Brisket is also a prime concern at the new Bubby’s in Bethesda. Here it’s not smoked until pink but, in the Jewish manner, cooked into submission, drenched in brown gravy, and heaped atop slices of thickly cut challah.
I took a friend one night, and she surrendered halfway through.
“Well,” I said, “you’ve got lunch for tomorrow.”
“And the next day,” she said, pushing away from the table. “Gut Gott in Himmel.”
Bubby’s is not deli Valhalla, but it understands that generosity and texture aren’t important only when it comes to the matzo balls. I’ve been three times now and have been called “sweetie” by one waitress and winked at by another (a thank-you for a reminder to check on a dish that had yet to arrive). If you’re lucky, owner Jeff “Louie” Manas may sidle by in his dark glasses and white gambler’s mustache to present you a taste of rugelach with the check.
The cavernous, glass-fronted space, previously occupied by an outpost of the local chain Grillfish, needed lots of warming up, and though it could be more so, it’s warm. Sepia-tinted photographs of bubbies—grandmothers—keep watch over the dining room from “Bubby’s Wall.” (Customers are invited to bring pictures of their own for hanging, a nice, community-rec-center sort of touch.) Early on, the steps leading up to the restaurant had highlights of the menu scrawled in bright-green chalk, as if Bubby’s were some kid’s lemonade stand. You have to stop and remind yourself that you’re in downtown Bethesda.
You’ll find a very good corned-beef Reuben, though the rye bread could be thicker, and a good hot pastrami on grilled rye, though it could be meatier. (The corned beef and brisket are prepared in-house and sliced to order.) One night’s corned-beef sandwich was offered, perplexingly, on challah, which turned soft and squishy before I was halfway through.
I love the pickle bowl set out at the start of every meal—it’s filled with sour tomatoes, three kinds of pickle, and a small pile of sauerkraut. The waitresses keep a vigilant watch on the bowl, refilling it as soon as it gets low.
The matzo-ball soup features what ought to be a sinker, it’s so huge, in a delicate, carrot-strewn broth; but it’s a floater, nearly as light as a marshmallow. Knishes are good, not great. The egg-salad sandwich is a skimpy, slapdash production. The latkes are sodden. The blintzes are fine but nothing special.
One tasty innovation: chicken-fried chicken livers with horseradish sauce.
Desserts, displayed in a lighted case near the front, include several sweets from Junior’s in Brooklyn, among them a fudgy chocolate cake and a good cheesecake. The carrot cake lacks that pedigree but is an even better bet, light and highly layered with cream-cheese frosting. All the cakes come thickly sliced, enough for two to share. If you choose to go it alone, you can expect tender encouragement and maybe even a wink from your waitress: “You can do it, sweetie.”
This is part of a larger article that appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.