Restaurant review: Auckland's destination deli

Now in its third year, Al Brown's Federal Delicatessen remains the best casual food spot in the CBD. You'll often find Greg Fleming at the counter
While you're unlikely to see Woody, the crowd's always interesting.PHOTO: Ted Baghurst
While you're unlikely to see Woody, the crowd's always interesting.PHOTO: Ted Baghurst

Auckland has long needed a place where you can turn up at (almost) any hour for a coffee, a piece of pie or some turkey meatloaf - and The Fed ticks all the boxes.

Open from 7am till late, it's got your pre-show dinner, post-gig snack, long boozy lunch or carb heavy breakfast (try the pastrami hash) sorted.

The Fed - as it has come to be known - has a busy, urban vibe and the service (waiters and waitresses in uniform) is just the right side of attentive. You won't sit on an empty cup of coffee for long, but they don't ask you how your meal is every five minutes either.

The Fed is modelled on a classic New York Jewish deli. Remember those 70s Woody Allen movies - Woody sitting in a booth talking existentialism over a pastrami on rye?
It's that kind of place, and while you're unlikely to see Woody, the crowd's always interesting - Tinder daters, businessmen on a tear, pre-shoot models attacking the fennel and apple salad, and on one memorable occasion a New York couple at the next booth who loudly judged The Fed superior to any place back home.

It's also a place where you can take the kids and they'll clear their plate.

While the peculiar popularity of the poutine ($9 or $12 - fries, cheese curd and gravy, get someone from Canada to explain) remains a mystery to me, menu staples like the lemon sole ($25) and the New York-style strip steak ($26) are the kind of classic, unfussy deli dishes which The Fed excells in. The spit-roast chicken too.

Everything's served to share, the sides - in Fed terminology, Shotguns - are generous (creamy slaw with peanuts $6), the filter coffee ($4 for as much as you can drink) will have you reassessing your coffee snobbery, and, if you make it to dessert, the lemon meringue pie is outstanding. The New York cheesecake is also good.

The Fed remains the only place I've ordered a hot dog (New York-style street-dog, $7) and not regretted it. Care's taken with every dish.

Remember those 70s Woody Allen movies - Woody sitting in a booth talking existentialism over a pastrami on rye?
It's that kind of place

Executive chef Kyle Street, whose new joint Culprit opens later this year in Wyndham St, has travelled to the States to research famous Jewish delis and takes his sandwiches seriously.

"Each layer of the sandwich should serve a purpose. The meat (or protein) should be the star: everything else should be in proportion to this. A mix of warm and cold elements adds another layer of complexity."

For proof try the turkey on rye ($15), the apple and walnuts add crunch, the cranberry sweetness. If you subscribe to Warren Zevon's late-life advice to "enjoy every sandwich," regular lunchtime visits to The Fed will be mandatory.

I've sat at the counter many times, ostensibly engrossed in my phone when what I'm really doing is watching the team at work. It's as mesmerising as it is appetising and run with military precision.

The other day I even scored a wrong-order plate of the aforementioned poutine. OK, it's starting to grow on me.

Auckland needs more places like this. Just like that turkey on rye (served with a dollop of potato salad), all elements at The Fed work in perfect, moreish, unison.

Tip: They don't take bookings, but if you don't get a booth - these run along the left side of the restaurant - you can put your name down and you'll be moved when one becomes available. They're one of the city's best tables.

Federal Delicatessen, Federal St, CBD

thefed.co.nz

Follow Greg Fleming on twitter

- NZ Herald

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