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Cheap Eats: Randabi's Deli

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Randabi's potato knish / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Randabi's potato knish / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

It was only a few weeks ago that I whined in this space about the lack of quality deli food in Sarasota — specifically deli sandwiches, those magnificently enormous stacks of meat tucked in between slices of rye bread and dotted with spicy mustard. And then, as if 'twere preordained, my father-in-law told me about Randabi's, a New York-style deli that opened in Gulf Gate this August. Randabi's doesn't keep kosher, so those of you out there who avoid treif — like my father-in-law — are still out of luck in Sarasota, but for the rest of us, huzzah.

Michael Lauber, founder and co-owner of the spot, cut his teeth in the deli business in Brooklyn, and that NYC touch is evident in everything from the Big Apple kitsch on the walls to the menu, which highlights those sandwiches I love, plus latkes, knishes and chopped liver, and Middle Eastern specialties like hummus and tabouli. The space itself is simple and unpretentious, with vinyl tablecloths and a nice big window up front to stare out of.

Randabi's pastrami isn't made on site, unfortunately. Lauber says they just don't have the space — specifically, the basement — necessary to keep all that brisket steaming. But that doesn't mean they serve the stuff cold, which is an all-too-common mistake local deli wannabes make.

I count 28 slices of meat in the oval-shaped sandwich that eventually hits the table. I jazz things up with some worm-size trails of brown mustard, grip the un-toasted rye and take an enormous bite. Yum. Randabi's pastrami can't be placed in the same category as Lower East Side  legends like Katz's Delicatessen — where the thick hunks of meat are so tender they're buttery — and it's not at the level of Jo-El's kosher variety in St. Pete, but for Sarasota, it's way tasty.

One big key to the flavor, besides the warmth, is the stripes of fat that lace the meat. Up at Jo-El's they ask you if you want the lean or the fatty version, and you'd better believe that you need to pick the fatty. At Randabi's they don't ask, they just serve it right up, fat and all. You're already eating a pile of meat, for goodness' sake. Don't try to make it healthy.

Another winner: Randabi's knish — just potato, salt and pepper mashed up and wrapped in a beautiful little dough package. Sounds simple, and it is, but a strange alchemy makes it so much more than the sum of its ingredients. I grill Lauber about what secret seasonings he uses, but he swears it's just the basics, nothing special. The texture is key to the knish's success. I love the crunch of the caramelized dough in contrast with the gelatinous interior.

Randabi's makes a big deal out of its chopped liver, billing is as "the finest in all of Florida." I am in no position to judge the validity of that ostentatious claim, but I must admit it's delicious, with a rich, aggressive flavor and a smooth, spreadable texture. Randabi's cole slaw, which comes with all its sammies, is tart instead of sugary, always a plus, and the house-brined pickle on the side is a nice touch. I'd prefer a giant bowl of whole pickles, of course, but you can't have everything.

Randabi's pastrami sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Randabi's pastrami sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Randabi's Deli
6550 Gateway Ave., Sarasota
925-2818 or randabis.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.

Last modified: December 10, 2013
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