When I learned that a Jewish deli would be opening in Kendall Square in Cambridge, I was thrilled. Though Greater Boston already has some excellent Jewish delis - the S&S in Inman Square, Zaftigs in Coolidge Corner and Johnny's Luncheonette in Newton Centre - this new spot would be just a 10 minute walk from my office.
The restaurant is called Mamaleh's. In Yiddish the word mamaleh means "little one," most often used as a term of endearment for a young girl. My grandfather (my dad's dad) has been calling me that my whole life.
The adorably named Mamaleh's opened right in Kendall Square, in the same plaza as Cambridge Brewing Company, the Blue Room, Bon Me, the Friendly Toast and chef Andy Husbands' new BBQ place, the Smoke Shop. I have to admit, when I arrived in the square I couldn't seem to find it. Embarrassingly, I looped the square at least twice before texting my friend to ask if she had found the entrance. As it turns out, Mamaleh's doesn't have an awning or a sign over the door, they just have the restaurant name etched on the glass of their front windows.
Though there isn't any bright signage out front, there is a neon sign indoors across from the takeout counter. They should move this outside over the front door!
Mamaleh's does take reservations, so despite the dining room being completely packed, we were able to get a seat right away. The restaurant really embraces the deli theme, including this pickle poster.
As soon as we sat down I ordered a Dr. Brown's cream soda. It's impossible for me to eat at Jewish deli and not get a Dr. Brown's. In addition to the cream soda, they also carry Dr. Brown's black cherry, cel-ray and ginger ale.
Reading through the menu was like revisiting meal after meal at my grandparents' house. They have all the classics - matzah ball soup, knishes, blintzes, kugel, kasha varnishkes, smoked fish, chopped liver and more.
To begin, my friend and I decided to share an order of the potato latkes. They arrived on a Mamaleh's branded plate with the name across the top and the logo (a cute little girl) on the bottom.
Personally, I think my dad makes the best potato latkes in the world, but I have to tell you, these were a very close second! Many places focus on making each potato latke huge, which makes the patties too large to ever get crispy. The Mamaleh's version has a great crunch on the outisde. I also appreciated that they put the applesauce and the sour cream on the side (as opposed to on top) so you could decide exactly how you want to top your latke.
Next up we each ordered a sandwich from the lunch menu. My friend decided on the reuben. Traditionally, that sandwich is corned beef, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on rye bread. Mamaleh's also offers the reuben with turkey or king oyster mushrooms (a vegetarian version). She went with the classic corned beef.
My friend is gluten-free and thankfully Mamaleh's offers gluten-free bread. After a few bites she said, "This bread is surprisingly good! The corned beef is really delicious. Last time I was here I got a pastarmi sandwich and I found the pastrami too fatty. This corned beef is perfect."
I went with the Rachel sandwich which is typically made with pastarami, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and coleslaw on light rye. I asked for the vegetarian version, made with king oyster mushrooms.
The light rye bread was the absolute best part of this sandwich. It added real crunch to every bite. I thought the mushrooms overpowered the rest of the ingredients in the sandwich, making it taste a bit one note. Though this wasn't a winning dish, I so appreciate that Mamaleh's offers vegetarian versions of their two most popular meat sandwiches.
Once our sandwich plates had been cleared it was onto dessert. I basically wanted to order one of everything.
We wound up ordering two desserts to share, starting with the chocolate babka. In December I had the best chocolate babka of my life at Wise Sons in San Francisco, CA, so I wasn't sure if this would be able to top it. The Mamaleh's version tastes like challah with rich chocolate swirls layered in.
We had to try the black and white cookie, a Jewish deli staple! I normally just like the side of the cookie frosted with chocolate, but this cookie was so perfectly made that I gobbled up the entire thing, loving the vanilla side just as much as the chocolate. I enjoyed this so much that I am already starting to think about how often I can pop in for one on my way home from work or to bring as a hostess gift to friends.
When our waiter delivered the check, there was a sesame candy for each of us. My grandmother used to keep these in a candy dish at her house. The Mamaleh's team is really nailing the nostalgia factor!
Though my vegetarian sandwich wasn't a home run, Mamaleh's really knocked it out of the park with their crispy potato latkes and craveable desserts. I'm excited to go back and try more menu items.
If you live or work in the area, Mamaleh's does takeout and they also offer catering.