Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

June 29, 2008 8:54 AM

Restaurant: Town Hall Delicatessen

Town Hall Delicatessen

60 Valley Street
South Orange, NJ
[Note: After seeing the review of Noah's Ark in the last issue, the following was submitted by Jim Gerstenzang. It appears without edit.]

Your item on the NY deli brought this story to mind: For decades, the best deli I encountered was in South Orange, N.J. (I grew up next door in Maplewood.)

The Town Hall Delicatessen was owned by a German-American family. The Grandmother worked the cash register, the sons and grandsons (one grandson was a class mate of mine) worked behind the counter. There were open pickle barrels. Fresh Breads. The fragrance was marvelous.

I was crushed to discover about two years ago that it had closed; I'd made a detour off the Garden State Parkway enroute from Boston to DC for a sandwich. I found out that the Joost family had sold the store/restaurant. The good news: A new owner was reopening the deli nearby, with the original menu and recipes.

I returned last week. I wasn't disappointed. The sandwich for which Town Hall was famous was back on the menu. That would be Sloppy Joe. This is not the "Sloppy Joe" of ground meat and gravy or chili or whatever goo that the name brings to mind elsewhere.

It is this:

Three pieces of thinly sliced NY Jewish Rye bread. The loaf is sliced horizontally, rather than vertically, creating--when the rounded edges are squared off -- a rectangular sheet of rye. It makes a sandwich that is easily sufficient for two servings. The filling is any choice of meats -- the original, tongue, was not for my palate. With Genie Wetstein and Jon Kantor, we ordered two sandwiches; roast beef on one, turkey on another. But what makes the sandwich special is the whole combination: the meat, the Swiss cheese, the cole slaw, the Russian dressing, and the thinly sliced bread. Somehow, the combination and the proportions make for a sandwich I have never been able to match (or make) elsewhere. [Sloppy Joes need to be ordered in advance.]

As Michelin would say, it is worth the detour. It's still the best deli sandwich I've had. -- Jim

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