Memories, traditions are piled high with pastrami on rye at Ben’s Kosher Deli in W. Boca Raton

Ben’s in Boca Raton at Clint Moore and SR7.

The only truly kosher Jewish deli in South Florida can be hit or miss, but the menu of Eastern European specialties stirs up memories for ex-New Yorkers with traditional deli meats and kitchen offerings. Gratis crunchy pickles and crispy cole slaw are always a promising start at this fresser’s temple.

By Alan J. Wax

Why is Ben’s Kosher Deli in West Boca Raton different from all other Jewish-style delis in South Florida?

It’s the only one that’s certified kosher.

Ben’s has been the go-to kosher deli for thousands of New Yorkers since owner Ronnie Dragoon and his father, Ben, opened their first restaurant on Long Island’s South Shore 50 years ago. Today, there are three Ben’s on Long Island, one in Queens and one in Manhattan’s Garment District. And, since 2004, Ben’s been serving up hot pastrami, corned beef, knishes, chicken soup and more, in Boca Raton.

The Boca eatery is certified by Rabbi Paul Plotkin, a recognized expert in kashrut for the Conservative movement. Unlike other delis in the region, Ben’s serves no dairy and no pork products as others do.  (It’s open on Friday night and Saturday because it is leased to a non-Jew for the duration of the Sabbath.)

Located at the fringe of a sprawling shopping center at the intersection of State Road 7 and Clint Moore Road, Ben’s Deli is a standalone temple to fressing (Yiddish for eating without restraint).

Ben’s dining room.

Ben’s deli counter.

It’s a large, high-ceilinged space with a modern wood, glass and chrome dining room. Walls are decorated with etched glass and murals – nostalgic memories of New York – and framed kitschy humorous quotes, a few of them in Yiddish. The floor is terrazzo as are the tabletops.  The deli counter, found to the left of the entrance, runs the length of the wall. Managers walk the floor almost constantly.  The customers, not surprisingly, are mostly older.

To be sure, Ben’s has many fans – and detractors. And even though as a journalist I’ve known owner Ronnie Dragoon for many years, I’m not afraid to pull any punches. I’ve had good experiences, particularly one where I dined with Dragoon and a tableful of deli mavens on Long Island, and lesser ones. I also enjoyed a recent gathering at the Boca eatery for pastrami fans on Facebook that was put together by the self-appointed Facebook Queen of Pastrami Ellen Fried.

Mix and match pastrami and corned beef on rye, pickles, cole slaw and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.

Back when pandemic protocols were being observed, Ben’s in Boca offered no outdoor seating, so we went there attempting to dine inside. We arrived at 7:15 p.m. but were told we couldn’t be seated because they were closing their doors at 7:30. We couldn’t even do take-out as the countermen were already busy cleaning their slicing machines. In a word, disappointment.

One of the joys of dining in at Ben’s are the endless free, crunchy pickles and crispy cole slaw that are delivered to your table before you order.

Also worth trying is Grandma’s Soup ($10.99), literally a meal in itself: a bowl of chicken broth overflowing with egg noodles, a matzo ball or kreplach (Jewish wonton), bits of soft carrots and pieces of boneless chicken.  Mushroom barley ($6.99) soup, meal size too, is also popular.

A return visit this past summer to partake of the regular Sunday prime rib special ($39.99) was mostly disappointing for my wife, who adores a nice rare slab of beef. Ben’s offering was more akin to a steak than a cut of roast as it appeared to have been seared on a flattop grill.  Moreover, it was dry and tough. And the baked potato accompanying it was rotten (it was replaced by mashed spuds). On the other hand, my wife liked the sweet fruit noodle pudding as a side.

For me, during that summer visit, a mountainous mix-and-match combo sandwich ($19.99) of hot pastrami – the only meat not produced in-house (it’s Hebrew National) – and the house-brined corned beef was a mixed blessing. The pastrami, double-steamed as is standard at Ben’s, was near perfect. The corned beef, on the other hand, while tangy, was tough.

Ben’s sweet fruit noodle pudding.

Potato knish.

Sunday special: $39.99 prime rib.

Mix and match pastrami and brisket on club bread.

During our most recent sojourn to Ben’s, my wife played it safe and enjoyed her sliced white meat turkey on unseeded rye bread ($14.49) and her sweet noodle pudding side ($4.99).

This time, I opted for a different mix and match sandwich ($19.99) – hot pastrami and brisket on club bread ($.99 additional) – and a baked, round potato knish ($4.99). My order was the last of about 20 in our group to arrive, but the pastrami had pretty much cooled off while waiting to be picked up by our overworked server.  My pastrami queen friend, Ellen, called over top counterman Santiago Lopez and related my problem to him. He wisked it away and returned with a hot replacement. The pastrami was rich and flavorful and incredibly tender, and the brisket succulent, though the club bread was a tad dry. My knish, which looked to weigh a pound and was filled with onion-laced mashed spuds, brought back memories of Brooklyn.

And for many patrons, Ben’s offerings stir up memories, especially for former New Yorkers whose hometown has experienced a declining number of delis. Despite some missteps, I only hope that Ben’s continues to conjure up memories and keep the Jewish deli tradition alive in South Florida.

Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant

9942 Clint Moore Rd., Boca Raton 33496


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