The people: Ronnie Heckman and his friend Mark Rosemond, both 23, worked for about six years at Brooklyn’s Deli in Potomac before taking on Bethesda’s most elusive culinary challenge: running a successful Jewish deli. Ronnie’s dad, Eric Heckman, who lives in Rockville, is providing the financial muscle and marketing expertise (he’s the CFO, “for lack of a better term,” he says). The elder Heckman, officially retired, had a varied career in the broadcasting, record, video store, linen supply and insurance industries. Now he’s overseeing a deli.
The place: The former Maggie’s restaurant underwent a quick redo, and the result is pretty nondescript. Checkerboard-cushioned seats, wood tables, a couple of small caricatures on the white walls—it doesn’t have any of the schlocky charm of an old deli, or any of the glitziness of newer places. There’s also something disorganized about the service and atmosphere, but hopefully that will improve as time goes on. Eric Heckman says the place is doing a brisk take-out business, and that may be a better bet for now.
The food: So far, it’s a mixed bag.
Nobody makes as good a chicken soup as your bubby, but Heckman’s takes an admirable stab at it, the broth rich with chunks of chicken, carrots and celery. However, Grandma wouldn’t be too proud of the matzo ball, a heavy and tasteless orb that sank to the bottom of the bowl. The potato pancakes need some work too; although nicely browned, their interiors seemed to have more flour than potatoes. And the chopped liver was too smooth and fine; I like mine with more texture. Other little quibbles: The rye bread is good, but sliced too thick for the sandwiches, the corned beef needs a brinier boost, and the coleslaw and potato salad should be attention grabbing, not just obligatory accompaniments.
“On the other hand,” as Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” liked to say, the pastrami is worth raving about. Moist, flavorful and crusted with a blackened spice mixture, it’s terrific. What’s more, with 10-ounce portions of meat, all the sandwiches are appropriately zaftig (even heftier is Russo’s Tower (left); with corned beef, turkey, pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing, it’s the deli version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa). And by all means, save room for the creamy homemade cheesecake, a gargantuan slice that could almost feed a family of four.
The bottom line: Not the Jewish deli of our dreams, but with some polishing, could be promising.
4914 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 240-800-4879, www.heckmansdeli.com. Sandwiches range from $7 to $14 (The Big G, with 1½ pounds of corned beef, costs $23); dinner entrees, $14-$15; all-day breakfast items, $3.50 to $11.
Picutres: potato pancakes (left), and chopped liver sandwich (right). Credit: Carole Sugarman