No one ever said I was a good Jew. I’ve only ever been to temple for bar mitzvahs and for work. I prefer to call myself “culturally Jewish,” which basically equates to a craving for Dr. Brown’s soda and pastrami. It hit this weekend, and I headed to Chutzpah in Fairfax to satisfy it.
Even by deli standards, Chutzpah is a small, unprepossessing space. Takeout customers head to the counter, while those dining in can choose from one of a few socially distanced booths. Meals start with complimentary pickles and coleslaw, which I always consider more of an opportunity to get some vegetal matter in my body than an enticement. However, these were damn fine sour pickles, worth a try even if you’re not weighing nutritional concerns.
Dr. Brown’s in hand (a Cel-Ray and a diet black cherry), I was impressed with the speed at which my matzoh ball soup arrived, complete with an extra bowl for sharing. I am only human; I judge all chicken soup by how much it tastes like my grandma’s and this was a close approximation indeed. The matzoh ball could have been more tender, but to my mind, matzoh balls are one of those items like pizza or fried chicken that can never truly disappoint.
The ring-bound menu, in keeping with the best New York delis, is expansive at Chutzpah. It’s a challenge to choose, whether it’s some form of sandwich, all-day breakfast or a plate of true Judaica like Tongue Polonaise. My dining partner, who was sampling delicatessen fare for the first time, was eager to try the Reuben, but even that comes with challenges. Chutzpah offers it with corned beef (“the way God intended it,” the menu states), pastrami or both. We went with the combo in order to test both meats.
The tangy brine of the corned beef was just enough to break up the richness of the fatty meat. The pastrami, lightly peppery and not too smoky. Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing all played their part, sandwiched between buttery rye, studded with just enough caraway seeds to give the bread its proper earthy due.
My grandmother always said that “only Jews and Texans know from brisket.” The one I ordered over a pair of potato pancakes (latkes) was sliced thinner than I’d like, but I enjoyed the sweet and savory gravy that coated it. Even better? The crisp exterior and tender interior of the latkes, unmarred by the moisture of the gravy.
But ultimately, my new devotion to Chutzpah was cemented by the Seven Layer Cake. Last year, I embarked on a project for a friend in which I tried my favorite style of cake all over Houston and New Orleans. Which is to say, I’ve eaten more than my share of seven layers. The one at Chutzpah grew on me with each bite. Neither the thin layers of sturdy white cake nor the chocolate buttercream in between were too sweet. They were sealed with an uncommonly thick layer of ganache that enrobed the entire cake. This made my dining companion compare it to a very fancy snack cake. Me? I called it my latest obsession. // 12214 Fairfax Town Center, Fairfax
For more restaurant reviews, subscribe to our Food newsletter.