Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No decor, just sandwiches, soup to die for - Simon's, Bernstein's, Oscar's

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OFFICIALLY, winter arrives on the 21st. So, this year, does the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. Both events evoke images of hearty, traditional food, and few foods are heartier or more traditional than those served in the classic Jewish deli.

Our delis may not live up to the standards of, say, New York, or even Toronto. But we are still envied by exiles who have moved to points west, even (according to one source) to Vancouver.

One common factor of the classic deli is no decor - indeed, decor and deli is an oxymoron. Another constant is the corned beef sandwich. The hand that makes it doesn't have to be Jewish, but it helps - I have had such tea-roomy travesties as thick-sliced, over-salted corned beef on pre-sliced, white, big-bakery bread, spread with butter and/or mayo and completed with lettuce.

Such practices would be anathema to the following three. All shave the meat fine and pile it thick on City Bread rye, with a shmeer of hot mustard and nothing else. Also, in all three - unless you go really hog (you should excuse the expression) wild - you'll have trouble dropping more than $l0.

But there's more to these delis than just the corned beef sandwich and modest prices. Simon's, for instance - the most classic of the classics - serves many of the Jewish basics and all of them are wonderful. But get there before Dec. l5, which is when it closes for the winter.

The only menu is a wallboard, but not all possibilities are listed there; anything in the cooler for take-out can be served at table. Sadly, we can no longer have a meal of roast chicken or boiled beef, but there are still soul-satisfying beet borscht, chicken noodle and vegetable bean-barley soups.

Gefilte fish (either boiled or baked), mildly pickled tongue and chopped liver are all terrific. So are those typically Jewish dumplings - silken varenikes or kreplach stuffed with meat or cottage cheese, and flaky knishes stuffed with potato, kasha or cottage cheese.

Best of all possibly, glorious, crepe-like blintzes rolled around smooth, barely-sweetened cottage cheese. Even my mother - a tougher critic than I - would have approved.

Open Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

  • * * *

    Since 1983, Bernstein's has been to the south end what Simon's is to the north end. It is part grocery store, and here too much of what appears in the cooler can be ordered at table.

    Some of the top choices are hearty sweet-sour cabbage borscht and meat bean and barley soup. Chopped liver, gefilte fish and buttermilk-noodle kugel are all delicious; the salmon in the sandwich is fresh (not canned); and the tangy cole slaw is one of the best I have found.

    Herring mavens justly celebrate the marinated bat mitzvah herring. And the potato pancakes, traditional for Hanukkah (and freezable), are irresistible.

    Open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

  • * * *

    Founded in the north end in l929, Oscar's has been through several owners and a few locations, ending up in this bright, spacious, mid-town location in l982. But the old north end spirit still survives.

    Less cooking is done here than in the above two, but the salmon in the sandwich is red and the chicken soup with matzo balls (Friday and Saturday only) and the chopped liver are excellent. Also, although it is served in a kaiser bun, the marvellous sandwich of hot, juicy brisket of beef is in the fine old-fashioned tradition.

    Alone of the three, Oscar's serves its own desserts, and the two I sampled were great - moist poppyseed-cinnamon cake and a dense, dark slab of chocolate cake.

    Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

  • Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2001 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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