkway’s portions testify to a pride in the product. Unlimited trips to the pickle bar are included with every order. The matzo balls are firm orbs about the size of tennis balls, and the soup they’re immersed in comes either in a cup that’s really a bowl, or a bowl as big as a bucket. A slovenly sandwich of corned beef, cole slaw, and Russian dressing called a “meal in itself” is just what it says it is.
Parkway is situated in a Silver Spring strip mall, but it nevertheless appears as organically bound to its setting as the trees. A waitress tells me the deli, which opened in 1948, is popular with New York transplants and others who “want someplace to eat every day. Honey, you’re about the only one in here I don’t recognize.” The familiar atmosphere in Parkway is such that waitresses are liable to ask, “What’ll you have?” before they even offer a menu.
Selection aside, such informal intimacy is what makes a deli a deli. Similar establishments devoid of the chummy camaraderie can only claim to be riffing on the idea.
Weissblatt’s Delicatessen opened only a year ago, but the mall space it occupies has seen knackwurst before: Harold’s, Pickles, and Hofberg’s are but a few of the names to have appeared on the storefront in the past.
Weissblatt’s is run in part by the former owner of Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese, who went on to be a partner in Sutton Place Gourmet, so it’s no surprise that the place feels more yuppie than Yiddish. Unlike Parkway, Weissblatt’s is not weatherworn. And with its bright, blue-green booths, magenta light fixtures, and peach and salmon walls, the dining room probably glows in the dark.
Nonetheless, you have to credit the proprietors for keeping the food downscale. Weissblatt’s, too, gets its bagels from New York (“from the same company that supplies Zabar’s,” my waiter points out), and you can tell: They’re chewy where they should be, crunchy elsewhere, and perfumed at the core with sweet barley. In fact, foodwise Weissblatt’s hits on most of the crucial points: The smoked-fish fixings are appropriately pungent, the pickles are offered by the bowl, the borscht is served cold, and a triple-decker sandwich of corned beef and chopped liver is not some carnivorous fever dream but an actual menu item. Even when the restaurant stamps its name on a dish (see eggs Weissblatt’s: latkes and poached eggs smothered in sour cream-horseradish sauce), the result is very much in the deli tradition.
But despite the place’s successes, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame that Weissblatt’s owners didn’t just ditch their concept and create Sutton Place redux. During four peak-hour visits, the restaurant is cold and spookyI’m the only one in it. Perhaps Potomac residents make the trek to Silver Spring to get what they can’t at home. Because even though Weissblatt’s tastes and smells like a deli, it doesn’t sound like much of anything.
Parkway Deli, 8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, (301) 587-1427.
Weissblatt’s Delicatessen, 7913 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac, (301) 299-1740.
For “hamburgers and chicken saagwala,” says one reader, East West Cafe is “where we take the kids.” Not that she’d have many other options. The “East” and “West” in the restaurant’s name denote India and America respectively, and what’s on the menu reflects cross-cultural ambitions. If the limp steak-and-cheese sandwich I have is representative of what else is on the “Western” menu, I’d suggest ordering from the page with lassis on it. The dosas are thin, fragile, and, like the vada (lentil donuts), brought to life by a spunky coconut chutney that is sweet like dessert but spicy enough to burn the tongue. The cafe, which is connected to a convenience store, doesn’t have any atmosphere to speak of, but as the prices demonstrate, you’re not paying for it, either.
East West Cafe, 3000 Connecticut Ave. NW. (202) 332-8989.Brett Anderson
Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.