It has been a distressing trend that kosher delicatessens have been closing up around the country in recent years but Ben’s, located in the Bay Terrace Shopping Center, has just celebrated its 25th anniversary and is going as strong as ever.
Aside from the food, a key reason Ben’s has prospered is that it has a modern look in both its design and lighting; has comfortable high-back cushioned booths; and is spacious whereas most delis tend to be quite cramped.
Ben’s has also bucked the negative deli business tide by keeping up with the times in its menu. Sure, it has all of the kosher meat cuts that one would expect but it’s also like a diner in that it has a wide array of options such as salmon and filet of sole; healthy salads; and cold sandwich favorites such as tuna and egg salad; and yes, veggie burgers and other vegetarian options. And no matter what you choose, you can enjoy unlimited coleslaw and pickles with your meal.
It’s almost obligatory to start any meal at Ben’s with one of its terrific and generous-sized bowls of soup. Whether you select matzo ball, kreplach, mushroom barley or cabbage, you’ll enjoy homemade tastiness and feel better because they’re lower in salt than soups served at traditional diners.
While Ben’s menu is sizable, most customers come in for the kosher cured meats that have been a staple of Eastern European Jewish households for centuries. According to Ben’s manager Helen Devine, who has been at the Bayside restaurant since its inception and before that worked at the defunct but still legendary Pastrami King in Kew Gardens, pastrami is the most popular sandwich, though she added that corned beef with a side of cabbage will get the top spot this upcoming St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
My longtime favorite Ben’s deli sandwich is the extra lean brisket on rye because it’s healthier, and, in my opinion, tastes better than fatty brisket. Lean meats are drier than their fattier counterparts so it’s advisable to dip them in gravy, which adds moisture, improves taste and makes digestion easier.
If you are going to enjoy a Ben’s sandwich or platter, try to forget the carbs and have one of the sides. Yes, the french fries are a delicacy, but I recommend ordering something that you wouldn’t find at most diners such as egg barley; potato pancakes and apple sauce; and the fruit noodle pudding, which can double as a dessert.
Normally I eschew a beverage when I dine out and stick with water, but Ben’s bottomless fountain drinks are irresistible, with my choice being their vanilla cream soda.
Speaking of sweet treats, leave room for one of the desserts, which include a very light and delicious seven layer cake, carrot cake and black-and-white cookie.
If you don’t have time for sitdown dining, or simply want to stock up on dinners for the week, Ben’s deli counter is today’s butcher shop with the meats already cooked. Its appetizing takeout section is more thorough than that of most supermarkets.
Parking is not an issue at Ben’s as the Bay Terrace Shopping Center has plenty of spots for cars. (Jay Parker, the owner of the closed Rego Park institution Ben’s Best, cited the lack of parking and new bike lanes on Queens Boulevard as the reason that he chose to go out of business.) Incidentally there is no relationship between Ben’s, which has locations in Nassau County, Manhattan and Boca Raton, Fla., and Ben’s Best. It’s just a coincidence that Ben’s CEO Ronnie Dragoon named his restaurant after his father, Ben, while Ben’s Best was named for Parker’s dad, who founded that restaurant in 1948.
Ben’s has delivery available to all parts of Queens for either a dinner at home or for more extensive catering.
In addition, there is a private party room for special occasions. Ben’s has also used that room for special dinner and comedy/music events for the public.
Ben’s is located at 211-37 26 Ave. in Bayside. Its phone number is (718) 229-2367, and it’s online at bensdeli.net.