Features

Twin Cities Deli Smackdown

Can local delis deliver on the classics?

Minneapolis-St.Paul Deli Smackdown
Photos by Katherine Harris

DON'T WORRY, we’re not going to rehash the age-old questions, debate the merits of Mort’s, or parse the kishke at Rye. We sent Adam Platt and his team of fressers out to identify a handful of deli classics and see how our classic delis throw down.

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Chicken Soup with Matzo Ball0612-soup_175.png

Textbook Jewish chicken soup has a heady, rich chicken flavor, a modicum of vegetables, a bit of salt, and a little fat for richness. Matzo balls are an acquired taste but should have a bit of matzo flavor and a texture that’s not rubbery.




The Brothers Deli

Bland broth that one of our tasters thought tasted of soup base, woefully undersalted, but a crowd-pleasing matzo ball.
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Cecil’s Deli

Plain, flavor and fat starved. One matzo ball was nice, the other gummy.
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Crossroads Delicatessen

Lukewarm and crying out for salt, but a good chicken flavor and a lumpy matzo ball that had to have been made with love.
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Rye Deli

Underseasoned, but a nice homemade quality.
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Pastrami on Rye0612-Pstrmi_175.png

The king of deli meats, pastrami kicks corned beef’s butt. Alas, very little of it is housemade in the Twin Cities. (Be’Wiched has a great version.) Essentials are a flavorful caraway rye and a proper proportion of mustard. (Pastrami makes a mean Reuben, too.)




The Brothers Deli

Tasty, smoky, but on the dry side.
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Cecil’s Deli

Textbook moist, smoky, and salty. Cecil’s uses Vienna Beef from Chicago.
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Crossroads Delicatessen

Gristly, too mild, tragic.
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Rye Deli

Montreal-style “smoked meat,” a cousin of pastrami. Housemade. Delectable smoky goodness with a fantastic house hot mustard, which the kitchen often applies to excess. Portion can be less than generous.
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Chopped Liver0612-liver_175-(1).png

A rustic, rough-hewn version of pâté. It’s best when melded with some fat or egg, onion, and seasoning. When it goes wrong, it’s sour and dry.






The Brothers Deli

Balanced and savory; it may not be grandma’s, but it’s close.
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Cecil’s Deli

Mild, but underseasoned, with complementary condiments on the side.
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Crossroads Delicatessen

Again, where’s the salt? Sweet on the tongue but sour on the finish.
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Rye Deli

Dry, bitter, aggressively livery. Thank God your bubbe isn’t alive to taste this.
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Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht0612-borscht_175.png

The classic is a broth with a hint of body and discernible notes of sweet and sour, with plentiful cabbage and bits of braised meat along for the ride. Not to be confused with cold beet borscht.





The Brothers Deli

Hearty and thick with bits of brisket, but overwhelming tomato notes and way more sweet than sour.0612-3star-(1).png




Cecil’s Deli

Balanced notes of sweet and sour, slightly thick, hearty, and multidimensional.
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Crossroads Delicatessen

The closest to the textbook. Lots of meat, slightly crisp cabbage, and just a bit more sweet than sour.0612-4star.png




Rye Deli

Thin, one-dimensional. We came all this way for this?
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Corned Beef Reuben0612-Reuben_175.png

The best Reubens are paragons of balance between slightly sour corned beef, piquant sauerkraut, savory Swiss cheese, and rich Russian dressing. We wish so many weren’t served open-faced, and we prefer caraway rye to the more ubiquitous local choice, pumpernickel.




The Brothers Deli

Nicely balanced, delicious housemade corned beef. Only demerit: Russian dressing was left off. Woulda been five stars, but you have to get the details right.
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Cecil’s Deli

Overwhelmed by much sauerkraut and middling corned beef. I’ll be up all night. Stu, did you bring a Bromo?
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Crossroads Delicatessen

Tasty, generous, balanced. Alas, usually open-faced.
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Rye Deli

Juicy meat, nice balance, a symphony of rich flavors.
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*Extra Credit



The Brothers Deli

Martin’s Brisket Sandwich is nirvana for brisket lovers: juicy and beefy.




Cecil’s Deli

Two amazing coleslaws, one creamy and one vinegary.




Crossroads Delicatessen

The best (maybe only?) pickled tongue sandwich in the city, with a mild, smoky essence.



Rye Deli

The potato latkes are about as close to grandma’s as a deep-fried latke can be. Crispy outside, moist interior, good potato flavor.




The Brothers Deli
50 S. 6th St. (skyway),
Mpls., 612-341-8007
(no dinner)

Cecil’s Deli
651 Cleveland Ave. S.,
St. Paul, 651-698-6276

Crossroads Delicatessen
2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka
952-546-6595

Rye Deli
1930 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
612-871-1200

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