By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
My parents decline my invitation to Saul's in Berkeley, citing past disappointments, so Peter joins me for Saturday brunch. The joint is jumping; we add our name to a long list. I like the big room, with a raftered, barnlike ceiling – and there are booths! But in less than 15 minutes we're given a small table for two at a banquette in between the front window and the hostess table; a hot plate with two coffee pots perched above us feels dangerously close.
We get a latke to share and two appetizer portions of sable and whitefish, followed by a cup of matzo ball soup and half a tongue sandwich for me, and a platter of Niman Ranch pastrami, brisket, and egg salad for Peter. (When he tells our waitress to hold the rye bread – "I'm on Atkins" – "Oy vey!" is the sympathetic reply. But she's heard it before: The day's low-carb special is steak, eggs, and green salad.)
After my previous meals, this one is a triumph. Not everything is genius (the whitefish is dry, the latke more a mashed-potato cake than the Brillo-pad version I prefer, and I've had better pastrami and tongue), but the sable is oily and silky, the matzo ball is light and well seasoned, and the brisket is probably the best brisket I've ever had, more than just moist, gloriously juicy, and falling apart. There's that ta'am I've been missing. The room smells good; it's full of happy, chatting people. Thisis a deli. I find myself wishing it were open later, for late-night suppers.
Berkeley, CA 94709
Region: North Berkeley
Matzo ball soup $2.95/cup, $3.75/bowl
Brisket sandwich $8.95/Berkeley size, $10.95/New York size
Three-meat and/or salad platter $12.95
Brother's Deli & Restaurant
Kreplach soup $2.95/cup, $5/bowl
Brisket sandwich $7.75
Moishe's Pippic, 425A Hayes (at Gough), 431-2440. Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sunday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 21. Noise level: moderate.
David's, 474 Geary (at Taylor), 276-5950. Open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to midnight. No reservations. Bathrooms not wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 38. Noise level: moderate.
Saul's Restaurant & Delicatessen, 1475 Shattuck (at Vine), Berkeley, (510) 848-3354. Open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: relatively easy. Noise level: high.
Brother's Deli & Restaurant, 1351 Howard (at Primrose), Burlingame, (650) 343-2311. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Reservations for large parties only. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
Bad planning leads me to have to refuse a second helping of one of my mother's Sunday-morning specialties, eggs scrambled with string beans and pork left over from the Chinese feast of the night before: "I'm going to a deli in Burlingame," I tell her. My sister gets misty-eyed. "Are you going to Brother's?" It turns out to be a family favorite ("It's owned by a Chinese family," my mother tells me), and before I leave I promise to bring them back sandwiches.
Brother's is a medium-size place, with comfy booths. Robert, Gail, and I get kreplach soup, a latke, an appetizer portion of chicken liver, brisket on an onion roll, pastrami on rye, and hot tongue on rye. The kreplach are astoundingly good – tender forcemeat in perfect dough, like the best wontons you've ever had – in deeply golden, very salty broth. I'm not nuts about the meek chicken liver. The latke is crisper than the one at Saul's, though still more mashed than shredded. The modest amount of thin-sliced brisket is fairly moist and has some flavor, but we're all perplexed by the pastrami: The slices look spongy and uniform, and don't taste like much of anything. We wonder if it's turkey pastrami. No, we're told, so we ask if we can have fatty pastrami, instead. "Most people ask for it lean," we hear, whereupon Robert erupts, "That's because most people don't want it to taste like pastrami!," with perhaps more vehemence than he intended. Our server backs away bemusedly. (Robert is not looking forward to my version of this. "Oh," I say to him, "don't worry: The column is fiction." "Based on a true story," he agrees, a trifle grimly.)
The fatty pastrami is better, but only slightly. What we do enjoy is the light, airy cheesecake. When I drop off the corned beef sandwiches and my father's favorite sour tomato pickles with my parents, I tell them that they really have to go back to Saul's. Preferably with me.