Latke Week: Deli Taste-Test

Sometimes you just want to go out for a latke. You don’t want to deal with making your own. You don’t want your hair, clothes, and house to smell like used oil. Other times you don’t even want to turn your oven on and open your freezer. That’s OK. We’ve got you covered!

We made the sacrifice and taste-tested the four deli latkes in the Twin Cities, from Mort’s, Crossroads, Prime and Cecil’s. They are presented in order from when they were consumed, with a heavy amount of editorializing from me. Enjoy, and Happy Hanukkah!

Mort’s

I have a love/hate relationship with the Golden Valley restaurant: I love the idea of more delis; I hate that I haven’t had a good meal there. To be fair, the deli seems to have an identity crisis. It opened and got some buzz by importing food from New York delis, but never did anything of its own well. Then, after selling, the new owners continued in the tradition of the latter.

But enough about Mort’s in general. This is about the latkes. And they are passable. Unlike the frozen, cook at home variety, they have long shreds of potato, most closely resembling homemade. Also, they are huge. Like three of the frozen variety would equal one of these. And there is value: The plate of three is $7.50.

These are well cooked, with a good sear on the outside and a perfectly cooked inside, so the overall texture is strong.

The one possible hang-up here is the onion. Now onion is going to be a fixture in latkes (unless, like me, your wife is allergic to them so we omit them; that’s another story), and that’s fine. But here it’s overdone. There are big chunks of onion in every bite and they don’t get cooked enough to taste sweet as white onions tend to do, so they taste very strong. Good? Bad? You decide.

Crossroads

I’m a little salty about Crossroads because they don’t have latkes on the menu year round, and I have no idea why. In fact, we tried eating there once and left after we were told latkes weren’t served yet. You’re a deli and a member of the Jewish Food Mount Rushmore and it isn’t a fixture on the menu? What are we doing here?

But I digress. After calling (twice) to confirm they had them on the menu, I was eager to try them. They were fine. I wasn’t offended by anything in them, but I wasn’t wowed by them either. They come out plenty hot and not dripping in oil – both positives. They are a little too thin for my liking, but that may just be user preference. But being thinner should have made them easier to crisp-up and they weren’t crispy enough. I want to hear a little snap in the potato and it wasn’t there.

The biggest negative to me is the price. At $10.99 for three, they are 50 percent more expensive than Mort’s for a product that is maybe 25 percent better.

Cecil’s

Cecil’s has something that the others in this space do not: history. History breeds goodwill amongst customers and experience making consistent food – which is exactly what their latkes are.

The latkes are a good size; not Mort’s big, but still plenty good. They are well seasoned and tasted like potato. Sadly, this isn’t a given. They were very hot and greasy with a really good crunch on the edges. One side was a little more well done than the other, but not burnt – just crispier.

Also importantly, they stayed hot throughout the seating. Again, not a given. Plus, it’s not like these are the easiest thing to hammer down three of them in a matter of seconds.

Price-wise they come in at the same $10.99 as Crossroads, but they are 50 percent better (at least) than Mort’s. They are consistent with every bite, and like most other things at Cecil’s, you know what you’re getting.

Prime Deli

Like many kids, I was told if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

If that were the case, the article would be over here. But you expect more of me.

This was the end of my deli tour. Like at Crossroads, it required a second trip back since latkes aren’t a regular menu item. Like Crossroads, the inability to get them all year is not a bad thing.

These weren’t latkes so much as they were sub-par breakfast hash browns. The shreds of potatoes were far too small – as mentioned earlier, thicker shreds are always better. It also wasn’t served hot enough, although they were crispy, so they were at one point cooked through.

Here’s the rub about going to Prime for latkes: You can’t have sour cream. That’s fine – you know what you’re getting at a kosher-meat restaurant. However they also don’t serve it with applesauce, either – and they didn’t have any upon request.

So the bottom line is if you want great latkes year-round: go to St. Paul, make your own from this amazing recipe, or buy Trader Joe’s frozen. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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About Lonny Goldsmith

Lonny Goldsmith is the editor of TC Jewfolk and Director of Communications for Jewfolk Media. He's an award-winning journalist who is involved in his third Jewish community after growing up in Michigan and spending a three-year stint in Chicago. He likes to write, cook and drink really good beer. He can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @lonny_goldsmith

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