Mel and Anne Rueckhaus Deli
The hidden jewel of the JCC
So what exactly does “kosher” mean? For those of us non-Jewish foodies, here's a bit of history to help understand and appreciate our swine-eschewing brethren. In a nutshell, kosher is a classification of kashrut (keeping kosher) that refers to Jewish dietary laws for food purity. How these laws are significant really depends on who you ask, but Jewish philosophy and the Old Testament are generally in agreement about the basics: the separation of milk and meat, an absence of residual blood in meat and the prohibition of pork and some shellfish. Why do so many Jewish diners respect kosher laws? A few reasons might include symbolism, self-discipline, adherence to the tenets of their faith and hygiene.
Sadly, here in Albuquerque, there aren't any restaurants that adhere to strict kosher standards. But if you crave Jewish-style ethnic goodies, we do have a small, tidy sandwich shop with a hint of matzo at the Rueckhaus Deli, conveniently located in the Ronald Gardenswartz Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque on Wyoming.
The community center is set on several acres of posh real estate, and the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Jewish Community Campus includes a day school, fitness center with a six-lane swimming pool, basketball courts and a ton of other amenities. But the good news is that you don't have to be a member, or even Jewish, to enjoy a quiet lunch with a great view.
The deli is quite small, with only a few bistro tables paired with a couple of overstuffed couches and glass tables—almost too pretty to eat at. I found myself glancing around to make sure the furniture etiquette fairy didn't nab me defiling the fancy furnishings with my tuna melt and apple Snapple.
I ordered my lunch but was immediately dismayed to learn they don't take plastic. I ran up the street to the nearest ATM, determined to stay mad at them for the inconvenience. The frowny face lasted until I got my food (they had it waiting for me when I returned), and I was turned around by the size and obvious quality of my sandwich.
This tuna melt ($6.50) set the bar pretty high. I got two perfectly toasted slices of Fano-brand light rye spread with thick, chunky, tuna salad (heavy on the dill), all covered with melted Swiss cheese. Jewish foods don't get any better than the fat, crunchy pickle I received, reeking of garlic, crisp and vinegar-laden down to the last bite. I chose the side of fresh fruit to go with my sandwich, and was pleased to see juicy orange wedges, sliced cantaloupe and a bunch of fat red grapes, all cleaned with the latest craze in eco-friendly produce preparation, Veggie Wash. Now, ordering fresh fruit salad usually means you run the risk of getting the old standby—mushy melon hunks with a few underripe strawberries for color. I must give the Rueckhausers credit for their extra effort.
I figured I made a sound lunchtime choice, because the other diners around me seemed to have judiciously ordered the same thing. A glimpse at their side dishes revealed other options like a green salad and Southwest seasoned fries.
The menu is a curious hybrid of deli favorites, vegetarian dishes and New Mexican foods. There's challah French toast, all-beef franks, a rather tasty looking pastrami sandwich, plus the inevitable and beloved breakfast burrito. When I went, the daily special was a tofu scramble with fresh spinach and red onion. And although I was disappointed they were out of chicken matzo ball soup, I did notice a traditional lox and bagel meal on the menu, so their Jewish deli roots are intact.
The selection of baked goods rivaled any local coffee shop. I saw fresh-baked muffins, coffeecake and brownies, all while noshing on a giant white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. Lo and behold, the beverages included a full espresso bar; but even better than that, they make egg creams.
For those who've never been to the East Coast, an egg cream is one the simplest of epicurean delights, consisting only of cold milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer water—kind of like a fizzy chocolate milk. I would highly recommend sampling at least one before you cash in your chips.
The beauty part of the Rueckhaus Deli is their catering and take-home entrées: The deli's contractor and executive chef, Sharon Levin, runs her locally cherished Gourmet to Go catering company from the kitchen. They offer nonkosher and kosher catering (which is prepared offsite in the separate kitchens of B'Nai Israel synagogue) for weddings, banquets and family get-togethers, as well as some nice, already-cooked dinners like lasagna, quiche, spanakopita and enchiladas available for pickup every Tuesday.
While there are many things about Jewish tradition that I don't understand (why would you break a perfectly good glass at a wedding like that?), as long as there's a decent delicatessen down the street, at least I can have an egg cream and learn to not ask so many questions. Oy vey!