Oh, Brothers'

The return of an institution proves why God created pastrami

I can't think of any other sandwich in the Twin Cities that has been sourced with such attention. Put a Dr. Brown's soda on your tray and carry it to one of the tables where half-sour pickles wait in large Mason jars and pickled beets hide in small ones, and a little sort of heaven awaits. Personally, I think Brothers' corned beef these days is better than the stuff at such New York temples as the Second Avenue Deli, and I'm not afraid to say it in print, even though I know I'm going to be defending that opinion weekly until the end of time. (The sandwiches cost $4.95 for a normal size, and $8.95 for a gargantuan one.)

There are also H&H bagels, imported from New York and certainly the best in town, and good sweet-and-sour borscht, fresh roast turkey, and well-cooked brisket. But the most important thing to know about is the intuitive sense, the bone-deep passion, and the real talent for pastrami and corned beef that animate this otherwise boring, brightly lighted spot. Bring glasses for the encyclopedic, small-type menu stenciled on one far-off wall. I went there knowing exactly what I wanted, and I got flustered and overwhelmed and unable to pull together an order with the pressure of the line behind me and counter person expectant before me.

The place doesn't feel like anywhere at all: white walls, stainless-steel cases and counters in a line, generic posters, and a shelf with a few geometric, artsy jars of antipasto that look like they got lost on their way to D'Amico & Sons. All the thought here goes into the bread and beef, and none into the aesthetics or the needs of bodies in rooms or on food lines. If, once you finally score a tray and carry it to a table by the window, you look across the skyway to the jam-packed Chipotle Grill, with its clear signage, indecision-relieving lack of choices, comforting design, and efficient food- and people-moving, you might be brought to the strange new psychic place where I found myself: respect and gratitude for restaurant consultants.

And yet Brothers' has been reasonably crowded on all my visits; I guess there are enough people downtown who appreciate substance over style. When I talked to Burstein for this article, he told me that so far, business has been good: "In six months, we'll see if maybe we're going to open another Brothers', maybe in a neighborhood where it's more of a dinner thing, too." Is this the second step on the great ramp-up to another grand Brothers' count of 16 restaurants? Who knows. Maybe we'll even get one in farm country: I'll never forget the time I was in the Stag's Head in Red Wing, where they also had H&H bagels, and a farmer came in, caked from the knees down with mud, threw down his crusty gloves, and ordered a garlic bagel and a latte. On the one hand, there's cultural experience, and on the other hand, you can never underestimate the power of good taste.

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