“Epstein’s” has been serving traditional Kosher food in Westchester since 1943, forging a strong bond with the local community as well as deli-aficionados. The original owners passed on the restaurant to the DeGroat family, who have kept it a family-oriented business. Maintaining Jewish roots with a constantly evolving and updated menu, this restaurant has kept loyal customers for decades while courting the next generation of diners with their takes on courses that would never be seen in other Kosher delis.
With the look of a 1950’s diner on the inside, even down to the stools at the bar serving egg creme’s and the booth’s with that classic red cushioning, “Epstein’s” embraces and celebrates the origins of their restaurant. I was told to come to the place with an empty stomach, and I left not only feeling full but becoming a member of their family.
Starting our meal was a “cup” of Matzoh Ball soup ($3.75). The restaurant used to serve their small-sized portion of this soup in a cup like other diners would, but they learned early on that putting an absorbent ball of fiber into a cup means the broth gets sucked right up into that sphere of matzoh. The meaty chicken broth (AKA the Kosher cure-all) went great with the very flavorful and pliable matzoh balls, which had the perfect consistency of fluffy without losing their shape as you spooned off chunks of it.
Combining tradition with a touch of modernity, the orange-hued Kreplach ($5.50) was made using ground chicken meat and shaped like a Chinese wonton instead of a bun like many more places do. Served simply with a dish of Soy Sauce, the deep-fried Kreplach (also available steamed) were crispy and light and excellent finger-food to kick things off.
The mini-potato pancakes ($3.50), served with the usual side of apple sauce, had a crisp outside with a fluffy inside. This was the appetizer sized portion of this, which could be swapped out for one normal-sized pancake instead of the four mini’s, but I prefer the tinier ones in this case, meaning a higher crust to filling ration.
The inside of the pancake shows off the grated potato, light and naturally buttery tasting without the addition of actual butter. Lightly fried, the crunchy outer shell is well-balanced with the warm insides, and were a treat to munch on.
One note I should make, the meal came with a big bowl of assorted breads and a bountiful plate of pickles, like all good Kosher delis should have. Mixed in with the rye and sesame rolls drizzled and grilled with olive oil were these enormous bagel chips. I am a sucker for bagel chips, and was impressed with the size of these just as much as I was with their flavor. The restaurant sells bags of these by the deli counter, and I picked up one on my way out as a snack for the ride home. My only regret is not buying another bag for after I got home.
Every Kosher deli worth their weight in pastrami carries knishes, and Epstein’s hand-makes a few of their own, including this Sweet Potato Knish ($4). Mashed sweet potato is encased and baked into a thin dough, akin to a vegetarian take on Beef Wellington. The soft crust kept this subtly-seasoned interior warm and fluffy, utilizing the natural sweetness of the potato without any added sugar or syrup. For an appetizer, this was massive, and makes a great side dish with the brisket as I discovered. Speaking of…
Epstein’s Brisket ($15), served atop a pair of full-sized potato pancakes, was one of the best briskets that I have had in a Kosher deli. Paper-thin and sweating in it’s own luscious juices, the brisket was this restaurant’s equivalent of a filet mignon. The large potato pancakes were just as good as their diminutive brothers, and this version of steak and potatoes was a personal favorite of my first experience there.
A surprising addition to their traditional menu is their Falafel Platter ($8). The falafel balls are actually hand-made in the restaurant, and taste just as good as what you would get from any Mediterranean place. Served with pita bread, homemade tahini sauce, they are also accompanied with a salad made with diced tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, which is refreshing and tangy, doused in apple-cider vinegar and olive oil. This is a dish I would never associate with a Kosher deli, but I will now since this was a winner and a sneaky way to get younger people to try the place out (it worked). The decision to order this was actually thanks to my waitress, who was one of the newer ones employed there as she had only worked there for 14 years as opposed to some others who had been there for 25 years or more. You know you are doing something right when the wait staff stays that long!
The star of the meal was the immense Sloppy Joe ($15). An Epstein’s special, there are a variety of these Sloppy Joe sandwich which include a variety of different meets together, topped with Russian dressing (which I got on the side so I could better taste the meat). The combo I had was corned beef, roast beef, turkey and pastrami. The turkey is carved right off the bone of a whole bird, while the rest of the meat (including the Pastrami) is prepared on premises. The roast beef had a great rosy red center, and the super-rare corned beef as well was bursting with flavor.
Epstein’s pastrami meat is more pleasant than a lot of the other big NYC delis. The distinct and powerful taste of pastrami can be overpowering sometimes, as well as flaky in texture. This homemade version retains the smoky uniqueness of pastrami meat, but it’s special preparation keeps the fat moving in the meat, allowing for marbling rather than flaking and falling apart. Often times, I find the taste of Pastrami offensive in large doses, but this was a deli meat that I could see myself eating pounds of and never getting sick of it.
Don’t ask how, but I managed to save some room for dessert. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel, they pulled me back in with this Napoleon. Made by a Kosher baker, this traditional French pastry was made under Parve standards, meaning no dairy. For a lactose intolerant person like myself, this was great news. The custard was creamy and rich in spite of it’s lack of milk, which was amazing unto itself. The cake part of the Napoleon was a bit dry, but the custard was the king of this dessert and outshone the rest of the components, as it should.
I greatly enjoyed the menu at “Epstein’s”, diverse but classical and a good way to introduce the next generation to this type of cuisine. Kosher delis continue to be a diminishing market, but “Epstein’s” has put themselves in a place to not only sustain but continue to grow and educate modern foodies in the old-country ways, while at the same time learning new tricks for their own restaurant. Celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, here is hoping they can make it to their 100th and beyond!