Jake’s in Milwaukee, Manny’s in Chicago, and Shapiro’s in Indianapolis are all worthy contenders for the nation’s corned beef crown. To that list, add what is billed as “the biggest and the best corned beef sandwich” in Cleveland, as served by Slyman’s.
A vintage deli on the near East Side, it is open only for breakfast and lunch, the morning menu including such temptations as a corned beef omelet and a corned beef, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich; but it is the heap of beef between slices of rye that is the star. It is indeed gigantic — one of those steroidal deli sandwiches way too big to pick up and eat in any normal way. As is custom in so many urban heartland delis, the meat is very thinly sliced; and while it glistens, I wish it had been fattier and spicier. It is tender, but lacks the lasciviousness of well-striated corned beef. That is perhaps why Slyman’s Rueben is so popular. The addition of melty cheese and sauerkraut plus a crisp crust of griddled rye add wanton luxury.
A fun thing about eating at Slyman’s is its lingo for ordering a corned beef sandwich. Natural means plain. Mummy gets you mayonnaise and mustard. Smurf is Swiss cheese and mustard. Ask for whack and it will come on whole wheat instead of rye. Strangest of all is grill brick: buttery-crisp, griddle-sizzled rye with no corned beef whatsoever.
Culturally, an intriguing place. It looks and sounds like a normal urban delicatessen. There’s a sandwich-prep area towards the front where the corned beef slicing machine seems never to stop, a short counter in back, and a small dining room to the right. Room tone is boisterous and happy. Waitresses are no-nonsense, and the guys behind the counter are full of joie de vivre. The menu is classic Jewish (non kosher), but brochures at the cash register invite customers to get to know Allah better and the menu includes praise to Jesus in the form of a reference to John 3:16.