While Portland may have cornered the market for the best barbecue outside of Texas, we’re still a bit behind in the bagel, schmear, matzoh, and pastrami lifestyle.
There have long been stalwarts like Kenny & Zuke’s and Kornblatt’s, but the opening of three new Jewish(ish) delis vastly expands our options, and one has a chocolate chip cookie so good that we are now engaged and have a down payment on a condo together.
Beetroot Market & Deli
Beetroot says upfront that it’s not meant to be a traditional NYC Jewish deli, but rather a women-run PNW Jewish deli. I don’t care what you call it: Their matzoh ball soup ($4.50/$8) is deeply satisfying, made up of plump, soft balls infused with what tastes like generations’ worth of comforting chicken stock.
The menu also has the requisite pastrami, bagels with schmear, and deli salads. My money’s on the turkey Reuben ($12) with housemade sauerkraut on rye. It’s not the world’s biggest sandwich, but with the richness of those ingredients, it’s for the best.
Besides, you need to save room for the chocolate chip cookie. It’s... perfect. No nuts, no nonsense. Just a mound of gooey, chewy cookie that gets thicker as it moves in from the edges, culminating with a mountainous middle bite and fingers just slightly slicked with chocolate. (beetrootmarketanddeli.com)
Ben & Esther’s Bagels
I’ve been informed by those in the know that Ben & Esther’s gives good NYC deli vibes.
Ben & Esther are the names of owner Justin King’s (Blackheart and Rooks Barbershop) grandparents, and King told Eater Portland that he grew up eating bagels every day. Made in an off-site facility, Ben & Esther's bagels are boiled and baked. I’m a fan, although they’re fairly dense and lack the chew I normally prefer.
Still, I’ll go out of my way to order their lox—procured from Brooklyn—on an everything bagel ($12). According to a former longtime Brooklynite I brought along, the whitefish salad atop pumpernickel ($11.50) had a strangely sweet flavor. And a standard egg and cheese ($5.50) delivers a lot for not a lot of money. While I preferred the matzoh at Beetroot, I’ve heard arguments in favor of Ben & Esther’s ($5.50), where the balls are slightly bigger and there’s no chicken in the broth. They’re both good, and it’s a dream to have two new places that even make it.
While Ben & Esther’s may not offer espresso (only Nossa Familia drip coffee here), there is a deli counter, a big jar of pickles, and a small selection of sweets, including a serviceable black and white cookie ($3) and a delightful rugelach ($3), that’s reminiscent of the leftover slices of flaky pie crust that my mom would sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on (a real childhood treat). These are rolled versions of that, intensifying the sweetness and keeping the whole thing from being too dry. Just a few bites big, they’re the perfect finish to anything you order. (benandesthers.com)
It’s a small stretch to loop Kachka Lavka—the new grab-and-go deli above the flagship Kachka restaurant on SE 11th—in with the openings of Beetroot and Ben & Esther’s. But co-owner Bonnie Morales’ grandmother escaped the Holocaust, and her Belarusian Jewish heritage has always informed her work. AND I just wanted y’all to know it’s open now.
Kachka Lavka is mainly a grocery, featuring most notably frozen versions of their famous pelmeni and unlimited bottles of European wine. (Throw in some caviar and smoked sprats and you’ve got a date!)
But you’re also gonna want to take a crack at the menu of open-faced toasts, especially the Isaac’s SBR ($10): challah bread heaped with smetana butter and cured king salmon roe. Grab a fresh-baked Piroshki bun stuffed with egg and scallion ($4) for later. (kachkapdx.com/lavka)[CORRECTION: This article has been amended to correctly reflect the heritage of Bonnie Morales' grandmother and certain menu items. We have also removed a mention of Justin King's hometown and amended that section of the piece to reflect that Ben & Esther's bagels are made off-site and to correctly credit the source of their lox. We regret the errors.]