Given the number of New York transplants living in the Triangle, you'd think the region could support at least one Jewish deli. Evidently, you'd be wrong. Last fall saw the closing, after two decades, of Horwitz's Deli, the granddaddy of local Jewish delis.
Make that the only local Jewish deli. Two others opened in the past ten years (New York, New York in Durham and the Jewish-Italian hybrid Northern Star on Glenwood South), but both fizzled quicker than you can say matzo ball soup. Eshell, a kosher grocery in North Raleigh, suffered a similar fate.
Still, all is not lost for those pining for a bite of the Big Apple. True, it's harder than ever to get your fix of knishes and chopped liver on rye. But you won't have any trouble at all finding a meatball sub or a black and white cookie. You can even score some house-cured corned beef if you know where to look.
Turns out that, while traditional Jewish delis have been disappearing from the scene, variations on the deli theme -- many of them with an Italian accent -- have been popping up all over the map.
One of the newest of these is Fratello's Trattoria & Market (467-2007), which opened in December in Cary's MacGregor Village -- ironically, in the space vacated by Horwitz's when it closed. Fratello's follows a formula recently proven successful by the likes of La Russa's Italian Delicatessen in Chapel Hill and Assaggio's Italian Bistro, Market & Pizzeria in North Raleigh, combining the offerings of New York Italian deli and neighborhood Italian restaurant under one roof.
On the menu, that translates to hot and cold subs, brick oven pizzas, pastas and a modest but varied assortment of entrees. In addition to the usual deli case offering, Fratello's sells house-made sauces, frozen pastas made by Pastosa in Brooklyn, and wines available for consumption in the restaurant or to take out.
If that offering strikes you as remarkably similar to that of Assaggio's, it's no coincidence. Longtime local Italian restaurateur Vinnie Doria is a partner in both operations (with Dean Vincenzo at Assaggio's and with his brother, Sal Doria, at Fratello's).
Fratello's is open for lunch and dinner daily, and -- true to deli tradition -- doesn't close between meals.
Meanwhile in North Raleigh, about the same time as Fratello's opening, Bage's Deli (845-2134), took over the old Bagels on the Hill spot in Brennan Station on Creedmoor Road. Owner Brian Casto hails from New York, but spent the last five years or so in California.
Casto's background shows on the menu, a quirky assortment of sandwiches and subs which might best be described as "pastrami meets sprouts."
In some cases, you can take that literally. Lexi's Loggie, for instance, which piles ham, pastrami, pepperoni, bacon, scallion cream cheese, avocado, sprouts, cucumbers and tomato on your choice of bread smeared with garlic mayo.
Don't mistake the menu's eclectic approach for a lack of respect for tradition or a laid-back attitude when it comes to quality. Casto will proudly tell you that he makes much of what he sells, from coleslaw to chicken salad, from scratch.
Casto also cures his own salmon for lox, available on freshly baked bagels from Bagels on the Hill. Just be advised that the bagel selection is usually pretty sparse by midday.
House-cured corned beef is available on a number sandwiches, from traditional Reuben to Jo's Flow Flanker, where it joins coleslaw, Swiss cheese and honey mustard on grilled rye. Or make your own combination.
Bage's Deli is open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. The gregarious owner is sure to greet you with a warning that this is not a fast-food joint, and that his food is worth the wait. It is.
And while you're waiting for Casto to make your sandwich, feel free to ask him to tell the stories behind the names of some of the sandwiches on the menu. The time will fly.