The reconstituted 2nd Avenue Deli on a quiet side street is a bittersweet triumph—a mere sliver of the landmark it once was, minus the Molly Picon Room and its walk of Yiddish stars in the pavement out front, bereft of its mostly surly waiters. Yet puckering up over sour pickles and biting into a very good pastrami-and-tongue sandwich with coleslaw and swathings of Russian dressing (on wimpy rye) brings back a cherished old deli nostalgia. Our sixsome, eager to taste everything again, eats with the innocence of the days when calories counted but not much and cholesterol hadn’t been invented. Crisp curls of gribenes (deep-fried chicken skin and onions) make a delicious amuse-bouche. A $9.95 portion of the dark, grown-up, deliciously meaty chopped liver (unpolluted with chopped egg) is enough for a couple of schmears each. Then we’re on to sharing sensational egg barley with mushrooms, the classic mushroom-barley soup, thickly primitive potato pancakes (fried too far ahead), and shockingly commercial fries from a house whose fries were once contenders for best in town. But who needs fries when the salami is spunky, the pastrami respectably peppery, and the corned beef reasonably juicy (triple deckers $16.50 to $22.95). The frail, aging Chinese bus-“boy” is still around in his 2nd Avenue Deli tee, and our Egyptian waiter brings small glasses of dairy-free egg creams and foil to wrap up the leftovers.
2nd Avenue Deli
162 E. 33rd St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-677-0606