Authentic Jewish food has always intimidated me a little, to be honest. Maybe it’s the daunting menu filled with words I don’t recognize. Maybe it’s the fear that I’m going to end up with a plate of beef tongue or liver when what I really wanted was a chocolate pastry.
But let me assure you: There is nothing to be scared of at The Bagel Deli. Nobody is going to make fun of you when you mispronounce your order (which you will). You don’t need to pretend to know more than you do about Jewish culture and food (they will gladly answer your questions!). In fact, you’ll find them more than welcoming and actually eager to share their unique food experience with you, regardless of your background.
“Do you like crepes? That’s a ‘blintz,'” owner Joe Kaplan explained, when he found out our table was filled with novices to the Jewish deli food scene. “So you like potato pancakes? That’s a ‘latke.’ Any food you like from other nationalities, we have it here too, just under a different name.”
Co-owner Joe Kaplan
Our fears at ease, we dove into The Bagel Deli menu, which includes a handy glossary for the variety of possibly-unfamiliar terms used around the 51-year-old establishment.
Joe’s wife Rhoda brought us samples of meat to try: corned beef, brisket, and pastrami.
All three were excellent, but my personal favorite was the pastrami, which was so perfectly flavorful, salty, and delicious that I promptly ordered a garlic bagel (because it’s The Bagel Deli, hello!) loaded with pastrami. Having just been to the famous Katz’s Deli in New York back in March (and being too chicken to try pastrami at that time), I immediately regretted all the years of my life that I haven’t been eating pastrami at every given opportunity.
My companions ordered the meat & eggs breakfast (you have to see their crispy beef bacon!), hot pastrami and brisket of beef on sourdough, and the Bagel Deli Philly. Loved, loved, and loved. All entrees were served with a dill pickle, an orange slice, and a side dish. The potato salad (my choice of side) had just the mildest sweetness to it, which was surprising and good. I only wished there was more of it.
Of course, The Bagel Deli is known for their Reuben sandwich (hot corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss), and the person in our party who ordered it raved and raved, especially regarding the marbled rye it came on.
Because we were celebrating a birthday, co-owner Rhoda leaned in close, asked for the name of the birthday boy, and proceeded to lead the entire restaurant in a singing of “Happy Birthday,” followed by a boisterous Mazel Tov!
We finished our meal by trying a knish (filled pastry dough, and my new favorite thing), a brownie, and a rugulah (mini strudel). I ordered extra pastrami to take home, as well as a black and white cookie, which was made famous in a Seinfeld episode.
Tucked in the corner of a shopping center behind an unassuming storefront, The Bagel Deli is no stranger to publicity, proudly appearing on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives show, regularly showing up in “best of Colorado” lists, and being named among America’s 26 best Jewish delis. It just celebrated its 50th birthday last year, having first opened in 1967 off of Colfax, with Rhoda’s Austrian immigrant parents at the helm.
Today Joe and Rhoda’s son Jared largely runs the operation, though they still work it, too, like on the day we came to visit.
In full transparency, I loved The Bagel Deli so much that I brought my husband and 15-year-old daughter back the next evening for dinner (the 1/2 pound of pastrami had been a huge hit at home). It was a quieter experience, being the dinner hour (my previous experience had been at lunchtime), but we received the same attentive service and delicious, authentic food. And though I had promised myself I would try something new, I just couldn’t shake the thought of the pastrami on garlic bagel from my memory and ended up ordering the same exact thing. Maybe I’ll branch out next time! I’d actually love to go back and try their matzo ball soup on a chilly day!
But just like it was with my co-workers, The Bagel Deli was a hit with the fam:
“I want this place to cater my wedding someday!” my teenage daughter announced enthusiastically, in between bites of her pastrami sandwich on marbled rye.
Want to go? The Bagel Deli is located at 6439 East Hampden Avenue, in Denver. They’re open every day, 7 am. to 7 p.m. Check out their website for more information.
Or have you already been? Do you believe it’s the best Jewish deli in Denver? Tell us in the comments below!