“Pickled green tomatoes? I haven’t seen those since I lived in New York!” A diner at the table next to us was admiring our gorgeous smoked fish platter, generously adorned with creamy whitefish salad, lox from Acme Fish of Brooklyn and filets of the smokiest, fleshiest trout I’ve tasted in some time. Alongside were all the traditional accompaniments, including those snappy green tomatoes, along with a few non-traditional accouterments like pickled onions and sprouts. Piled on a pair of House Of Bagels bagels, this was easily enough food for three.
Our new friend shouted out, “I thought that you were from Cleveland?” to which Adam Mesnick replied “I’m from Cleveland, but I know my New York deli stuff too!”
Rye Project is Mesnick’s foray into traditional Jewish deli. Housed in the cramped quarters that formerly was 1058 Hoagie, Mesnick’s “newish deli,” as he likes to refer to it, thankfully isn’t too newish at all, sprouts aside.
Rather, Mesnick is putting the straightforward sandwiches that he used to list only as specials at 1058, or at his still booming SOMA lunch staple Deli Board, into the spotlight.
Two breads are offered for sandwiches and you can’t go wrong with either.
The namesake rye comes from deli Yoda Robbie Morgenstein, owner of 13-year-old Miller’s Deli across town. Par-baked and shipped from Detroit, this rye dominates any I’ve eaten at many a Jewish deli coast-to-coast. Detroit rye is double baked, creating a golden, rustic crust that envelopes a soft, yeasty interior. Almost equally good was an eggy, onion-dotted challah roll also from House Of Bagels.
Of course, excellent bread would be for naught if it’s stuffing didn’t suffice. My maiden lunch began with a pastrami on rye. As were all of the sandwiches, this baby was huge, a true two fister of a meal. Those of us who like to complain about small portions can’t do so here. More important, the steamed, navel cut of meat was hot, moist and perfectly peppery. Though I typically prefer my pastrami to be thick cut, the pile of thin slabs here worked just fine, due to the pastrami having just enough fat to keep it texturally interesting.
In Mesnick’s native Cleveland, Jewish delis make their names on their corned beef. Rye Project’s product, imported from a secret Chicago source, is a not-too-lean brisket cut that’s a little more delicate and a lot more flavorful than other corned beefs around town.
Served with all sandwiches are true half-sour pickles, a rarity in a town where pickles are often dainty in both flavor and stature. The only option available as a side was a mundane cole slaw, in desperate need of more vinegar or mustard.
I normally don’t go for salads at a deli, but the house salad made good use of the exceptional corned beef, pairing it with cubes of muenster cheese and hard boiled eggs to make a hearty sandwich substitute. Though Mesnick makes all of his own dressings, I found myself dumping his addictive tysyacha sauce, a blend of Russian dressing, mustard, horseradish and dill pickle, on just about everything instead.
During my many visits to Deli Board, I often sensed that Mesnick yearned to stray from his signature, over-top-combinations. In Rye Project, he’s proven that sometimes simplicity can be downright thrilling.
Location: 180 Seventh St. (at Howard Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 552-8984, www.ryeproject.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
Price range: $9 to $28
Recommended dishes: Romanian pastrami sandwich ($14), corned beef sandwich ($14), Adam’s Bonanza Smoked Fish Platter For Two ($28), Rye House Salad ($13)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted