Serious Eats

ZOMG: Pastrami Cheese Fries from Kenny and Zuke's in Portland, Oregon

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Kenny & Zuke's

1038 SW Stark Street, Portland OR 97205 (map); 503-222-3354‎

Cheese fries: been there, eaten that. But pastrami cheese fries? It's hard not to notice them under the "Sides & a la Carte" section of the Kenny & Zuke's menu. The words are practically yelling at you, highlighted in a special yellow box with curly font and "ONLY $8.50." Once you spot them, you really don't read anything else.

Noodle kugel, mhmm, Sabrett hot dog, fine sure. "PASTRAMI CHEESE FRIES." ORDER ME, they say. So we did.

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Kenny & Zuke's claims to have some of the best pastrami in the world. Well, the world, if you don't count New York. Ken Gordon and Nick Zukin opened the deli in 2007 and have been reinterpreting Jewish deli fare, still applying rigorous standards to classic preparations (like pastrami) in a Portland-hip, modern diner space.

How can you eat pastrami here? Oh, let us count the ways. Classic sandwich on rye, pastrami burger, reuben, reuben salad (salad in name only: pastrami, swiss, sauerkraut, rye croutons, and Russian dressing) and, what we're here to tell you about today, the cheese fries.

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At first, you stare at it. Which angle do you..where does one..reach for...fork? Is this a fork's job?

No. And just go for it.

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We wanted to give you some scale of the behemoth, so here is my face. If that helps.

There's about as many strands of lusciously fall-aparty pastrami trimmings as there are fries. The pastrami-to-fries ratio is actually kind of frightening. How much gets in there? "As much as we can fit!" said co-owner Nick Zukin. You could easily make a sandwich or two with all that meat.

The smokey, crusty-edged bits are piled on top, underneath, and in between the giant mass of melted Swiss-smothered fries. And the fries: though they get overshadowed by the 'strami, they are perfect: McDonald's caliber of crisp, golden, and salted.

The genius idea came to Zukin one late (like after all the bars closed late) weekend night when he wanted to use all the fatty, meaty, super-intensely-flavored pastrami scraps.

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Has more pastrami ever been on one plate? Doubtful. We decided to throw a Reuben half on top to make history.

We tried really hard to finish the plate. Really, really hard. But even three very serious eaters had to request a take-home box—and the remains were still popping out of that. Pastrami cheese fries: you win this time. Alright, so maybe you win every time.

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