Review: Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Bakery in Indianapolis

I nfringing upon the territory of — and taking a cue from – Fly&Dine, here is a trip report and review of Shapiro’s Delicatessen and bakery in Indianapolis, Indiana, which has been in business since 1905.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Finding a delicatessen these days which offers Kosher and Kosher-style fare is increasingly difficult these days; so finding out about an establishment such as Shapiro’s Delicatessen was a pleasant surprise for me.

I was born and raised in New York; so my standards pertaining to delicatessen food are admittedly overly strict. In resetting my expectations by convincing myself that I am not in New York, I was not disappointed with what Shapiro’s Delicatessen had to offer — for the most part, anyway.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

My olfactory sense was not overwhelmed with the aromas of what one would typically find at a Kosher or Kosher-style delicatessen; but the atmosphere was similar: bare tables, old wooden chairs, a nondescript hard floor, a large menu hanging from the ceiling behind the counter. Customers are instructed to turn to the left and pick up a tray before heading to the appropriate areas of the counter to place their orders. Having done some research prior to visiting, I already knew what I wanted: the pastrami on rye, as the pastrami is claimed to be imported from Brooklyn; and the rye bread is baked on premises.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

For this review, I also decided to splurge and sample the matzo ball soup with noodles as well as a potato latke, or pancake. Ah, the lengths to which will I go just to review a meal for you…

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

You might have noticed a piece of meat on the tray in the photograph shown above. I asked to try the peppered beef, of which I had never heard. “It’s a slow process but we take beef round that has been salted, washed, cured for a few days then peppered, smoked, and dusted with a little sugar and paprika.” I wondered if it compared to the excellent smoked meat I had at Schwartz’s in Montréal. It did not. It had a nice flavor to it; but it was ice cold, which was disappointing.

I ordered my pastrami extra-lean like I typically do — which, to a pastrami purist could be considered sacrilege, as the fat is what keeps the pastrami moist and tender. For me, eating pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise is considered sacrilege; so you can imagine how much more confident I felt about this experience when I found this sentence amongst the description of the pastrami sandwich: “You can ask for mayo but you may not get it.” Amen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

While it meets what I consider the standards of a typical delicatessen in New York — the pastrami itself was quite good but not comparable to a delicatessen such as Katz’s Deli, for example — the only issue I had with it was that it was not as lean as I would have liked. I even encountered an inedible piece of hard fat. Regardless, I did enjoy the sandwich in which the meat was served nice and warm — especially as it was on the rye bread, which contained caraway seeds, had a firm and chewy crust whose surface was almost nice and crispy, and the bread itself had a nice texture but was just slightly too soft and sliced slightly too thick for my taste. The rye bread is not offered without caraway seeds; so if you want a seedless rye bread, you are out of luck and must order a different bread for your sandwich.

Only one side of the sandwich had a bit of mustard. For me, a pastrami sandwich must be slathered with real delicatessen mustard — which Shapiro’s Delicatessen sadly does not offer — on both slices of the rye bread. The closest they have to real delicatessen mustard is Gulden’s spicy brown mustard. I do like that mustard, but it is not comparable to mustard manufactured by Ba-Tampte Pickle Company in Brooklyn, for example. Fortunately, there are packets of the Gulden’s mustard located behind the cashier, and you can take as many as you like. I prefer having the mustard awaiting me in a jar or squirt bottle on the table, as is typical in a delicatessen.

While I did enjoy the dill pickle spear, it is the type you would typically be served in just about any sandwich shop across the United States. Give me a true sour pickle or half-sour pickle any day. That is the type of pickle needed to complement a true pastrami sandwich.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Shapiro’s Delicatessen claims to “hand-roll our matzo balls and cook them to perfection in our chicken broth” where the “result is a matzo ball that is light and fluffy.” Curious, I ordered a cup of matzo ball soup with noodles in chicken broth. My matzo ball was not light and fluffy — and that is a good thing. I prefer a matzo ball which would give someone a concussion if you threw it at his head — or that would bend a spoon if you tried to cut into it — rather than something that would float away if you did not keep it tied down. The broth and the noodles were very good with a savory but not rich chicken flavor; but the matzo ball unfortunately fell short simply because it was cold in the center. Had it been hot throughout, it would have been very good as well. Let me put if this way: if this entire cup of soup were served hot, it would have been very good overall in my opinion with the recommendation of consuming it to help you if you were not feeling well — such as suffering from a cold.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

The potato latke — or pancake — had a full fried potato flavor with a nice consistency in the center. Unfortunately, the external area surrounding the pancake was too overdone, resulting in a crunchy crust which fell apart when cutting into it.

Despite some of the shortcomings I encountered during my experience, do not be turned off by going to Shapiro’s Delicatessen, as I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and taste of the food. After all, I cleaned all of my plates. If you ever find yourself in downtown Indianapolis and have a craving for Kosher-style food — even if only to tide you over until your next craving — get yourself over to Shapiro’s Delicatessen and satisfy your hunger there.

Shapiro’s Delicatessen is located at 808 South Meridian on the corner of McCarty Street in Indianapolis, Indiana 46225. The restaurant is open seven days per week from 6:30 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening. The telephone number is 317-631-4041. There is also a location in Indianapolis International Airport.

3 thoughts on “Review: Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Bakery in Indianapolis”

  1. Tyson Howard says:

    The Shapiro’s inside IND airport is extremely overpriced and the food was mediocre when I had it.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am sorry to learn about that, Tyson Howard.

      The pastrami sandwich at Shapiro’s cost $12.95 before taxes and ordering it extra lean, which is a fairly decent deal compared to the almost $20.00 it cost for a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in New York — but then again, the pastrami is clearly superior at Katz’s; and the sandwich is bigger as well.

  2. Jonathan Wolman says:

    Now why can’t we have a Shapiro’s or Katz’s in Seattle?
    Thanks for going the extra mile and trying the full meal for us:)

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