DINING | Mort’s Deli in Golden Valley: Alsatian-Lithuanian cooking at its best

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I went out last night to check out Mort’s Deli in Golden Valley. It’s nice to see an independent restaurant like Mort’s open up in the midst of suburban strip-mall-and-chain-restaurant hell, because independent restaurants tend to have a little more character and personality than the chains. Not to mention better food.

The menu and the website try to create that feeling of character and personality, evoking the deli tradition:

“Deli food is comfort food from Eastern Europe, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary… Historically, delis feed a hunger for New Americans that goes way beyond the stomach. They offer the sense of identity and the feeling of being “home.” It is the cuisine of these people, that we most often think of as delicatessen food – matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, potato latkes.”

“German and Alsatian immigrants were the first to open and run delicatessens in this country. Today, many of the delis still operating are run by third- and fourth-generation family members.”

Notice something funny here? We get Lithuania, Russia and Hungary. We get Germans and Alsatians. Put it together, and you got Germans and Alsatian immigrants serving Russian, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Eastern European food.

Notice something missing?

The menu does list matzo ball soup, lox and bagels, gefilte fish and more, and even offers a glossary, which translates terms like mensch and kibbitz into English – but it never says what language they came from. (Yiddish.)

It’s like opening up a restaurant that serves egg foo young and chicken chow mein, and avoiding the word “Chinese.”

It turns out the bit about Germans and Alsatians was cribbed from the Carnegie Deli website, which also supplies Mort’s with their corned beef, pastrami and tongue. But the Carnegie Deli says it straight out: “Eventually Jews, too, went into the business. Delis were especially attractive for the observant as the stores were open on Sundays, selling canned and packaged goods, often duplicating the services of grocery stores. More than anything else the delicatessen became the “Jewish eating experience” in this country.”

(Actually, I know several Chinese restaurateurs who might dispute that last claim.)

So, what’s this about? Is Mort afraid that if the Lutherans find out that it’s a Jewish delicatessen, they won’t eat there?

At any rate, I went by myself, so I could only sample a few items. I thought the hot cabbage beef borscht was just okay – I prefer versions with more of a sweet-sour yin-yang. The meat platter, which included very generous portions of brisket, corned beef, pastrami, salami and chopped liver, and about 10 slices of deli rye – was a mixed bag: the brisket and pastrami were first-rate, but the corned beef was too lean, (this is a subject on which reasonable people can disagree), and the salami and chopped liver were just okay. I’m not a big fan of chopped liver, but I tend to prefer versions that are lighter, and more moist, and the egg and onion aren’t completely homogenized.

There’s lots more on the menu that I would like to try, including the Reuben sandwiches and the matzo ball soup, and the Carnegie Deli cheesecake. Service was friendly and attentive (which is not necessarily part of the authentic deli dining experience.) The experience was marred only by the programming on the two big flat-screen TVs mounted on the back wall of the dining room: on the left, Sean Hannity interviewing Oliver North on Fox, and on the right, Joy Behar giving airtime to Ann Coulter on CNN.

Oy, vey.

Mort’s Deli, 525 Winnetka Avenue N., Golden Valley, MN, 763-544-2900 • www.morts-deli.com.