“There’s a lot of drama in the deli business, but I love it!” said Chef Solomon Schenker of Sol’s NYC Deli. “I opened in one spot that was too big, another that was too small, so now I hope my returning back to Starlite Room will be just right.”
Consider Sol the Goldilocks of our local restaurant scene. Either that or some other storybook character who finally learned there’s no place like home.
Not long after the Starlite Room opened, owner Tyler Yurckonis brought in Chef Sol to help develop the menu of this popular theater district hot spot. They were good for each other. Sol is all NYC and swagger, but a hard-working dynamo. Tyler is the consummate “front of house man,” focused on giving his customers what they like while maintaining the “Brat Pack” vibe of the Starlite Room. “We just get each other,” Sol explained.
But the desire to own his own deli, working early morning through lunch hour was a life-long dream of Sol’s, and he went off to open the too large and then too small locations of Sol’s NYC Deli before Tyler encouraged him to come back to the Starlite Room and provide lunch from Tuesday through Saturday, with brunch on Sunday. That gives Sol one day off a week to recharge. While the rest of us need at least two days . . . I’m guessing the time off would be torture to Sol.
It has been more than a year since Mart and I last tasted Sol’s NY style sandwiches, soups, and knishes. In typical NY deli style, every guest starts off with a complimentary bowl of coleslaw and a slice of half-sour pickle. I had forgotten how gosh-darn delicious Sol’s coleslaw is, not to mention those pickles. I cherished every bite!
The menu is only one page, with the back page listing catering sizes portions of various deli meats and salads. Mart called the new menu “Sol’s Greatest Hits.”
Sol, being Sol, was zipping in and out of the kitchen, saying a quick hello to us in that deep baritone Brooklyn accent while helping our server, Jen, seat and serve a 10-top, two separate 2-tops, a 3-top and a few single guests seated at the bar. We’d all come in about the same time . . . just after the doors opened on a Tuesday. Not being in a rush ourselves, we told Jen and Sol to take care of everyone else and worry about us later. Jen brought us our drinks, including the deli classic – Dr. Brown’s Celery soda, and we were happy to see Sol’s NYC Deli back in business . . . or should we say “busyness?”
“Thanks for offering to wait, guys!” he said, dropping off a complimentary plate of whitefish salad. “I get this shipped in from the Bronx,” And off he went. The whitefish salad was a special on this day, so it’s something that Sol promotes when he’s able to get his hands on it. It was exceptional.
Listening to the other diners place their orders, we heard both Sol and Jen reminding everyone to “save room for cheesecake.” We took that advice to heart. And I did try my very best to take only one or two tastes of the whitefish salad, knowing I’d be ordering one of Sol’s huuuuge deli sandwiches . . . but it was humanly impossible. Neither Mart nor I could stop, taking another bite by fork or by adding the whitefish to a piece of toasted bagel.
“Do you want the last bite?” Mart asked. “Yes, I do!” was my response.
“You were supposed to say no!” he replied. Too bad, so sad . . . snooze you lose. . . whatever! That last bite was mine!
Mart has always loved Sol’s chopped liver, and so ordered one as a starter. Calling this sized portion a starter is a misnomer. The dish was large enough to be a meal, so . . . knowing we were saving room for cheesecake, we asked Jen for a to-go box and packed up half of the chopped liver to take home. “You’ll be bringing us another for the sandwiches,” I predicted. Both Mart and I know what we were getting into.
When I ordered the Ruben, I did so after recalling the succulent flavors of Sol’s corned beef with melted cheese and sauerkraut on fresh baked bread made by locally celebrated French bakery C’est la Vie. Served warm, the corned beef’s juices oozed down through the bottom piece of rye toast, making it a little on the soggy side, but what did I care? The juices were running down my fingers as I managed to eat one half of this impossibly huge sandwich. I licked my fingers, happily enjoying a flavor I hadn’t had for some time. Man, have I missed this!
Mart decided to order the Rachael, which is similar to a Ruben, but with pastrami and Sol’s amazing coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. Also served hot, Mart and I both showed great restraint by packing up a half of each sandwich so we could . . . save room for cheesecake. “That pastrami . . . what can I say but thank goodness Sol is back,” Mart said. I agree.
Now if you’re one of the rare Sarasota residents who hasn’t tasted, or at least heard about Sol’s legendary cheesecake, I’m guessing you’re new to town. Sol’s cheesecake is magnificent, served naked, (no cherries, caramel or sauce needed) and a good three inches thick. A knife it stuck into each piece and the serving is large enough to share . . . if the flavor (and aforementioned knife) doesn’t cause you to be territorial and attempt to keep it all to yourself. Trust me, it happens!
As Sol breezed past us to give his regards to one of the other tables happily welcoming him back, I asked what the secret was to his cheesecake. “It is so light and flavorful,” I said. “Some cheesecake is like a brick. This is just luscious from start to finish.”
“I make it like a souffle, ” Sol explained. “I beat the egg whites to almost a merange and scrape fresh vanilla bean into the batter. The rest is my secret!”
As full as we were from scarfing down the whitefish salad, chopped liver, and half a huge deli sandwich, there wasn’t a crumb left of the cheesecake Mart and I shared. That plate was practically wiped clean. After all, we couldn’t waste a perfectly good takeout container when we’d spent our entire lunch saving room for cheesecake!
Happily, even with suggesting Sol and Jen take our order last, we were in and out of Sol’s NYC Deli within the standard one-hour lunch break. And, those large sandwiches resulted in enough to enjoy for lunch the next day!
Nothing is expensive, or over the top at Sol’s NYC Deli at The Starlite Room. Unless you consider Sol’s outsized and irrepressible personality, those gorge-ous deli sandwiches or the unbeatable cheesecake.
And may I add, don’t forget the coleslaw! (Drat! I didn’t take a photo of the coleslaw!)