Before I lived in Bend, I was living in New York. The Big Apple gave me an appreciation for many things: street art, the perfect music venue (Bowery Ballroom, the Mercury Lounge), well-run subway systems. But perhaps most importantly, New York instilled in me a love of kosher delis. Not just the perfectly sliced, flavorful meats and cheeses and fresh-baked rye bread and onion rolls. Jewish delis have personality that can't be contained in their often small, nondescript digs. Walk one of these delis, and see if you don't hear at least one dude behind the counter shout "Hey there!" with a huge smile on his face while the patriarch mastermind whips up head-sized sandwiches behind the counter.
While Bend's dining scene is growing, there are a few big-city institutions we're still waiting for. A killer cheese shop. Vietnamese sandwiches. Ramen. And, until recently, a kosher deli. But not anymore. Let's all say Shalom to the Letzer family, who has brought a real live Jewish deli to Bend.
Located in a strip mall off of Reed Market Road, Letzers could be dismissed as just another business among the tanning salons and gas stations. But don't be fooled, Letzer's is the real deal. Family run by the Letzers, most of whom recently moved to Bend from Los Angeles, this deli is only to be entered if you're ready to feel more stuffed than you were the last time you pigged out at the county fair.
Aidan Letzer, the nephew of owner Sheridan Letzer, is a huge personality behind the counter. He greets everyone like long-lost friends and his tall, muscular physique suggests a man the Jersey Shore kids wish they were. I ask which sandwich is the best. Sheridan Letzer, who had been silent until now, says, "How hungry are you?" Not one to turn down a challenge, I say, "Hungry - and I can always take the rest to go." Sheridan says, "Corned beef and pastrami combo." My decision is made.
I wish I had fasted for three days because that would have been the only way I would have been able to eat the sandwich that was placed in front of me. It was $9.75 and looked like at least two cows had been slaughtered just for my meal. There was no way in hell that I was going to get my mouth around that thing. I attempted Adam "Man V. Food" Richmond's technique of smashing huge sandwiches down so he can fit them in his mouth. This sandwich was un-smashable. At least a half pound of corned beef and a half pound of pastrami were layered between two thick slices of Swiss cheese, tomato and fresh-baked rye bread. I ended up having to go at it from the underside, like a monkey eating fruit from a tree.
Let me tell you - this sandwich was good. The meats, which are all from Oregon Beef, had real flavor. The pastrami wasn't too greasy and just salty enough. The corned beef reminded me of my mom's on St. Patrick's Day, and both were sliced thin. The bread, baked at Rockin' Daves, was the perfect light rye. As a bonus, three homemade pickles, two pickled green tomatoes and fantastic coleslaw were served on the side.
Letzer's also serves hearty sandwiches with roast beef, turkey, ham and brisket. Bread choices include rye, challa (a traditional Jewish braided bread), wheat, kaiser roll and onion roll. They've also got Hebrew National hotdogs, bagels and soups, including matzo ball. Prices range from $1.75 for a bagel with cream cheese to $9.75 for the combination sandwiches. Deli meat is also available for purchase.
Even though the Letzers are from L.A., they've got the New York deli shtick down. "Lots of [ex] New Yorkers come here and say, 'I've been waiting for a real Jewish deli," says Aidan Letzer. So far, they've all been impressed. The diners I ate with, too, were delighted. It felt like we had all just discovered a secret. As much as I want to keep this secret to myself, I've got to say - you'll be missing out if you don't try Letzers. And to Letzers - keep up the good work and welcome to Bend. Mazel tov.
1155 SW Division St.
Daily, 10am - 7pm. letzersdeli.com.