By Paul Constant
Now that the I Love New York Deli on Roosevelt is regrettably dark and empty, this is probably the best Reuben sandwich in the University District. Fat Ducks Deli & Bakery's Reuben ($8.95—on the menu it's called the Lucky Duck) isn't as thick as I Love New York's was. But the meat is of very high quality; Fat Ducks owner Jaclyn Roth corns the beef herself.
Corning your own beef seems difficult—not to mention thick with nasty euphemisms—but Roth insists that the process is "quite simple." She starts with a slab of beef, puts "spices and pickling spices on it," and then slow-cooks it for "about four and a half hours." Roth piles hot, thin slices of her fresh-corned beef onto toasted rye bread with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and a tangy Russian dressing. It's a barely manageable mess of a sandwich that packs each of the essential Reuben elements into every single bite.
For five dollars more, the Reuben comes with a soda, a choice of potato salad or coleslaw, a bag of bagel chips, and a chocolate chip cookie. This is a huge picnic of a lunch that you can cart down to Ravenna Park for a little splendor in the grass—although you should be advised that the bees in the park found my sandwich to be just as irresistible as I did, with three of the feisty little fuckers clinging to the corned beef at one time. Unwelcome apiary moochings aside, the lunch was incredible. The coleslaw was fresh, crisp, and not too mayonnaisey; the bagel chips—Roth thin-slices and bakes them herself from a selection of savory Blazing Bagels—were crunchy, garlicky, and more addictive than most potato chips; and the cookie was sweet and chewy and just big enough to cap off the meal without overwhelming everything that came before.
But soon enough, it'll be dismal outside again, and picnics, even bee-plagued picnics, will be a fond memory. That's okay; Fat Ducks is a charming dine-in experience, too. It's a modified house that was home to two or three less-exciting (and more hippie) coffee shops in the past. Now it's packed with just the right amount of quirky (be prepared to encounter a committed duck decor), with big windows and a comfy couch in the airy living room space and smaller cafe-style tables lining the front room. It's cozy, warm, and well lit, the kind of place you'll want to sit down in for hours with a coffee and a good book.
For those cerebral, introverted afternoons, when you're not feeling up to the extravagance of a Reuben, you should try a Daisy Duck ($6.95), a dilly tuna salad sandwich with a big red wheel of tomato and a spray of crisp lettuce on top. For maximum enjoyment, get your Daisy on a toasted bagel; the chewy, bready bagel will soak up the mayonnaise and add some heft to the sandwich. Your first (and understandable) impulse when you walk into Fat Ducks will be to dive into the sweets in the case at the front of the house—much more about those to the right—but in a world where any old convenience store can order an assortment of mediocre Boar's Head cold cuts and call itself a deli, the specialness of an honest deli with real intelligence and skill behind the crafting of its sandwiches is a rare treat.
By Megan Seling
When you walk into Fat Ducks Deli & Bakery, the petite blond woman behind the counter will almost immediately start pushing samples on you. There are always samples to eat. The glass case is packed with at least half a dozen different baked goods—extra-large chocolate cupcakes topped with a big heap of icing, peanut butter chocolate bars, gooey pecan bars, bright yellow lemon bars bigger than your fist. There are more treats in the case around the corner and on the counter—brownies, bar cookies sprinkled with coconut and chocolate chips, and mysteriously named cookies like the PCP and THC.
The woman is the deli’s owner, Jaclyn Roth, and she’s there about 12 hours a day—from 11 am until 11 pm—baking this gigantic pile of sweets, which rounds out her menu of sandwiches, bagels, and spreads (get the sun-dried-tomato cream cheese!). And she’s been making many of these desserts since she was a teenager.
“I grew up on the East Coast,” she says. “In the ’50s, my father opened a drive-in with hamburgers and hot dogs. He expanded it into a gourmet bakery and deli in a high-end Jewish neighborhood in Jersey—it sat about 150 to 200 people.”
Roth and her five siblings all helped at the family business. “We baked everything on-site. They always threw me on the rugelach—it is the most time-consuming process. I’d be there at four o’clock in the morning, rolling out the dough.” She makes that same rugelach at Fat Ducks.
The pecan bar is huge. A thick layer of chopped and toasted pecans is coated in glistening caramel, and this slightly gooey mixture sits atop a tender, crumbly shortbread crust. You can taste the brown sugar and butter melting together on your tongue.
The PCP cookie is a soft, pale cookie with a sprinkling of sugar on top—it looks like an unassuming sugar cookie. But surprise! It’s laced with little pieces of coconut and—the secret ingredient—ground-up potato chips that make for extra little tingles of salt.
The other drug-themed treat is the THC cookie, a “Tropical Hawaiian Concoction” that involves macadamia nuts, coconut, and chocolate chips.
Roth giggles when I ask about the drug names. When she first opened the shop, she was unfamiliar with the University District. “I’ve never seen so many people with tattoos and piercings,” she says. “And all the medical dispensaries! I just thought it’d be cute.” (She assured me there aren’t any actual drugs involved.)
If you’re a chocolate fanatic, you can’t go wrong with Roth’s brownies—they’re so gooey and rich that you’ll definitely want to have coffee or milk on standby. The peanut butter chocolate bar was delightfully intense, too—Oreo cookie crust and a peanut butter filling topped with a sugary chocolate icing. I’d have loved to see more raspberry filling in the raspberry bar, and taste more citrus and less sugar in the lemon bar, but both were still good.
Since you’re heading to Fat Ducks to get a sandwich anyway, you’d be a fool to not grab a dessert (or three) while you’re there.