Editor’s Note: Rye is now closed.
Run down a list of the top delis in the Twin Cities — in no particular order, Be’Wiched, Cecil’s, Crossroads, Mort’s, Brothers — and soon you realize you’ve run through pretty much the entire list of delis in the Twin Cities. (I say “pretty much” because as soon as one uses absolutes like “entire” on the Internet, one is cosmically guaranteed to have left something out.)
Plot those delis on a map and there are some gaping holes. Notably, all of Minneapolis outside of downtown — even food-centric Southwest Minneapolis and the old seat of Minneapolis Jewry on the Northside. (For purposes of this discussion, Clancey’s Meats and Fish in Linden Hills doesn’t qualify as a deli. Yes, they cure pastrami and make a great sandwich, but no matzoh balls=no deli.) Really, what does a gal have to do to get a pound of good cured meat, a matzoh ball, and a decent half sour around here? Drive to the ’burbs?
Well, it used to be so, but no more. Last week, Rye Delicatessen and Bar opened on Franklin in Hennepin, in the old Auriga space, that bright yellow building you need GPS to guide you to even as you’re driving right past it. With that, the list of the Twin Cities “best” delis has grown by one and Minneapolitans can now get a pound of good cured meat, a decent half sour, a warm and homey meal, and, in very un-deli-like fashion, a decent cocktail.
Rye’s been building buzz for a few months with the promise of Montreal-style smoked meat: brisket cured in salt and then hot-smoked until it is tender and flavorful. Rye (like Montreal smoked-meat emporiums) slices their meats a quarter-inch thick, as if to show off: “We don’t have to shave our meats so you can get a tooth through them.” And tender it is, though not overwhelmingly smoky.
But even beyond the smoked meat, there a slew of other menu items you just can’t find easily anywhere else in Minnesota: kugel (sliceable casseroles), kishka (a rustic sausage), tzimmes (sweet braised carrots), kasha varnishkes (farfalle with mushrooms and buckwheat), and matzoh brie (scrambled eggs with matzoh), to name just a few.
The deli case has just a few prepared dishes, but many of these are also filling some hitherto under-met needs, like whole smoked whitefish in all its bronzed and flaky glory, “health salad” (which is a roundabout way of saying vinegar-based coleslaw), a truly old-school macaroni salad, and a creamy Israeli-style hummus.
Sandwiches are minimalist and not outsized, served, if you like, on a slightly sweet soft rye with plenty of caraway tang. The Reason for Rye combines corned beef, smoked meat, and chopped liver spread, but once you’ve tasted the much more tender and flavorful smoked beef, it’s actually hard to comprehend the reason for the corned beef. It’s a little dry and underseasoned.
The Knife and Fork Reuben is served open-faced, with your choice of corned beef or smoked meat (again: smoked meat), and it is quite good. The grilled salami will make you wonder why you don’t eat hot salami more often. (This comes on a bialy, which is a flat onion roll like a bagel, except it doesn’t have a hole and it isn’t boiled, which makes it really not like a bagel at all, except it is, trust us.)
The matzoh ball soup comes with a rather surprising price tag — $5.99 for a cup! Think back to the last time you made matzoh balls. Oh, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Because making those suckers come out just right — dense enough to hold together, but fluffy enough to make your Bubbe proud — takes a lot of babying along. The matzoh ball we got, well, let’s say that particular one was more than a bit dense in the center. But the broth! That golden, rich broth most assuredly started life as chicken parts in a pot in Rye’s kitchen, not in a Sysco bag. Ditto the Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht, with generous bits of brisket throughout. It’s too sweet for my taste but somebody’s babushka definitely makes it that way.
Breakfast includes housemade bagels. While these wouldn’t have taken the blue ribbon in our bagel tasting, they probably would have placed. The crust needs a bit more chew to distinguish it from the soft center, but the bagels still make excellent vehicles for generous lox or egg sandwiches. While you can get omelets and French toast any day of the week, the really fancy stuff, like Cheese Blintzes and a Smoked Meat Benedict on a bialy, is only available on the weekends.
For sweets, there are big homey slices of babka (a swirly coffee cake — usually yeasted, but at Rye it is a quick bread), ultra-dense cheesecake, and excellent rugelach — two-bite pastries made with delicate cream cheese dough, in this case rolled around a cinnamon-cardamom-apricot filling. Somebody at Rye has apparently mistakenly priced these labor-intensive sweets at $4 a dozen. We just might buy them out daily before they realize their error. That’s $0.35 apiece!
After several trips to Rye, there are still plenty of things on the menu we’re eager to try, like the poutine (a Quebecois specialty, involving layers of fries, cheese curds, and gravy). We actually watched someone at another table lean close to his poutine as it arrived, take a discreet sniff, and smile broadly. And, big knish fans, we can only imagine that good things will happen when the classic potato pastry is turned into a pot pie.
And it will be a real pleasure to revisit Rye, because it’s a lovely, comfortable space, with big windows and a long bar that I predict will become the worst-kept secret among Uptown drinkers looking for a quiet place for a nightcap.
Now, if they only made pastrami, we wouldn’t have to drive to the ’burbs at all.
BEST BET: Get the grilled salami — it’ll make you wonder why you don’t eat hot salami more often.
Rye Delicatessen and Bar
Deli in Uptown Minneapolis
1930 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403
OWNERS: Tobie Nidetz and David Weinstein
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $8–17