“This young man needs some pickles and bread!” one server called out to the other.
It was just after dark and I was sitting at Gottlieb’s Restaurant (352 Roebling Street, 718-384-6612). Hasidic men and women were ordering takeout from the deli counter, and a long-bearded employee was slicing turkey and freshly streamed pastrami. The table next to me was full of the type of patron you might find in any Brooklyn coffee shop on a Wednesday afternoon, except they were all wearing kippahs (yarmulkes) and speaking in Yiddish. It was strange and wonderful and exciting.
Gottlieb’s has been in the same storefront since 1962, when it was opened by Zoltan Gottlieb, a Hungarian immigrant who came to this country after cooking in concentration camps in Germany. The menu has not changed much over the years, and the place specializes in Eastern European staples, like Hungarian goulash and stuffed cabbage, and pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. “We have microwaves now,” says third-generation owner Menashe Gottlieb. “Although we don’t ever use them.”
With its bright neon pink and blue signage, Gottlieb’s looks and feels like a 1970s deli, though it’s populated predominantly by Hasidic Jews, who all seem to wear Bluetooth earpieces. The entire restaurant is one room, with a continuous line of people getting to-go orders of cabbage and matzoh ball soup and pints of chopped liver, available only on Thursday and Friday. On the top of the coat racks sit the large black hats worn by most men throughout the neighborhood. The servers speak Yiddish and English, seemingly mixing the two for most tables. And the service, truly, is fantastic. On my last visit, my turkey and pastrami sandwich seemed to be taking a minute too long. Just as that thought crossed my mind, the server told me they were, unfortunately, out of the needed rye bread, but that they had just run out to grab some more. Minutes later, an out-of-breath employee stormed through the front door, fresh loaves in hand.
Sadly, the pastrami was flavorless, and the thinly sliced turkey had somehow melted into the pastrami. However, the bread to start my meal — fresh-baked challah with a shiny golden crust — was just perfect, as were the sour and briny pickles that accompanied it. (And despite that misstep, the rest of the menu is reliable.)
Open from noon till 10 p.m., the restaurant closes on Saturday in observance of the Sabbath. Gottlieb’s is also kosher — you can’t get a slice of Swiss on your pastrami here.
I recommend the sweet apple egg noodle kugel to end your meal. Filled with raisins, it has that almost chewy texture that kugel fans are always seeking.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2014