All too often, when modern chefs put their spin on traditional recipes the result has neither the charm of the old nor the thrill of the new. Perly’s, a Richmond deli that opened in 1961, combines the best of those two worlds: vintage Jewish classics prepared with 21st century culinary brio. The result is a broad, inviting menu full of temptation and meals that deliver all kinds of satisfaction.
Take matzoh brei. Basically a mix of eggs and matzoh crackers that gets sauteed in butter to become a yeast-free cognate of French toast, it is here the foundation for a fantastic flight of fancy. The egg-soaked matzohs are laced with scallions and cheddar cheese and topped with cooked-soft apples and plum jam. The result is savory/sweet collusion that mercilessly teases taste buds.
Potato pancakes are crisp-edged, shredded-spud classics, but instead of regular apple sauce (a usual companion), they are topped with apricot apple sauce; and instead of regular sour cream, they sit in a spill of chive sour cream.
Wildest of all the kitchen’s modernizations may be its bloody Miriam, made with beet-infused vodka and garnished with pickled cauliflower, carrots, and house-made pickle, the glass’s rim stuck with everything-(but-the)-bagel seeds.
On the other hand, some dishes are not the least bit fussed with. The Reuben sandwich is an unimprovable pile of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye. Lokshen kugel, a traditional noodle pudding, is the sweet comfort food you want it to be. An egg cream, while not served in a shapely soda-fountain glass, is a just-right blend of milk, chocolate syrup, and soda: rich as eggs, thick as cream, but containing neither.
The menu is vast, including lots of multiple-ingredient sandwiches and breakfast and brunch entrees that range from schnitzel Perlstein (named for the deli’s original founder) to bagels & lox, blintzes, and corned beef hash. There are smoked fish platters, Old-World soups (matzoh ball, borscht), and such serious dinner entrees as beef brisket, roasted chicken, and fried trout served with matzoh polenta.
One aspect of the classic Jewish deli that you will not find at Perly’s is a staff of crabby-old-man waiters. Service is enthusiastic and genuinely hospitable.