There hasn’t been a good Jewish deli in the D.C. area in … well, forever, as far as I know. Many years ago, someone wrote to Phyllis Richman, food critic for the Washington Post, asking where he could get good Jewish deli in the D.C. area. Richman responded to the effect of, “if you live in the D.C. area and want good deli, take the red line to Union Station … then take Amtrak to New York.”
Since then, several “New York” “Jewish” delis have come and gone, those those remain typically feature menu items such as Monterey Chicken Paninis, Crabcake Dinners, or even maple ham steak that basically disqualify them from the category they are supposed to be in.
Which brings me to the new Attman’s deli in Potomac, in the Cabin John Mall. Attman’s is a branch of a venerable Baltimore institution, and it opened in the same strip mall as Goldberg’s Bagels a very good (and kosher) bagel place and a Judaica store. It’s storefront is the former Pomegranate Restaurant, a defunct kosher restaurant. [Aside: Kosher restaurants rarely make it in the D.C. market, the Orthodox population is too small and many observers of kashrut go to Baltimore for shopping and eating– Baltimore being the home of the amazing Seven Mile Market kosher supermarket, billed as the largest kosher supermarket in the U.S., whereas the two kosher markets in the D.C. suburbs are small, expensive, and lame.]
Anyway, Attman’s isn’t kosher, and it isn’t even quite kosher-style, as it mixes meat and cheese on the same sandwich. But it does make a big deal of its “Jewishness,” advertising “Jewish corn beef” (from a circumcised bull?) and so on. I didn’t see any bacon, ham, or other pork products on the menu, nor any trendy sandwiches, so it seemed a bit more like a traditional “Jewish” deli than other imitators.
But, and here’s the key, how was the food? Not so great.
Attman’s is apparently famous in Baltimore for its corned beef, but my wife and I both thought our corned beef was somewhat dry. (But if you like lean corned beef, it was that, so don’t bother paying extra for lean). Not bad otherwise. Overall a 6.
Pickles were a big disappointment. Unlike a traditional NY Jewish deli, no pickles were served gratis as appetizers, nor was cole slaw. I ordered some pickles anyway. Instead of sour and half-sour, the menu called them “green” and “well-done.” After confirming that well-done was the equivalent of “sour,” I ordered a mix. The “green” were pretty good, but the well-done were pretty bad, tasting more like a Vlasic pickle than a traditional sour garlicky “Jewish” pickle. Overall a 4. If you want a good sour pickle, go to Seven Mile Market instead and buy a jar from one of Baltimore or Brooklyn’s pickle purveyors.
We also ordered a potato knish, outrageously priced at $5.00 for a small knish. That nevertheless would have been a small price to pay for true knishy goodness. But this knish was mediocre and seemed (heresy!) like it might have been microwaved. My standard for a restaurant knish is that it has to at least be better than Gabila’s frozen that you can get at the supermarket and heat in your oven. This definitely wasn’t. Another 4.
At least the rye bread was very good, the mustard was good enough, and there wasn’t any mayo to be found. Overall a 5, a 6 if you can’t get to New York regularly and have real Jewish deli. But if you’re in the Potomac area and want some good Jewish food, Goldberg’s is just a few yards away.