Forget about driving downstate for a pastrami sandwich or matzoh ball soup. Gershon’s iconic delicatessen on Upper Union Street has all your authentic delicatessen needs. You want tongue? They’ve got it. Chopped liver? Check. Brisket and potato pancakes? What are you waiting for?
The Capital Region’s oldest Kosher-style deli was opened in 1954 by Irv and Lena Gershon, and it has passed lovingly and authentically to Tony Lauria, who runs it today.
Gershon’s at lunchtime is a bustling and convivial place, the air perfumed by pickles. Grab a New York Daily News or a Post to read. Seating is limited, so you may end up next to someone you don’t know, but you’re all brothers and sisters here. The servers greeted regulars by name and seemed delighted to meet us. Mom and I settled in happily, anticipating a feast to come.
Gershon’s Deli & Caterer’s
WHERE: 1600 Union St., Schenectady,
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $34 for food before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Parking: On street, just like a real New York deli. Wheelchair accessible.
You’ll want a sandwich, like hot corned beef ($8.75) or liverwurst ($7.50) on rye, a roll, Italian bread, bagel or wrap, or an overstuffed sandwich with coleslaw and dressing on top, like corned beef and pastrami ($9.50, with chips), or a grilled sandwich like a Reuben ($9.95). Try a triple-decker like ham, turkey and Swiss with lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing ($9.95, with salad and chips).
Gershon’s uses Hellman’s mayonnaise to make tuna, whitefish, shrimp, seafood and chopped liver salads for an appetizer or sandwich. Try a brisket platter with potato pancakes ($11.25) or Nova lox with cream cheese on a bagel ($8.75).
We both tasted my thick cream of chicken with rice soup ($3.75), being careful not to fill up. “That’s better than good,” said Mom after a taste. Chunks of tender chicken, bits of carrot and celery and cream made for a hearty, nourishing soup. Just delicious, we agreed.
Mom’s hot pastrami sandwich ($8.75) was made with admirably authentic chewy seeded rye from the New Mont Pleasant bakery in Schenectady. “That’s the real thing,” said Mom, sipping a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. The celery-flavored soda is sweet and herbal and much better than it sounds. “Gotta have it when you have pastrami,” she said, happily.
Gershon’s pastrami is thinly sliced and a bit fatty, with cracked black pepper. “To die for,” Mom said. “Unbelievable.” Gershon’s cooks all its own meats.
Their fresh coleslaw ($3) has pickle slices and slivers of carrot, radish and green pepper for color and extra flavor. “Out of this world,” said Mom.
The chicken Parm sandwich special ($7.75) came with a small green salad that was a mix of mesclun, green pepper, black olives, cucumber and radish.
The fresh sub roll from Perreca’s bakery in Schenectady held a trimmed and pounded half breast of chicken, breaded and fried, soft and delicious.
“It tastes like yours,” I said to Mom, who makes heroic chicken Parm sandwiches.
The soft but sturdy roll molded itself around the chicken and held in the tasty marinara sauce. Melted mozzarella cheese peeked out the sides.
We shared the warm potato pancakes ($2.50), shredded potato with just enough batter to hold them together which Mom said were, “Not mine, but delicious.”
The outside world had ceased to exist for a while. We heard voices, but they didn’t register. That’s how good it was.
Dessert was a slice of cheesecake ($4.25) from the Carnegie deli in New York City. It’s smooth and creamy, on a cookie-dough crust, and heavenly. “There’s cheesecake and there’s cheesecake,” said Mom, implying that this was the good stuff.
Mom compared manicures with the server, who had taken exemplary care of all her customers and wrapped our leftovers with care. The server brought the tab and wished us well. “Have a good day, hon,” she said as I headed to the register to pay.
The tab for this outstanding meal came to $34 with one soda. We were both very happy and too full for dinner.