There was Feig's Kosher Deli, which was in business for more than 60 years, and was for much of that time the sole kosher deli in Tucson. Thus, when Feig's closed its doors earlier this year, many, many people were seriously bummed.
But don't cry for Feig's: Fifth Street Deli and Market is picking up right where Feig's left off. It's even in the very same location, on the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Rosemont Avenue.
On the restaurant side of the business, the menu contains all sorts of kosher-deli standbys and a few not-so-traditional items. Sandwich ingredients include corned beef, extra-lean corned beef, pastrami, brisket, turkey breast, soft and hard salami, bologna, chopped liver, cold tongue and both tuna and egg salads. These can be served on a choice of marble rye, rye, whole wheat or white breads, or on a kaiser roll. The menu also includes hot dogs, hamburgers, falafel, shawarma, babaganoush, latkes, soups--including matzah ball--knishes, kugel, lox, white fish, smoked sable and even pickled herring. In other words, there's everything you might be craving from a good Jewish deli.
We opted for sandwiches on a dark, wintery evening: John had the lean corned beef on rye ($10.50 for the regular size; you can also get a half-sandwich for $7.25 or a jumbo for $12.75), and I had the regular brisket on a kaiser ($9.50; half is $6.50, jumbo $11.50). All sandwiches come with a side salad--macaroni, potato or coleslaw--and a crispy deli pickle; John ordered the potato salad, and I had the macaroni. The counter service was friendly and patient (we had a little trouble making up our minds).
And the décor? Call it "late kosher market." On one wall, you'll find frozen/refrigerated foodstuffs, and a long double-sided shelf containing dry goods and the like. Two butchers' cases display meats, smoked fish, latkes, salads and more, all ready to be packed up and enjoyed at home if you so choose. Several salamis hang near the register. There are no pictures on the walls, no posters of New York or no long lists of food items--but that's OK.
The sandwiches looked a little small at first, but by the time we were through, we were more than satisfied. The meats had been cut very thin, and the breads were fresh and soft. My brisket was especially tender, and the natural juices that it had been cooked in almost formed a light, creamy gravy.
The light corned beef was exactly that: light. It was not so fatty, but it was still filled with the unique flavor that only corned beef can have--in other words, not too much.
The salad portions were good-sized, considering they were "sides." You could actually taste the potatoes and macaroni! We also appreciated the fact that they were nice and chilly, and dressed with the perfect amount of mayo.
We skipped dessert, as nothing sounded appealing. We did take some latkes home to eat later ($2 each); all it took was a little time in the oven and a dab of the accompanying apple sauce, and we had a great, quick meal at home.
Later, Karyn Zoldan met me at Fifth Street for a Sunday breakfast. The place had a steady flow of customers all who appeared to be regulars--a good sign for any restaurant.
She ordered the Galiah's Israeli breakfast ($7.95) which consisted of two eggs (any style; she opted for poached), pita bread, chopped Israeli salad (small cubes of tomato and cucumbers), a honey/orange muffin and both coffee and orange juice.
I ordered one of my faves: corned-beef hash and two eggs (over-easy, please) with potatoes and wheat toast ($6.95). I added a cup of coffee ($2). We also ordered noodle kugel ($2.75).
While Karyn claimed the kugel wasn't as good as her mom's (what could be?), we somehow managed to eat it all. Both creamy and crunchy, both savory and sweet (from the corn-flake topping), this dish was comforting and homey. We could've easily stopped there and been satisfied. But we didn't.
I can't say the breakfasts were artfully plated, but at a deli, that really doesn't matter. Both orders of eggs were cooked exactly as requested--but there were a few quibbles with the rest of the items. Karyn enjoyed her salad, but the tomatoes weren't quite ripe enough. Plus, they forgot to bring the juice and the muffin. We asked once about the missing items at the counter, and then again when someone came by to check on us. We were then told that they were out of the muffins, so we were offered our choice of cookies or more kugel. We took the cookies and were assured they were made in-house. They came out a little dry; maybe we should've gone with more of that yummy kugel.
My hash was unremarkable; there didn't seem to be any potatoes. My breakfast potatoes looked perfectly done, all brown and crispy--but they were woefully undercooked. Also, I got a bagel instead of wheat toast. The bagels are not locally made; perhaps Fifth Street's managers could do a little research and find a fresh source for bagels, as the one on my plate was nothing more than round bread.
In spite of these breakfast shortcomings, the Fifth Street Deli and Market more than made up for them with a personal touch. As we left, a man who appeared to be the owner stopped what he was doing and thanked us for coming. In the long run, it's those little things that make a place memorable--and make customers want to return.