Over near the state line, the popular d'Bronx Deli (3904 W. 39th Street) celebrates a different borough of the Big Apple. d'Bronx is renowned for its pizza but frequently features an excellent chicken noodle soup that can be had with or without a big, fluffy matzo ball. The Reuben sandwiches are actually grilled, and they come out of the kitchen wrapped in tinfoil, the bread hot and crunchy, the cheese melted around the corned beef and the sauerkraut juicy and tart. Right now, I'd nominate it as the best Reuben in town.
In the suburbs, the Texas-based Jason's Deli (8931 Metcalf) serves up a hefty Reuben with all the traditional ingredients, barely held together with toothpicks, but the rye bread is only lightly toasted. The workers make sandwiches to order and ladle French onion and broccoli cheese soups (but not matzo ball, alas) into ceramic crocks. Prepackaged salads and wedges of irritatingly sweet cheesecake are stored in clear plastic boxes. Jason's feels like a Texas deli: Everything looks bigger than life but tastes a little bland.
And at the end of this month, a Florida-based franchise deli, TooJay's (6685 W. 119th Street), opens in a freestanding building in the new Fountains Shopping Center in Overland Park. The Kansas TooJay's is owned by the same local partners who hold Kansas City's Hooters franchise -- but food, not busty waitresses, will be the draw at TooJay's. One of the partners, Roger Gondek, says they chose to bring the TooJay's concept to Kansas City because "every other segment of the restaurant industry is just saturated here."
Two restaurateurs named Jay came up with the idea for the upscale deli in West Palm Beach in 1981; Johnson County's TooJay's will be the only delicatessen in the city to offer sit-down service, full breakfasts in the mornings (including Belgian waffles and egg dishes) and, later, an elaborate menu of favorite deli dishes, from matzo ball soup to thick potato pancakes, grilled Reuben sandwiches, blintzes and a wide variety of baked goods.
Johnson County also is the setting for a new Italian-style deli to open later this month in the spot formerly occupied by the Avelluto family's Cafe Italia restaurant. When the hugely popular Italian Delight pizzeria and sandwich shop (6522 Martway) expands into the newly renovated space, the deli will feature grilled panini sandwiches, salads, appetizers, take-out suppers and an array of Italian-style hero sandwiches, according to Joe Avelluto, who runs his restaurant empire (which includes the fancier Il Trullo restaurant) with three of his four sons.
"There's no such thing as a deli in Italy," says Italian-born Joe, "but there are shops, salumarias, that sell meat, cheeses and sandwiches. It's that kind of concept we're expanding on." Avelluto gives the traditional German-Jewish delicatessen concept an Italian spin with specialty sandwiches created with the distinct flavors of the different regions of the country, from Parma to Puglia. He'll also make part of the deli a grocery, selling imported cheeses, coffees, jams and sweets.
But no matzo ball soup. It may be a deli staple, but it's not Italian.