Take the classics, dress them up with quality ingredients, and maybe riff on the formula a little. Everything from fried chicken to ramen to diner fare is subject to the popular procedure of late, so it was only a matter of time before a Washington chef tackled the Jewish deli. Enter DGS Delicatessen, now officially open in Dupont Circle.
You won’t find extreme interpretations like Sephardic tapas or deconstructed pastrami sandwiches at this sit-down operation. Chef Barry Koslow, most recently of Tallula and Eatbar, and business partners Nick and David Wiseman all grew up in the Jewish culinary tradition, and plan to honor it. “It’s about pushing Jewish food forward,” says Nick, a fourth-generation Washingtonian.
For the kitchen, moving ahead required stripping away what holds many delis back. You won’t find novel-length menus overstuffed with choices, processed ingredients, and commercial pastrami that’s unwrapped, steamed, and labeled homemade. For his version, Koslow starts with Arkansas-based Creekstone Farms brisket, brines it for a week in salt, sugar, and spices, smokes it for six hours over apple and hickory, and then steams it for hours until moist and tender. Slathered with house-made mustard— another hours-long process of simmering and blending—and layered on double-baked rye, it’s meant to hark back to the all-too-hard-to-find classic.
Koslow says he’s stayed close to the classics for a number of dishes, such as his Grandmother Dot’s matzo-ball soup and potato latkes, served up Hanukkah-style at dinner with house-made apple preserves and sour cream, or found topped with house-cured salmon and crème fraîche at lunch. The entrées—many of which nod to the Jewish diaspora in the Mediterranean and North Africa—may be less familiar. They include shishlik, grilled fish kabobs with tomato-eggplant stew; and flanken, Tunisian-spiced braised beef short ribs with figs, spinach, and mint. Another aspect that’s atypical for a deli: a ten-seat bar and a full beverage program that includes an emphasis on old-world wines that pair well with the older-world flavors. Manager and beverage director Brian Zipin also dreamed up creative cocktails such as the Rob Roystein, a riff on the Scotch-based gentile classic with freshly made ginger-lemon shrub, and the Tenth Ward Cooler, a mix of vodka, celery soda, Champagne, and kummel, a cumin-scented Eastern European liqueur.
The DGS crew knows that with all the changes, there may be push-back from the traditionalists—what Nick calls “battling nostalgia.” So do they feel the pressure? “We all have Jewish mothers,” says Koslow. “There’s no more pressure than that.”
Look for the “sandwich shop” takeout operation to start up in the coming weeks, as well as weekend brunch with the likes of house-pickle-topped Bloody Marys and the “Benedictberg,” latkes heaped with poached eggs, smoked salmon, and sumac hollandaise.
DGS Delicatessen. 1317 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-293-4400. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2; dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to midnight.