Those with an appetite for viciousness should ignore the latest episode of "Dance Moms" and spend a few hair-curling moments trolling the online commentary's spare-no-expletives takedowns on Rye, the deli that materialized late last fall on Lowry Hill in Minneapolis.
Or don't. After making the mistake of doing just that -- and then taking a shower -- my first thought was: Never open a delicatessen. Not that my slacker self would ever dip so much as a big toe into the demanding restaurant business. But there's something about the deli genre that really twists the undies into a bundle for a vocal segment of Twin Cities diners.
As for Rye, I like it. So sue me. And this diner is grateful that owner and first-time restaurateur David Weinstein has entered the landmine-strewn deli territory. Weinstein hired longtime chef and consultant Tobie Nidetz to get the kitchen on its feet. One of the many characteristics I appreciate about Nidetz's work at Rye is his sense of editing; he's not trying to cover all the bases, but instead focuses his efforts on an abbreviated Deli Greatest Hits.
And he often nails it. The menu's nucleus is a quartet of carved meats, and the star of the show is a close proximity to pastrami that Montreal delis simply refer to as "smoked meat." It starts with a close-to-the-brisket cut that's brined for four days, dry-rubbed for three, then smoked for three hours before being steamed for three. The pink-rose color is gorgeous, it's got just the right amount of fat and it's so tender that it fairly collapses in your mouth.
It lands in a straight-up, stacked-high sandwich, swiped with a feisty house-made mustard, or laced with punchy sauerkraut in an open-faced Reuben that is, justifiably, the menu's No. 1 seller. It's the same formula for the other meats, especially the whole-roasted turkeys, where thick slices of juicy, flavorful dark and white meat become the centerpiece of a satisfying hot sandwich with creamy mashed potatoes and a potent, handled-with-care gravy. Count me a fan of the brined-for-a-week corned beef, although I seldom found its uncured cousin, the brisket, to rise above the so-so level.
Along with reasonable portions at equally reasonable prices, Rye really gets a lot of details right. The chicken soup is obviously carefully nurtured, with an intensely chicken-ey broth and all the right accoutrements, including wonderfully tender, baking powder-powered matzo balls, flecked with parsley. Lemon and sugar add just the right sweet-sour notes to the short ribs-packed borscht. Turns out it's an old Nidetz family recipe.
The Reuben burger -- an exercise in excess -- is a blend of brisket and chuck that's topped with slabs of smoked meat, tangy sauerkraut and a generous splash of Russian dressing. That's all stacked inside a buttered and toasted onion bialy, and the result is a heart attack waiting to happen.
On the lighter side, tabbouleh pops with fresh mint and parsley, and the light, irresistible cole slaw has an agreeable cider-vinegar bite. The hand-cut fries are tops in their class. For all the baking that's going on, the bagels aren't quite there yet -- although the bialys are terrific. Ditto the blintzes.
The modest, tradition-focused dessert selection is headlined by an agreeably cakey and not-too-sweet black-and-white cookie and an unadulterated cheesecake. The long, tender eclairs, generously filled with a gooey, vanilla-infused custard and topped with a thick swipe of rich chocolate, are marvelous. Skip the dull, dry chocolate babka.
At dinner, a first-rate chicken pot pie stands out over conventional roast chicken and brisket dinners. It's a shame to see that the more esoteric -- well, for Minnesota, anyway -- dishes, including kishka and tzimmes, have disappeared.
The restaurant's quick-casual format suits the former Auriga space. The building's overhaul, designed by Shea Inc. of Minneapolis, has sensibly reorganized the awkward space, placing the counter front and center and chiseling out several distinct seating areas, most notably a cozy bar.
Breakfast is particularly pleasant. The kitchen cranks out several memorable dishes, including what might be the Twin Cities' most awesome French toast, a custard-soaked challah embellished with Minnesota-made butter and maple syrup. If only the smoked meat Benedict, a don't-miss weekend brunch item, were available daily, because its intrinsic appeal might stop the haters. Remember, people, it's a deli, not the presidential election. Relax, and enjoy.