Well, it was cold and I got to thinking about matzo ball soup, and then I got to looking for matzo ball soup, and then I got to comparing matzo ball soups-- with a surprising result.
First, it needs to be said there are different schools of thought on matzo balls. 1) They should be light and fluffy. 2) They should be firm. Those were the ones I was brought up on. If you dropped one on your foot you would be injured. 3) Distinctions are nonsense, there can’t be a bad matzo ball.
I’m pretty much in the third school, which meant I wasn’t overly influenced by such as density in the matzo balls I was tasting. I did want to make sure the best known Jewish delis were heard from and so included on my list: The Carnegie Deli, Katz’s, The 2nd Ave Deli, Fine & Schapiro, Liebman’s in Riverdale, Mile End in Brooklyn, and I also included Octavia’s Porch, not a deli but a restaurant serving reimagined Jewish food, and the coffee shop at the Edison Hotel because, although a coffee shop, they are of the deli persuasion.
About Mile End, I realize it’s been highly praised. Zagat rates it the best deli in New York with a 25 rating for its Montreal-based cuisine. The matzo ball soup was fatty to the point of greasy, far too rich and fatty for my consumption. And while we’re on the subject of its top Zagat rating, their “smoked meat” sandwich is neither pastrami nor corned beef, but something else, something lesser, and can’t begin to approach the excellence of the pastrami at Ben’s Best in Rego Park. And while we’re on pastrami, recently I was in Langer’s in Los Angeles, famous for its pastrami, and the bread was incomparable-- it’s baked while you’re sitting there-- but I have to say it, I’ve got Ben’s Best ahead of Langer’s for a pastrami sandwich. But I digress delicatessen-ly.
The matzo ball soup at Octavia’s Porch was interesting, fresh ingredients, imagination went into it, but it seemed more of an Asian dish than a bowl of matzo ball soup. The Carnegie, Katz’s, The 2nd Ave Deli, Fine & Schapiro, Liebman’s, the name delis, all served, to varying degrees, decent matzo ball soup with Liebman’s decidedly a cut above the others for its broth and for having the best-tasting matzo ball of any during this search. If this were only about the matzo ball and not the whole soup of it, I would rate Liebman’s top of the list. The surprise is that the coffee shop here, the coffee shop at the Edison Hotel out-matzo-ball-soup-ed the delis.
The Edison features a matzo ball from the light, fluffy school-- I can live with that. Copious amounts of noodles. A delicious broth. Some of the above soups were clear broth, some a lonely slice of carrot or piece of dill floating about. The Edison offers pieces of chicken along with the noodles, which makes their soup unique among these. Taken together, the matzo ball, the noodles, the chicken, the broth, a generous, beautifully rendered matzo ball soup. A cup will do. A bowl is a meal unto itself.
And then there’s the place, which is actually a little insane looking. The ceiling seems as though it was once part of the hotel’s original lobby or a ballroom in the hotel or who knows, and there are the mismatched dining areas, and the sloppily handwritten signs with the day’s specials. But for a pre-theater light dinner, or any time during the day, it’s outstanding. Best matzo ball soup I tasted. And the whitefish salad sandwich wouldn’t kill you.
Edison Hotel Coffee Shop. 228 W 47th Street, Manhattan. 212-840-5000.