New York Deli

New York Deli in Round Rock has attitude. Chronicle Cuisines writer MM Pack explains why she likes it that way.

New York Deli (with a New York attitude)
712 Round Rock Avenue (620 and I-35),
in Round Rock, 246-1108
Mon-Fri, 6:30am-9pm; Sat, 9am-9pm; Sun, 11am-4pm

I'd better come clean right up front. As a WASP in the South, I didn't grow up thinking of East Coast deli fare as comfort food. (My grandmother's interesting custom of serving kosher deli takeout after church on Easter Sunday probably doesn't count. Let's not go there.) Nonetheless, thanks to adolescent travels to New York and Miami, and to a series of Jewish friends and housemates who worked hard to teach me how to eat properly, I learned early on that one of life's simple pleasures is delicately seasoned chopped liver on rye with red onions. Or pickled herring in sour cream. Or, sigh, a properly made Reuben of Rubenesque proportions.

Ever since I've lived in Austin, I've been aware of an ongoing low-level whine (like white noise) that authentic New York-style deli food just isn't a happening thing in this town. This primal lament usually comes from peripatetic Right-Coasters desperate for a fix, but you also hear it from people like me, who just like to have the culinary option from time to time. Well, I'm here to tell you that there's no excuse for whining. Sometimes prayers are answered, solutions are found, delicatessens are discovered in the most unlikely of places. Like in a busy Fina gas station on I-35 in Round Rock, for instance.

Attached to that gas station is Mary DeBellis' New York Deli. Plenty of Round Rock residents, Dell denizens, and lucky random travelers who stop for gas have discovered the deli of their dreams just past the Fina cash register, where the sign says, "the New York deli with a New York attitude."

Mary, formerly of Manhattan, arrived in Round Rock seven years ago by the same means that many area residents arrive these days -- a high tech corporate transfer. She quickly got the lay of the land, and decided "to do something about the food here. I just missed the little corner deli and I knew that others from back East did, too." The tiny space alongside the Fina station came available, so she rented it and started her operation with seven tables and a menu of eight sandwiches. Within a year, word of mouth and Mary's extensive experience in restaurant management, cooking, and baking paid off. She now owns the whole property (gas operations included), has expanded the space to 20 tables, and offers an extensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu to capacity crowds.

Ah, the menu. Mary's position is that New York deli food encompasses a variety of traditions; for her, that means Jewish and Italian food. Her recipes are from an extensive network of New York friends, relations, and neighbors. She says that they call her periodically to say, "Mary, are you making me proud?" Not including produce, all the ingredients are imported weekly from New York and New Jersey, and with the exception of the delish knishes (from New Jersey) and the cannoli shells, everything is made fresh in-house by Mary and her staff of 10.

The piled-high kosher-style sandwiches are served on rye or pumpernickel and come with housemade dressings and enormous kosher pickle wedges. My favorites are the Joan Rivers (tongue, corned beef, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing) and the sterling Rockefeller Reuben. That was before I took a bite of the smoked whitefish salad on a toasted onion bagel and went weak in the knees. If you need more than a sandwich, you can get sides of 14 different salads, two soups (including matzo ball, of course), knishes with or without cheese, and peppery potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream.

Moving on from the kosher-style side of the menu into the Italian offerings, there are numerous cold sub combinations of capocolla ham, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, and proscuitto packed into crusty rolls with provolone, tomato slices, and seasonal greens. If a hot sub is what you have in mind, go for eggplant parmesan, or the secret-recipe Italian meatballs with marinara and mozzarella, or the divine house-made Italian sausage with sautéed green peppers and onions and melted mozzarella. Hot sandwiches include a classic tuna melt and several varieties of Italian roast beef.

Wash it all down with a Dr. Brown's root beer, or a made-to-order Italian soda or egg cream, a Black Cow, or even a beer.

The selections of house-made desserts continue the reflection of the deli's ecumenical nature -- you can choose from classic, fluffy New York cheesecake, cheese blintzes with fruit toppings, or black-and-whites -- those enormous NY cookies, iced half in chocolate and half in vanilla (such a deal at $1.50). The Italian side of the house is represented by the very respectable chocolate-flecked cannolis and the delicate, rich tiramisu (translates to "carry me up" -- to heaven, one presumes).

Among the more traditional bagel-and-egg offerings on the breakfast menu, there is one that brilliantly demonstrates a little Texas spin on the deli-fusion theme -- a fat breakfast taco made with eggs, Italian sausage, home fries, and a mixture of deli cheeses. Yeehaw, youse guys.

Success notwithstanding, Mary's energy abounds and she has no plans to rest on her laurels. She's adding a newsstand annex to sell "New York papers and periodicals, specialty coffees, and smokes" for those Big Apple sorts in a hurry. She is improving and expanding her NY-style, thin-crust pizza operation. (Yes, somehow that miniscule kitchen space contains a pizza oven.) She showcases live music on Friday nights, and wants people to know that Yankee games and other NY sports events are broadcast regularly. And the best news for us downtown dwellers is that she expects to have a satellite operation further south by 2001. Now that's the kind of attitude we can use.

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