New Deli, AOK Gourmet; Old Deli, Kaufman's
Young upstart, seasoned pro are separated by a few yards on Dempster Street. Is there room for both of them?
Skokie is coming up on a crossroads between the old and the new. With developments in place like the upcoming Skokie Swift train station and the recently opened Sanford-Brown College, plenty of changes are in store for the community. One thing that changes right along with a city is the way it eats.
We've seen the effects of our ability to get more done in less time reflected in our diets. There are always nights when we don't have time to cook, and we've all been saved a few times by quick takeout. One of the classic forms of takeout dining is the deli, and Skokie features some great ones, both old and new.
The old: Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen
4905 Dempster St.
Since 1955, Kaufman's has been feeding Skokie. Since then, Skokie has been out there telling the world. Widely recognized as a regional American treasure, Kaufman's is no stranger to national "best of" lists. And no wonder: like Los Angeles' Canters or Katz's on New York's Lower East Side, Kaufman's serves giant portions priced right, with a wink and a healthy dose of culture.
Why it's classic: It's a deli. The staff is almost uniformly ancient, friendly and no-nonsense except when they are in the mood to dish it out. Like a classic deli, there's unmarked, unidentifiable food for sale in the freezer that would confuse your elderly, seen-it-all bubbie. Finally, the portions are gargantuan, requiring truly heroic efforts to eat it all. Nevertheless, something about paying close to $14 for a pastrami sandwich here seems fair.
Why it's modern: Kaufman's is savvy. It knows what it is, and it has a website. Though there are still bargains to be found here (63-cent bagels), if you want the good stuff, you're paying, as well you should.
Highlights: If a sandwich called The Belcher (a double-decker of turkey pastrami, pepper beef, layered with chive cream cheese) sounds like too much, just ask for a custom-made sandwich using the best corned beef anywhere for about $8. Be sure to grab a tub of cream cheese, starting around $3, from the fridge section and then head next door for a half dozen bagels for about $6.
The new: AOK Gourmet
4950 Dempster St.
Mon-Thu 6:30 am-6:30 pm
Fri 6:30 am-5:30 pm
Sat-Sun 7:30 pm-4 pm
Opened in 2008, this relatively new deli began its life as a catering service. Owner Andrew Kalish, a veteran of New York's high-end catering scene, made the move to Skokie where he began his company. Now, his deli serves Skokie with a variety of takeout options, a delivery service and a regular customer club.
Why it's classic: It's a deli. You walk in, choose an item from the deli case, have a sandwich custom built (or order off the menu), grab a pastry for dessert or a bagel for the next day, and off you go. It's even got anachronistic little touches every good deli should have, like individually wrapped bags of homemade potato chips.
Why it's modern: The sandwiches here couldn't even be imagined during the heyday of the classic deli: Caesar chicken wraps, Mediterranean chicken on ciabatta rolls. Even the pasta salads get an update.
Highlights: The portabella mushroom sandwich on ciabatta bread, with onions, havarti vinaigrette and basil with chips for $7, and an intensely, dangerously crave-inducing cavatappi pasta salad with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and mozzarella for $8 a pound.
Times have changed, and although deli's change along with them, the basic idea remains the same. As long as Skokie is home to people who are passionate about food, on either side of the counter, there will always be great places to eat in this community. No matter how this city evolves, that's one thing that will never change.