New Delis

If a place called Morty's isn't Jewish enough, what is? Our quest for a great delicatessen continues.

I have yet to find a deli in San Francisco as good as my fifth favorite deli in Los Angeles, (the centrally located Canter's, which is my fallback position if Langer's is closed, Brent's and Art's too far away, and parking too difficult at Nate 'n Al's), or my fourth-favorite deli in New York (the Stage, which isn't even a fallback choice if Barney Greengrass is too far uptown and Katz's too far downtown, because the Carnegie is not only a block away but open until 4 a.m., two hours later than the Stage).

But hope springs eternal, and when I heard that three expat New Yorkers had opened the glatt kosher S.F. New York Deli, I dragged my father Embarcadero-ward for our regular Friday lunch. I'd read that two of the three young owners were ordained rabbis (one of whom had moved to Oakland to work as a kosher overseer), so I wasn't surprised to see that the place closed 2 1/2 hours before sunset on Friday. Since daylight-saving time was still in effect, and sunset was supposed to be around 6:30, you can imagine our surprise when we arrived at 2:10 and were greeted with "We're closed" from the three intense guys behind the counter as we opened the door.

"Isn't this way earlier than a couple of hours before sunset?" I stammered.

It isn't kosher, but the deli sandwiches at Morty's are delicious.
James Sanders
It isn't kosher, but the deli sandwiches at Morty's are delicious.

Location Info

Map

Morty's Delicatessen

280 Golden Gate
San Francisco, CA 94102

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Hayes Valley/ Tenderloin

Details

S.F. New York Deli , No. 5 Embarcadero Center (at Market), 788-0422. Open Sunday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday 10:30 a.m. to 2 1/2 hours before sundown, closed Saturday. Reservations not accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 1, 12, F, J, K, L, M, N. Noise level: low.

Morty's Delicatessen , 280 Golden Gate (at Hyde), 567-DELI (3354), www.mortysdeli.com. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Sunday. Reservations not accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 5, 19. Noise level: low.

Miller's East Coast West Delicatessen , 1725 Polk (at Clay), 563-3542. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations not accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 12, 19, 27. Noise level: moderate.

SF New York Deli

Pastrami sandwich $7.99

Morty's Delicatessen

Reuben sandwich $6.75

Big Easy sandwich $6.75

Miller's East Coast West Delicatessen

Chopped liver appetizer $6.49

Half-sandwich and soup $8.99

Chocolate fantasy cake $4.29

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"We had a lot of work to do, so we decided to close early."

"We came all the way from Oakland to try your pastrami!" I cried, hoping for a freebie knish, perhaps a "Better luck next time!" or a smile, or anything that would make this tiny bright white space, scarcely bigger than a walk-in closet, and its inhabitants seem more haimish (homelike). Nothing.

A couple of Fridays later, we tried again, and managed to be served a pastrami and a corned beef sandwich on rye, though when we arrived at 2:40, it'd apparently been closed for 10 minutes. (And now that we're back on standard time, can it really be closing at 1:30?)

The tiny deli had a menu not quite as tiny, but not what you'd call lush. In addition to nine basic deli sandwiches (bologna, salami, tuna, egg salad, turkey roasted or smoked, and turkey pastrami as well as the corned beef and pastrami that we tried), they offer three soups, two hot dogs, and two knishes. And cherry and apple strudel. "Do you make the strudel?" No, I was told, but, "We make everything else." I was impressed: "You make the corned beef and the pastrami?" Uh, no; I'm told it's sourced from Shorhabor and Aaron's Best.

Dining al fresco at the Embarcadero Center is extremely pleasant, especially on a beautiful day, which this was, but I was cranky. The pastrami, though I'd watched them put it in a heating contraption, was mostly icy, machine-sliced thin, and I found it, and the corned beef, and the coleslaw, potato salad, pickle, and rye bread, completely unremarkable.

My father disagreed with me: He thought, if he'd stumbled upon the place (unlikely, because the signage reads S.F. Gourmet Hot Dogs), that he would be pleased, both with the quality and the price.

I was still hungry — I'd left half my sandwich — so I dragged him up to Civic Center, where I'd heard of another new deli, called Morty's Delicatessen. Probably because of the famous Lenny Bruce routine about who killed Jesus ("I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement. It said, 'We killed him ... signed, Morty.'"), and because on the TV show Jerry Seinfeld's father's name was Morty, I think of Morty as a quintessential Jewish name. (If not the quintessential Jewish name, though my father would vote for Heshy.)

Imagine my surprise when we entered the tidy little storefront and read on the board behind the refrigerated case sandwich names like the "Little Italy" (Genoa salami, hot coppicola, pepperoni, provolone, peppers) and the "Carlito's Way" (ham, roasted pork tenderloin, Swiss cheese, pickles). The soups of the day were roasted tomato and eggplant, curried cauliflower, and black bean with pico de gallo. Besides the Niman Ranch corned beef and the Heineman and Stern pastrami, there were virtually no Jewish specialties apparent.

As we waited for our corned beef "Rueben" (sic) and a sandwich called the "Big Easy" (mortadella, prosciutto, Genoa salami, mozzarella, and a muffaletta-inspired Sicilian chopped olive salad), I noticed not only a wall-spanning mural of a fantasy New York Italian neighborhood, but two huge photographs of a basset hound who turned out to be the Morty the place was named after. The sandwiches were fabulous: the warm sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and Russian dressing complementing the corned beef and nearly overwhelming the not-quite-sturdy-enough rye bread, the sub sandwich heavy with its high-quality meats and cheese and sharp fresh relish. I knew I'd return, and I did, for an equally stellar "Little Italy" and a bowl of mushroom-barley-bacon soup that tasted mostly of tomato.

But I was still hungry for an authentic Jewish deli, so at the first opportunity I dragged Mark and Kris to Miller's East Coast West Delicatessen for lunch; a friend had told me she was in love with their brisket. I nearly cried when I saw blintzes and latkes (and stuffed derma!) among the appetizers, not to mention a stunning array of 10 smoked fish available as appetizers, platters, or sandwiches, but we couldn't eat everything. Though we tried.

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