Common Roots to Fill the Jewish Deli Void in Uptown?


Some truths I hold to be self-evident: Cheap, waxy chocolate is a sin; a Heggies pizza at 1 a.m. is always the right choice; and real Jewish delis have killer matzoh ball soup.

Or, at least some kind of matzoh ball soup.

So can a plucky little coffee shop fill the vacancy of Jewish delis in Minneapolis with nary a drop of chicken-laced broth nor a bobbing dough ball in sight?

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For all its chosen people, Minneapolis is not the chosen city for solid Jewish delis. Never was that more apparent than when the much-debated Rye Deli shuttered last year. It was, it turned out, the last bastion of rugelach and matzoh ball soup in Uptown.

Now Common Roots has taken up the torch -- somewhat. The little Uptown coffee shop spruced up its decor with a bit of clean white tile and bright green paint. Owners also revamped the menu, adding a significant Hebrew bent: egg salad, challah French toast, pastrami, knishes, bagels and shmears.

Potato knish with mustard and horseradish cream

Potato knish with mustard and horseradish cream

But if you await a full-on Jewish deli, you'll have to wait some more. Though the kind lady behind the counter suggested the owners wanted to fill the void left by Rye, owner Elana Schwartzman says that's not the case. They're more interested in putting a modern twist on deli items and keeping fan favorites like burgers and fish tacos. They apparently also wanted to serve things like banh mi and seitan hot wings. Not your typical post-temple lunch. Not matzoh ball soup.

Of the distinctly Jewish deli offerings, only the occasional item will sate your yen. One of those is the potato knish with spicy mustard and horseradish cream. A hearty, lightly browned pastry gathers up a pillowy potato interior. The texture is a satisfying one-two punch of crispy and fluffy, and with accoutrements this little dough pocket makes for a simple, flavorful "nosh" -- a term the menu uses to denote snacks or small plates.

Other "noshes" include beef marrow and toast, tater tots, and a poutine with savory, rich beef gravy and sharp cheddar curds, but served atop sinewy, undercooked wedges of sweet potato.

Deli sandwiches piled high with thinly shaved turkey and pastrami seemed better executed than the odd selection of burgers staking a whole fourth of the menu. Restaurateurs have gotten wind of our insatiable hunger for burgers and all things burgeresque. But must we cede some portion of every menu to Kim Jong Il's double bread with meat?

Better to focus on the house-made pastrami than curiously amped-up burger flavor combinations like peanut butter, banana, and jalapeño. That particular concoction, with no real acid to offset the muted meat and mellow peanut-butter-banana blend, fell quite flat. Not even its pert little onion roll could revive it.

The pastrami, which appears in both breakfast hash and traditional sandwich form, was nice and meaty, but needed a touch more salt and a lot more pepper. The hash rendered ours a darker color and firmer texture -- more like roast beef than the tender, blushing cured cuts we're used to piling on our rye bread. It was also remarkably greasy, even when loaded up on a sandwich with a swipe of mustard, house-made pickles, and a layer of Swiss.

The menu also includes a selection of salads, and the bagel baskets behind the counter are always stocked. There are plenty of other burger variations to choose from -- including the option to make any burger vegetarian or turkey-based. We appreciate the flexibility and Common Roots' unfailing commitment to high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. But still. Would an all-in Jewish deli float our boats a little more merrily? Yeah.

We're rooting for Common Roots to tweak its deli standards. There are enough burgers and baskets of poutine in town. Give us a giant bowl of matzoh ball soup.

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