From Italy to Poland to Ireland, go around the world in 80 lunches.
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The interior of A S Fine Foods, where efficient countermen peer through sausage curtains across deli cases topped with house-made goodies. Look for fresh pasta and lasagna sheets, house-made pasta sauces, Italian imports, fresh mozzarella, and, oh yes, A S makes sandwiches, too.
Deli. Sure, it’s a kind of food store that sells sandwiches and sliced meats, but nowadays, the word deli can connote almost anything—including oxymoronic “gourmet delis” that mostly vend Lotto, cigarettes, and Styrofoam cups of coffee. At some point, we veered away from the word’s Germanic roots, in which “delikatessen” is a near cognate for the English word “delicacies.” Predictably, the word arrived on these shores along with waves of immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe.
But if you look beyond today’s Quik-Stops, you’ll still find the gems we’re looking for: old-school delicatessens that are more ethnic groceries than convenience stores. Behind their jingle-belled doors, you’ll find lavish curtains of cheeses and sausages, small jars of intriguing imports, and sense-memory triggers that evoke your grandma’s kitchen back in the day.
So, are we off to the Bronx or Brooklyn? Actually, we’re staying right here in Westchester, where we found loads of ethnic delis, many serving generations of loyal families.
The classic, foot-long “eggplant parm” wedge at A S Fine Foods.
986 Broadway, Thornwood
The saga of A S Fine Foods of Thornwood is as complicated as any soap opera, with several regional deli/pork stores using the A S name, and few of those on speaking terms. Though the Yonkers A S Pork Store has rabid fans (who go for its handmade mozzarella and sausages), we’re a little biased toward the Thornwood branch—probably because Thornwood isn’t as packed with Italian delis as Yonkers.
Scene: Bright and clean, with the disheartening glamour of an upscale gourmet store. Along with short aisles of Italian imported goodies, there are quarts of house-made pasta sauces and heat-and-eat entrées like baked ziti (guaranteed to make your home-cooking nonna weep). Though it might veer toward convenience foods, check out A S’s hanging salumis and scrumptious aromas—this is still an old-school Italian deli, with the added bonus of hot entrées.
A S vends prime meats, poultry, and prepared roasts. Especially popular are wide pinwheels of cheese and parsley sausage, already skewered for easy flipping.
Behind the Counter: Along with the usual salamis and imported cheeses (and the aformentioned prepared foods), you’ll find that A S is also a full pork store and butcher, vending house-made sausages, veal cutlets, poultry, steaks, and marinated pork roasts. Judging from the line, we suspect that many local grandmothers cheat with A S’s semi-homemade goodies.
Don’t Miss: Heavenly eggplant parm wedges, in which thin slices of eggplant are lightly breaded and fried, then baked in a pan with a mellow tomato sauce and A S’s house-made mozzarella. When the pan’s edges are caramelized and yummy, and the soft cheese has fused the layers, the eggplant is packed into soft, warm hero rolls and spun still steaming in white deli paper. We challenge you to get this sandwich home without cracking into that bag.
Epstein’s deli case fronts a classic Kosher restaurant.
387 N Central Ave, Hartsdale
This is Westchester’s premier pastrami-on-rye resource, serving classic New Yawk Jewish deli eats in the same spot on Central Avenue since the late ’60s. Though a new, two-year-old ownership has cleaned and updated the tired Epstein’s space, regulars still can expect Kosher comfort foods (including latkes, matzoh ball soup, and corned beef) served with gratis bowls of garlicky pickles, and a little New York attitude.
Epstein’s deli case offers a kaleido- scope of knishes.
Scene: Part deli counter/part restaurant (there’s local delivery, too), Epstein’s table service offers thick crockery, brusque service, and no-nonsense, mature waitresses. Expect groups of families that talk loud, tablehop, and know from their delis. In fact, you’ll probably meet someone you know, if not your Aunt Ida’s entire bridge club.
Epstein’s classic pastrami on rye, which arrives on the table with bowls of full and half sour pickles. Schmear on some yellow mustard—always at your elbow—and wash it all down with swigs of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda.
Behind the Counter: Though some shocking interlopers can be found (falafel! babaghanoush!), Epstein’s vast menu hews close to the Lower East Side basics. Look for steam-table meats like corned beef, tongue, brisket, and flanken layered into generous Reubens, club sandwiches, etc. To pair, there are always knishes and kasha varnishkes—though intrepid noshers share a dish of derma, or beef casing stuffed with matzoh meal, suet, and a variety of vegetables.
Don’t Miss: Pastrami on rye with mustard, eye-tearing full sour pickles, shamefully delicious square knishes, and Dr. Brown’s cream or Cel-Ray Soda. Trust me—it all just works together, though you might need to lie down for a bit afterward.
The Polish Deli offers 15 types of kielbasa, ranging from skinny, rope-like kabanosy to short, chubby loops of plain.
The Polish Deli
225 Nepperhan Ave, Yonkers
Though not particularly friendly to gastro-tourists (the name might also refer to the language spoken here), Yonkers’s Polish deli is a must-see for Westchester’s foodies. It’s a small store located near the nexus of Yonkers’s Polish community, Saint Casimir Church and School, that’s packed with everything a Polish family might want. It’s a bit like a trip to Krakow without the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Loaves of fresh rye, pumpernickel, and brown breads.
Scene: For porkophiles, this joint is heaven—we’re talking meat wonderland. Also look for pierogies, pickled cucumbers and peppers, Polish coffee, and tea.
Behind the Counter: The Polish Deli is Westchester’s motherlode of kielbasa, with at least 15 types of fat, skinny, paprika red, or pinkly au naturel links strung in tidy rows for your visual delectation. On our last visit, we spotted wiejska, weselna, domowa, rzeszowska, pieczona, podlaska, cieleca and the yummy, skinny kabanosy. Also, look for five types of ham, several salamis, and a whole bunch of head-cheese-like meats with too many Ks, Zs, and Ws to accurately transcribe.
Don’t Miss: Any of the many kielbasas, plus the curry and czarny salceson.