Authentic deli food has become a lost art–especially in Manhattan when only 25 years ago, there was an old school delicatessen type resto every three blocks. PJ Bernstein is a survivor, thanks to keeping their quality consistent for decades, being in the center of the Upper East Side in terms of location, friendly service a family atmosphere. Oops, I almost forgot to mention that PJ Bernstein is priced better than the more famous delis like Katz and Second Avenue Deli–I would say prices are at least 20 per cent lower. PJ Bernstein is owned by a family of dentists and the only way this place can get any better is if they give out free root canals and crowns in the back, LOL! (May I have a rim shot, please?)
I had to try at least a half dozen food items on my visit to PJ Bernstein and Juan the affable and very “on the ball” manager said to my guest Gail Worley (of worleygig.com) and I that the Triple Delight Soup was his favorite (and that it has always been a runaway hit). This soup is a chicken based consommé with herbs and carrots–but the clincher is that it features homemade beef kreplach, matzoh balls and fine golden noodles. Oh boy, does the Triple Delight pack a triple dose of flavor! It is very filling and on its own would make a great lunch! It is just the ultimate in classic comfort food and perfect for the cold NYC winters.
Next up was the super filling Kasha Knish and it was golden and so satisfying. I had not had kasha before in any form and I found that it had a bit of a pleasant nutty flavor. All of PJ Bernstein’s knishes are freshly made on the premises and both moist and generously stuffed. I am so happy that I tried the Kasha Knish! It was a perfect app to split with a guest, especially when teamed up with PJ Bernstein’s fabulous deli mustard.
PJ Bernstein’s latkes are large (about six inches in diameter) and served with side bowls of sour cream and applesauce. These latkes are golden and light and it would be so easy to eat five or six of these. This is the best latke I have ever tried in any deli anywhere–they are THAT good. These latkes are a real crowd pleaser so if you are with a large group of friends or family, order a platter of latkes and split them. These can be cut just with a fork and are the stuff that foodie dreams are made of!
I just had to try the Pierogies which are filled with potatoes and cheese respectively. As you can see from the photo above, you can order them boiled or fried (and both ways are fabulous). These are a stick to your ribs type of food, and I would love to eat six of them as a complete lunch. It is a toss up which filling that I like better, though. The potato filling is soft and buttery, while the brisket filling feature tender, juicy chunks of meat. These Pierogies are world class. You can tell right off the bat that the dough is homemade and that these are not frozen Pierogies like so many restaurants (even “fine” ones) now use. They are served with a large pile of thinly sliced and sautéed Bermuda onions that provide an amazing accent to the flavors of the fillings.
It’s perhaps the amazing home cured meats that keep people coming back to PJ Bernstein Deli time and time again. There are simply no finer deli meats anywhere–these meats are seasoned to perfection and the corned beef is the leanest in the city. If you look above, you can see that there is next to no fat on any of these meats, as a matter of fact. The pastrami is my favorite just because it seems to be the juiciest and has a peppery crust. It is pure heaven to go to PJ Bernstein and ask for a platter of assorted meats with a big stack of their soft, fresh rye bread at the side.
No real deli is complete without excellent homemade chopped liver and my pal and dining mate Gail ordered a portion (which at almost a full cup was very generous). I don’t need to tell you that chopped liver is a staple of any authentic deli and Gail gave PJ Bernstein’s liver (served with Saltine crackers just like the Triple Delight Soup) a four star rating!
PJ Bernstein Deli also makes their own desserts. The creamy frosting on their carrot cake is totally dreamy while the cake part is moist and full of shredded carrots and raisins. I really enjoyed the generous portion which was about four inches wide and four inches tall. I might have been stuffed from all the previous food that I had eaten, but I always make room for a very freshly made piece of carrot cake!
Gail ordered the lemon pound cake and I cut off a generous chunk from the top for myself. This wedge is big enough for two people. The lemony taste is a refreshing way to end a meal and the white icing is perfect–it’s moist and not overly sweet. I plan to go back to PJ Bernstein Deli to get a slab of this pound cake for myself and probably reorder everything I have previously mentioned as well!
PJ Bernstein provides the “ultimate Jewish soul food” experience. You will feel like family from the first time that you go there. It has a modern feel in terms of the furnishings and atmosphere but it is purely classic and old-school when it comes to their cuisine. You will love their wall of signed celebrity head shots so be sure to add extra time during your visit to peruse them. (Yes, all those celebs have really dined at PJ Bernstein!) Service at PJ Bernstein is prompt, reservations are not needed and they happily accommodate any dietary needs. There are also fabulous specials every day and even half sandwich deals! (They also have a Groupon running right now for even bigger deals!) You can dine in, pick up an order or get delivery. For more info on this Upper East Side legend, go to www.pjbernstein.com.