Dining dish from Cooper Levey-Baker.
Is bigger better? That's the question I'm pondering as I wait for a table at Sol's NYC Delicatessen, the non-kosher, Jewish-style deli from chef Sol Shenker that opened in February in Main Street's defunct Applebee's.
Shenker launched the restaurant after a very public split with his brother-in-law, Meyer Samotin, a former partner at Sol Meyer NY Delicatessen, just down the road from Shenker's new space. Shenker blamed Samotin for raising prices at Sol Meyer and even called Samotin "greedy" in the pages of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, an insult that's sure to make for some awkward conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving.
The former Applebee's has been redesigned nicely. Sol's features black and white tile flooring up front and a giant splashy photo of midtown Manhattan around the Flatiron Building. The new restaurant is much bigger than Sol Meyer--with something like four times the seating, plus a full bar.
The food at Sol Meyer was excellent, but one consistent knock was that landing a table could prove challenging. Even with all the extra seats, eating at the new Sol's presents problems, too. My 15-minute wait stretches to half an hour. I can't stand around any longer; I've got to get back to the office. The next day, I return for lunch, and the wait's the same. For anyone with a boss, ducking in and out of Sol's for a midday restorative might not be a realistic option. Eventually, I knuckle under and order a $14 brisket sandwich to go through the restaurant's online system, but the meat is disappointingly tough and chewy. Even oodles of spicy mustard can't bring it to life. I'll reserve judgment, though, until I manage to get in for lunch and sample more.
Sol Meyer, meanwhile, is still kicking, although it's been rebranded as Doc Sam's New York Deli & Gourmet Eatery. The menu still concentrates on deli classics like pastrami and corned beef, while losing some of Shenker's more traditional Jewish touches. The pastrami, smartly served in flexible portion sizes, is a touch chewier than I experienced at Sol Meyer, but the flavor is on target. Crunchy, verdant pickles delivered to the table at the start of every meal are a nice touch, as is the small dose of spicy giardiniera that comes with them. Physically, the restaurant is every bit as nice as Sol Meyer was, with baby blue walls, charmingly uneven tables and multicolored terrazzo.
So, bigger? Better? We'll see.
SOL'S NYC DELICATESSEN, 1991 Main St., #199, Sarasota, (941) 444-0413 or solsnycdeli.com.
DOC SAM'S NEW YORK DELI a GOURMET EATERY, 1473 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-3354 or docsamsdeli.com.