Parkway Deli Restaurant Rating: Convenience is still perfect
Time to go to a vintage car to break bread with the past. Parkway, introduced by Lou Gurewitz in 1963. Named for its proximity to Rock Creek Park, the store is now in the hands of grandson Danny Gurewitz, 52, who took over operations from his father Stuart after Stuart suffered a stroke in 2005. Danny, who moved to Texas during his time, divorced in 1979 but returned to Maryland to see his father and help out on the parkway. He’s also the resident fix-it guy, repairing toasters, installing wifi and fitting outdoor roofs when needed.
The front of the establishment is a small grocery and deli through which you enter the 110 seat dining room. A half-exposed grill and kitchen hint at what to expect on the multi-page, plastic-bound menu: chili, chicken, hash browns, salads galore, Reubens (and enough other sandwiches to fill a paunch), “Jewish fare” and dinners of the kind suggested at home (roast turkey, stuffed cabbage).
I’m familiar with Parkway’s chicken soup—with or without a fluffy, if undersalted, matzo ball. While I was working from home during the pandemic, my significant other knew that a takeout order from Parkway was pretty much all I needed to fuel me up until show time (okay, a dinner review). Tender chicken pieces or chicken cutlets fill the container with golden broth, gently herbed and stuffed with handfuls of sliced carrot, celery, onion and egg noodles. Each spoon had the power of a hug.
I can understand why the gentleman from my first dinner at the Parkway was upset about the lack of a pickle bar. “It gives you something to do while you’re waiting for your food,” says Gurewitz. In the 70s and 80s, he says, pickles and sauerkraut were brought to the table. The welcome was later replaced with a self-service refrigerated truck and expanded to include pickled beets, bread-and-butter “crisps,” and more.
The dining room, painted purple and aqua, is otherwise simple and practical. A set of mirrors lets you play voyeur from almost any table, and a carousel of condiments grants a barrage of wishes: salt and pepper shakers, of course, but also two types of hot sauce, three sweeteners, and a plastic card for happy-hour specials .
The dinners served every day from 4pm make me wish there were more such sources. Home-roasted turkey slices almost hide the onion-laced cornbread filling that supports them. Just like Thanksgiving, the bounty comes with brown gravy and cranberry sauce. Diners choose a side; lightly dressed coleslaw or creamy macaroni and cheese round off my feast. Cabbage stuffed with ground beef and rice is as cheery as a phone call from home for some of us, despite its overly sweet tomato sauce. And I love the crunch and juice of the fried half chicken. Unfortunately, the idea of liver and onions is better than reality: Thin slices of veal liver that seem to have given up all of their juice on the grill have me comforted with the crispy bacon and roasted peppers heaped on top of the main course.
“The menu is so big that the kitchen couldn’t possibly do everything,” says a young waiter when we ask how some dishes are prepared. Staples like the chopped chicken liver, knishes (both sweet), and fish and chips are made by a grocer. But is it really important? The beer-battered cod comes from a vendor, but the tartar sauce and coleslaw are made from scratch. All in all a tasty combo. Likewise, the chunky applesauce you can get with the crispy golden potato pies tastes like a local kitchen, but it’s made elsewhere.
Can we talk? The blueberry pancakes are chewy and the hash browns in the omelettes are too short. But I like the Reuben. Grilled rye bread with shaved corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, sweet Russian dressing and melted Swiss pushes all the right buttons. The same goes for the friendly service and banter at the counter that comes from staff who know long-time customers. There’s something to be said for a place that has outlasted so many other attempts in the area to be a “deli.”
When I telephone Gurewitz later, I am shocked by his frankness. “We’re not trying to be at the top, but we’re not at the bottom either,” he says. His goal at Parkway is consistency and value. Reliability is spurred on by one chef, Rene Santos, 52, who started 28 years ago.
The pandemic recently forced Gurewitz to raise prices, a task he delegated to his managers because “I can’t justify charging $8 for a grilled cheese.” Still, individual sandwiches cost around $10, no dinner costs more than $19, and leftovers are almost a given. Best of Pastry is a moist slab of warm spiced carrot cake with the weight of a brick that can easily feed three forks. Don’t just take my word for it. The owner says he sells 20 of the 13-pounders a week.
This level of comfort and abundance explains the cross-section of guests on any given day. “We get all kinds of people,” says the owner. “Old, young, all ethnicities”, a reality confirmed in all my visits. In the early years, he says, Parkway was frequented primarily by nearby Jews; The clientele has long been a “cornucopia”, says Gurewitz.
Parkway may not be the deli and restaurant of your dreams. Your mileage depends on knowing the strengths of the kitchen. Then again, the price is right, there always seems to be parking, it’s open three times a day, seven days a week, and Gurewitz thinks he might bring the pickle bar back soon.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant
8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 301-587-1427. theparkwaydeli.com. Open: Indoor, alfresco and takeout Monday – Friday 8:30am – 9:00pm and Saturday – Sunday 8:00am – 9:00pm. Prices: Sandwiches $7.49 to $16.99, Dinner $14.49 to $18.99. Soundcheck: 73 decibels/Must speak in a loud voice Accessibility: Wheelchair users can enter through the front door or access the rear outdoor restaurant via a ramp; Restrooms have grab bars but are too narrow for wheelchairs. Pandemic Protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.