When New York-style Jewish deli first came to Philadelphia – around the turn of the century – one of the first delicatessens in town to feature it was a place called Kibitz in the City, which sat on the 700 block of Chestnut Street in Center City. I ate there at least a couple times, but don’t remember the experiences well.
While that deli didn’t last very long, the ownership also had one called The Kibitz Room in Cherry Hill, a large suburb in South Jersey, which is still around – I’m not sure of the chronology at this point in terms of when each opened. It’s taken me somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years to get to The Kibitz Room, but it finally happened for lunch with my mother Tuesday.
It sits in a standard suburban shopping center, but has a fairly classic interior for a Jewish deli. The only way it could have appeared more old-school is if they served cafeteria style, like Katz’s of New York or Shapiro’s of Indianapolis. Alas, they are table-service only.
We were seated in an advantageous spot – between the knish case and the pickle bar. While I had too much eating ahead of me to consider a knish, we helped ourselves to pickles. As usual, I opted for half-sour. I didn’t know of their existence until around the time I discovered that New York-style deli was different than what I’d grown up eating in Northeast Philly and the surrounding suburbs – roughly 25 years ago. But once I had that realization, they quickly surpassed full-sours as my pickle of choice.
The soda case had a modest selection of Dr. Brown’s soda. I went with a diet black cherry, while my mother grabbed a cel-ray.
It didn’t take long for our order to arrive. My mother and I split pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. Each came with a choice of sides. She went for coleslaw, while I opted for a potato latke with applesauce.
As you can see, The Kibitz Room doesn’t skimp on meat. They charge for it too – each sandwich was $19-$20. That’s probably in-line with other New York-style delis that serve massive portions, especially in the current economic environment. They also offer half sandwiches at a reduced – but not dramatically so – price, and I may have gone for that option if I didn’t feel the need to try both pastrami and corned beef for this report.
I tried the pastrami first and was a little disappointed. The flavor was fine, but it wasn’t super tender. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the meat tough, It needed to really be chewed, which isn’t generally the case with quality New York-style pastrami.
There was no such issue with the corned beef. It was moist and extremely soft. The flavor was good, but not up there with the best I’ve had.
While I enjoyed the overall experience of eating at The Kibitz Room – and would certainly go there at least periodically if I lived near them – the sandwiches probably weren’t impressive enough for me to commit to facing the potential traffic headaches, not to mention the $20 per sandwich price-tag, that returning would entail.
Based on this admittedly limited sampling, I would have to say that Philly’s two top Jewish-style delis, Famous 4th Street and Hershel’s – remain the best options in the metro area. They also happen to be closer to where I live, making the choice even easier.