What is it?
Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen lives up to everything you would dream a deli would be — a huge selection of fresh meats, sweet desserts, amazing sandwiches and a wonderful atmosphere.
Where is it?
How is it?
I first heard of Kenny and Zuke’s Deli from a Serious Eats review of their pastrami cheese fries sent to me by a friend of mine who lives, quite literally, on the other side of the country. Being a huge fan of cheese, meat and french fries, I knew that I had to take a look at this restaurant that could only live in my dreams.
My first attempt was totally denied. I showed up to the deli on a Sunday evening around 7pm, and the place was empty. I sat down, ordered the pastrami cheese fries and a sandwich, and was dismayed when the waiter returned to my table and politely apologized explaining that they had experienced a huge rush that day and had run out of fries.
I took a final swig of my root beer (which was supposed to be a diet cola) and left. Lesson learned: be sure to call Kenny and Zuke’s in advance to make sure they’re not out of their signature dish.
My second trip (and subsequent third and fourth trips) fared much, much better.
Kenny and Zuke’s is located a block or three away from Powell’s Bookstore, on the corner of SW 11th and SW Stark St. Parking can be a pain in this area, so if you’re not coming at an off time, be prepared to grab any spot you can and hoof it in.
It turns out that the off-time I happened to show up on Sunday is absolutely not the norm. The line for a table ran out the door (as did the rampaging litters of Portland children – completely untrained by Portland parents who believe that the community should raise their children for them without realizing that they are part of the community, too).
After a mere 30 minute wait, we were seated at the bar overlooking the kitchen, where dutiful Kenny and Zuke employees actually whistled while they worked. This happened to be an excellent vantage point for observing all of the amazing dishes that are prepared here on a daily basis.
We started off lunch with a Mirror Pond as we perused the menu. Before I moved Portland, I didn’t care much for beer. Being a huge beer brewing – and, by no coincidence, guzzling – city, access to the city limits nearly requires residents to adore beer. Now, I’m a fan of beer of all kinds except for IPAs, which remind me of the people in SE Portland; bitter tasting and always smelling a bit skunky for my tastes. Mirror Pond has a great flavor and hails from Bend, Oregon, so I can claim to be drinking local even though I’ve never been to Bend nor know where it’s located outside of being somewhere east of Salem (which happens to be the capital of Oregon but no one really cares about that).
I’m not sure I can overstate the quantity of food that Kenny and Zuke’s provides. You really need to bring at least one eating partner, otherwise, you might run the risk of rolling out of the restaurant looking a lot more like Rush Limbaugh than you did when you entered.
We placed a single order of the pastrami cheese fries (of course) and one Meshugaletta combo sandwich to split. The Meshugalettea is quite nearly a perverse monstrosity of the sandwich kingdom with four different meats (pastrami, salami, roast beef, turkey), swiss cheese and the deli’s own special spicy pickle relish. The relish has just enough spice to give it a special little kick – not the full-on kick to the groin that you’d get from ordering your food at a level 4 from Monsoon Thai; more like the playful kick to the butt you’d get from a soccer buddy after scoring a goal.
The fries and the sandwich arrived at the same time, which, in hindsight, was an incredibly unfriendly thing to do to our digestive systems. Oh, and the sandwich comes with your choice of potato salad, Cole slaw or French fries. You can see from the picture that we went with the potato salad, but it looks like a cute, dainty, little garnish next to the epic insanity of the other two plates.
The pastrami cheese fries are everything you’d expect them to be. The fries themselves put McDonalds’ to shame (for point of reference, I consider McDonalds’ fries to be pretty darn good). On top of the fries, Kenny and Zuke’s pile more pastrami than ever has a right to be on a single plate, and then cover it liberally with several slices of Swiss cheese before throwing the entire thing into the broiler.
My first instinct is to compare the pastrami cheese fries to chili cheese fries, and there truly isn’t a comparison. Chili cheese fries, when done right, are a congealed mess that must be eaten with a fork – with all flavors blending together. When you eat the pastrami cheese fries, you have to be far more conscious to grab a few fries, some cheese and a chunk of pastrami. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s definitely not the same experience.
Kenny and Zuke’s pastrami, heck, all of their meats, are capable of inducing full-on mouthgasms. Thinly cut with just enough fat to add flavor without overwhelming the meat, their pastrami defines perfection.
To top off the entire experience, Kenny and Zuke’s is home to some of the friendliest employees you’ll meet in Portland, from the hosts and hostesses to the waitstaff to the kitchen staff. Just make sure you come hungry – you certainly won’t leave that way.