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DC Diary: Matzah Meals

Originally Published 04/27/00

April 20
3:02 p.m.
Loeb’s Deli, 15th and I streets, N.W.

In a desperate search for Kosher Passover food given the dearth of options at J Street, Provisions Market and the nearby Watergate Safeway, I racked my brain for dining options.

Loeb’s Deli appeared on my tongue from somewhere deep in my subconscious. I convinced my roommate – OK, not really convinced, since on the second day of Passover he was just as sick of matzah as I was – to venture downtown with me.

William Safire, a New York Times columnist, said it is Bill Clinton’s favorite place in the city to get a hot corned beef sandwich. Where did Clinton go for good Jewish food before Hillary moved to Chappaqua, N.Y.? The answer is Loeb’s New York Style Deli on the corner of 15th and I street, N.W.

Currently, Loeb’s mostly kosher Deli is celebrating its 40th anniversary at its McPherson Square location, proudly proclaiming this fact with a sign that notes all the presidential administrations it has outlasted. Who will be next? asks the the banner hung on the side of the building, standing as a challenge to the incoming residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Proceeding down I Street toward the haven, my mouth watered. I could not wait to bite into a thick sandwich of hot corned beef on seedless rye bread with a crisp dill pickle. Of course, as we proceeded past the Veterans Administration building, I realized the obvious error I had made. My desire for fresh bread would have to be postponed, as it was, after all, Passover.

Not to worry though, as we entered Loeb’s we were greeted by a sign advertising a special Passover 2000 menu, with the option of replacing the bread on any sandwich with matzah for an extra 45 cents. Hot corned beef on matzah – I guess it would have to do, especially because the menu also included chicken soup with matzah balls, for which I had an intense craving. Other items included such Passover staples as gefilte fish and matzah brei (fried matzah with egg). Despite the number of tasty offerings, my roommate also selected the corned beef on matzah, with an order of French fries. The food was served, we were both overjoyed to see, by an elderly Jewish looking gentleman, whom we could only assume was Mr. Loeb himself.

The food was good. It was just the type of soul food we needed to rejuvenate us and prepare us for the long haul ahead. The corned beef was excellent; the matzah on the other hand was a bit lacking. But after all, it’s a sacrifice that must be made. The chicken soup was tasty and the most important part – the enormous matzah ball – was soft and fluffy, just like Grandma Sylvia has never quite been able to make it. Plus the meal was accompanied with Doctor Brown’s cream soda. Despite the fact that this outing set me back around $11, it was certainly worth it.

Its downtown location makes this landmark a popular spot for all types of important people. After prodding her for a bit, the cashier offered, as nonchalantly as possible, that although Safire said it was his favorite, Bill does not stop in all that often for a sandwich. However, her eyes began to glitter just a bit as she mentioned that George Stephanopolous, one of Clinton’s former advisers, was a frequent visitor during his White House stint. Also off-handedly, the cashier mentioned that a lot of news media visit the deli. When pressed she finally offered some names such as Doreen Gentzler of News 4 and her colleague Pat Collins, who she said, comes in here all the time.

Certainly a hike from NBC 4’s Nebraska Avenue studios, something must be drawing them to this downtown establishment just two blocks from the Treasury Building. Of course, it’s probably the same thing that has been packing the restaurant for the past 40 years.

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