Food & Drink

Jew-ish

An Experiment in Cross-Cultural Cuisine

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CURT DOUGHTY

I wasn't inundated with Jewish culture as a child. We were no religion at all, and nearly every other family on Capitol Hill back then was Catholic, with a big, shabby house full of up to a dozen offspring to prove it. The Diary of Anne Frank only gets you so far; very few kids in my class were Jewish, and the Seattle Public Schools' efforts at multiculturalism in this particular direction wrought only knowledge of the dreidel song and rampant envy over the many days and concomitant many gifts of Hanukkah. My exposure to Jewish food consisted of bagels, preferably from the New York Bagel Boys in University Village. At the time, University Village was mostly soothing, empty expanses of parking lot. Every bagel made in Seattle since suffers mightily by comparison to those made by the Bagel Boys on its northern border (near the Stitchin' Time fabric store and The Cheese Something-I-Forget, possibly Seattle's first specialty cheese shop, another favorite of my youth).

When I was shipped out of the provinces to get a proper liberal arts college education "back East" (although my parents attended WSU and I'm a fourth-generation Washingtonian), I didn't know my ass from my elbow about most things. I feigned familiarity when the names and rituals of prep schools came up; in retaliation, I convinced several East Coast prodigies that in Seattle, we still had to ride our horses into town to get the mail. Foodwise, my horizons were expanded, courtesy of the dining hall, with potato pancakes and Russian dressing (and, elsewhere, Philly cheese steaks, Ethiopian, frogs' legs, good pizza, etc.). The pinnacle of my Judeo-specific naiveté occurred when my Long Island–bred roommate described a girl I'd not yet met as a "total JAP." Bravely, righteously, I said, "That is NOT an acceptable way to describe a Japanese person."

This is all an extremely dilatory introduction to something I'm not sure human beings of any persuasion should be introduced to—a thing that also involves a conflation of the Jewish and the Asian, and that also seems entirely wrong-headed. It's the Reuben spring roll at Roxy's Diner in Fremont: an unholy, unnatural union of extra-large wonton wrapper, pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and approximately a gallon of canola oil, served with Russian dressing on the side.

Roxy's is often said to make the best Reuben sandwich in town (among very few contenders, more's the pity). Their motto: "REAL EASTCOAST ON THE WESTCOAST," not an insupportable position when it comes to the food. The atmosphere is less East-on-West than it is a spectacular collision of typical New York diner and hippie Fremont weirdness. There's counter seating and Formica-topped tables and upholstered booths, all standard enough. The colors involved: not so standard. The linoleum floor alone encompasses the entire rainbow, with squares of different hues in a pattern that seems entirely random (though it suggests the possibility of a grand design, if only you could lift off the roof and view it from above). An enormous mural on one wall, left over from previous tenants the Bagel Oasis, depicts a virulent sunset on, perhaps, a North African port town, with a purple sea and lumpy dark landmasses and violet palm trees. More art hanging elsewhere comprises a remarkable breadth of subjects and styles. A piano's been painted lime green. The people—working, drinking at the tiny bar, wandering in for a bowl of matzoh-ball soup—are uniformly nice, making the whole enterprise neighborly.

In its former location downtown on First, Roxy's offered the pastrambow, a pastrami humbow. Are they heresy, such hybrids? I am far from the one to judge. Good? Bad? With regard to the Reuben spring roll, it's a tough call: Rarely has a food item been so confusing. I cannot for the life of me decide whether it is a thing to be recommended or a thing to be avoided at all costs. This I know: Grease ran down my arm. At the strange, pretty delightful happy hour (4:00 pm to 6:30 pm every day), three of them, alarmingly large and loglike, are $2.98. Also at happy hour, well drinks made with the likes of Skyy vodka are $3; pitchers of beer, $5–$9. And they always have potato pancakes.

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