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Uncle Pinkie’s Delicatessen offers modern interpretations of Jewish-style deli classics

Aunt Edith’s Matzo ball soup.

Eric Baker, a South Florida top chef, has a new Boca Raton eatery that stands the traditional Jewish-style deli on its head with house-cured meats and more. Anyone for a black truffle laced potato knish or a Manischewitz margarita?

By ALAN J. WAX

If a Jew wandered into Uncle Pinkie’s Delicatessen in Boca Raton would he recognize the fare?

The answer is perhaps, because the food coming out of the kitchen at Uncle Pinkie’s is Chef Eric Baker’s attempt to stand the Jewish deli world on its head. It’s a blend of tradition with modern twists.

Baker, the owner of Rebel House gastropub in Boca Raton, recently opened Uncle Pinkie’s Market & Deli in a vacant space next door to his eclectic American bistro on Palmetto Park Road, just west of the bridge over the Intracoastal.

The veteran South Florida chef, a native of Syosset, Long Island, previously co-founded the now-closed Mazie’s in West Palm Beach in 2018, which was named after his grandmother and featured a number of Eastern European dishes.  A number of Uncle Pinkie’s specialties appeared on Mazie’s menu. Baker, who has worked at Steak 954 and Lobster Bar in Fort Lauderdale and Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach and the-now-closed Max’s Harvest in Delray Beach, named Uncle Pinkie’s for his uncle, Pincus, Mazie’s older brother.

With the opening of Uncle Pinkie’s, it appears that  Baker has come full-circle career-wise. He started in the restaurant business at Ben’s Kosher Deli in Woodbury, Long Island (Ben’s has a branch in West Boca).

Uncle Pinkie’s opening runs counter to an industry trend. Traditional Jewish delis are closing their doors around the country. Baker has said that Uncle Pinkie’s is a “passion project.”

The counter, deli cases.

It’s not easy to spot Uncle Pinkie’s driving along Palmetto Park Road. There’s no signage and the red awning overhanging the entry says boutique. As you enter Uncle Pinkie’s, which shares a kitchen with Rebel House, you’ll see a counter made of distressed wood at the front, where orders are placed, and a couple of deli cases filled with salads and beverages and a few seats at tables adorned with black and white checkered tablecloths. There’s a pressed-tin ceiling. The walls are plastered with old photos of Baker’s family and vintage collectibles on loan from the Wolf Gallery in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. Outside, there are sidewalk tables under an overhang that can seat 16.

Open since late February, Uncle Pinkie’s is a breakfast and lunch eatery, offering locally smoked lox from Prestige Smokehouse in Riviera Beach, according to packaging, and local bagels (only plain and everything) from Bagel Works in West Boca. There’s also cream cheese, bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches, salads and traditional sandwiches, including house-made pastrami, corned beef, brisket and turkey. And, of course, there’s what Baker calls deli classics: matzo ball chicken soup, potato latkes, potato knishes, chopped liver and a savory, dairy noodle kugel made with cheddar. There are Chinese and black and white cookies ($3.50) and rugalach (six for $8), too. The store-cooked fare may be classics, but Baker has given them a modern spin. That’s helping to attract younger patrons, such as the pair of young women I spotted lunching outside during a recent visit.

House-made pastrami on thick-cut rye,

You can’t go to a deli and not try the soup. Edith’s Chicken Soup ($7.50) with a golf-ball-sized matzo ball, bits of carrots and celery and pieces of chicken, is loaded with dill. The firm, dill-flecked matzo ball was a tad salty. The large serving in a ceramic bowl is a meal in itself. Grandma would approve.

But, fressers (Yiddish for big eaters) of traditional Jewish deli may have a hard-time recognizing other dishes coming out of Uncle Pinkie’s kitchen.

Corned beef on rye.

Thick-cut pastrami on rye ($15.50) is tender, tasty and moist, but heavily smoked, and tends to the salty side. Great for barbeque afficionados. The thick-cut, double-baked rye bread – from Old School Bakery in Delray Beach (as are other bakery products) used to make sandwiches is perfect. To be sure, the sandwiches are not overstuffed. The sandwich is served with nine bites of sour pickles, half sour pickles and pickled tomatoes in a tiny disposable cup and thick-shred creamy cole slaw with a hint of black pepper. Orders are delivered to your table in paper atop stainless-steel mess trays.

Truffled potato knish

Meanwhile, the thick-cut corned beef ($15.50), almost perfectly pink, was sandwiched between two thick slices of seeded rye slathered with dark mustard. I wish the thick edge of fat, which diminished my pleasure, had been removed.

At Uncle Pinkie’s a potato knish ($7)gets a 21st Century spin. It’s a baked crusty shell with a creamy filling of potatoes redolent with bits of earthy black truffle and leek . A serving of deli mustard is on the side.

Chopped liver ($7/half pound) is a dense, creamy puree, more resembling a pate than the minced product to which many aficionados are accustomed. It was nonetheless tangy and delicious.

Despite all this, my dining companion complained that her egg and cheese sandwich on challah bun ($7.25) was overly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Alas, I was unable to sample Uncle Pinkie’s noodle kugel, which was sold out at the time of my visit.

Traditionalists should note there is no Dr. Brown’s soda to be found. Uncle Pinkie’s only carries Boylan craft products ($3.50), which are sweetened with sugar, not corn syrup.

Traditional chocolate egg cream and untraditional Manischewitz margarita.

Egg cream (3.50), the traditional New York City concoction of milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer, also is available, as well as hot and iced tea and coffee (from Wells in Fort Lauderdale) and draft beer.

But, there’s one beverage on the menu that should not be overlooked: the Manischewitz Margarita ($8), a creative twist on the classic citrus-tequila drink, and an apt pairing for Uncle Pinkie’s kitchen offerings.  Arriving in a tall, disposable plastic cup, this is a refreshing cocktail with salty notes combining tequila blanco, triple sec, and, of course, the grapey kosher wine.

Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Uncle Pinkie’s closes at 3 p.m. on Saturday and is shuttered on Sundays. Many of the menu offerings can be ordered at Rebel House during the evening.

Uncle Pinkie’s may not be your uncle’s deli, but for adventurous diners seeking a modern twist on traditional Jewish deli cuisine, bring your appetite, eat and be satisfied.

Uncle Pinkie’s Market & Deli

293 E. Palmetto Park Rd., Boca Raton, FL 33432

561-931-2902

www.unclepinkiesdeli.com

 

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