According to Ken Gordon and Nick Zukin, co-owners of Kenny & Zuke's, a New York-style deli at Ken's Place: "We never take shortcuts and think you'll never taste a better pastrami west of the Hudson."
In many parts of the country, this would be considered a dubious declaration. But judging from the crowds at this one-day-a-week operation, deli-deprived Portland is eating up the pair's rhetoric.
It began last spring when foodie friends Zukin (the mouth behind portlandfood.org) and Gordon (chef/owner of Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard eatery Ken's Place) started slicing homemade pastrami and other classic deli fare at the Hillsdale Farmers Market under the name Pastrami King. The response was so positive and demand so unflagging for their pickled-and-smoked meat that the duo moved into phase two this past July: Kenny & Zuke's, which appears Saturdays only at Ken's Place.
Although the menu looks extensive at first glance, look closer and you'll notice that the principal ingredient—pastrami—manages to be everywhere all at once. This is why, when I first I dropped by K&Z's at the height of lunch hour several Saturdays ago and heard that they were plumb out of pastrami, I cursed my luck and left without a second thought.
The next week I arrived early and was rewarded with some housemade salt-of-the-earth. The Reuben ($10.25) isn't messing around—it comes with a half-pound of thick, slow-smoked pastrami and all the usual accoutrements. A light sour rye is sturdy enough to keep it together while a side of potato salad with red potatoes, broadleaf parsley and a dash of vinegar is a fresh flavor break.
There are six sandwiches to choose from, and they all show off the pastrami without dolling it up too much. Ken's Special ($9.75) is the most outspoken, with a thin spread of chopped liver and a layer of coleslaw.
The piping hot latkes ($6.75) sell out early every week, so don't get your heart set. But the savory potato knishes ($3.50) topped with a tangle of caramelized onion and wrapped in buttery puff pastry are usually available. If breakfast is in order, you've got options—one being the corned beef hash ($9.25). Although it doesn't look like much, it's a salty and golden treat (thanks be to good lard) with sautéed red potatoes and diced bell peppers.
Kenny & Zuke's has it all—from kugels and knishes to Dr. Brown's celery-flavored Cel-Ray Soda ($1.75) and Dagoba chocolate egg cream sodas ($3.25); deli-sized glass jars filled with fresh sour pickles and half-sours ($1); homemade bagels and lox and cold beer ($3.50). And just about everything is made in-house, including a light and lovely New York-style cheesecake ($4.75, $5.75 with berries). It'll sniff out your sweet tooth even if you claim not to have one.
Kenny & Zuke's Deli at Ken's Place, 1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 236-9520. 9:30 am-2:30 pm Saturdays only. Call for dinner hours and special-event info.