Last summer I took the longest subway ride I’ve ever taken. From the Upper Westside to the Rockaways I went in order to spend a lovely, sunny day at the beach. At the very last bit of this journey, we had to get off and change to another train at a stop on a little body of land in Jamaica Bay. I saw on a map that this was the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, but I didn’t realize until months and months later that it wasn’t just a closed off preserve and that you could actually explore that area. Flash forward to this spring and I was walking the trails on the refuge, binoculars in tow, bird-watching and enjoying the fresh air with my mom. If you need a little break from the cement, skyscrapers, and sounds of the city, might I suggest going here?
After spending the morning exploring the outdoors, we were starving. Since we were so far east compared to where I normally hang out, I was stumped for options. My mom requested sandwiches for lunch, and a lightbulb went off in my head–if we were going to get a sandwich in New York City, it was going to be a pastrami sandwich. I did a quick search for some good pastrami nearby and found Ben’s Best Kosher Gourmet Delicatessen.
A man named Benjamin Parker started his deli business in 1945 in the Bronx. It eventually moved to Rego Park, which is where it is today, and was taken over by Benjamin’s son, Jay. Over the years, various notable figures have been connected to Ben’s Best. In 1997, during Clinton’s Administration, Ben’s Best catered food on Air Force One. In 1999, then New York Governor Pataki and Texas Governor George W. Bush made a bet that resulted in Ben’s Best sending chopped liver platters in the shape of the Empire State Building, pastrami shaped like New York state, and knishes to Austin. In 2008, Martha Stewart deemed Ben’s Best’s hot dogs one of the best in New York. In 2011, Guy Fieri came for his show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives to sample the chicken in the pot, fired kreplach, and stuffed cabbage. Basically, what was me just looking for something to eat close enough to where we were turned out to be much better than I could’ve hoped for!
My go-to, Jewish deli order is matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich. Since the option to get a half sandwich and cup of soup is only served here on weekday morning and afternoons, my mom and I split a whole sandwich and bowl of soup. At places like this, I don’t even have to look at pictures to know that the sandwich is going to be huge and much more than I can eat by myself. If you’re thinking about sharing too, just know that there is sometimes an extra sharing charge–here it was $1.75 more. (Also, I just noticed that Ben’s Best has this on their menu too: “Too Much Grief or Aggravation to the Waitstaff $1.00 extra”)
Our matzo ball soup came in a GIANT mug, which charmingly said “Jewish Penicillin” on the other side. This was my mom’s first time trying it and the perfect thing to warm us up after walking around on a chilly, windy day. It also came with noodles in the soup which is not always the case. The sandwich was piled high with pastrami, as expected, and the fries were fresh and thickly cut.
Besides those dishes, our meal came with some pickles and cole slaw, and we also ordered cream soda to complete the meal. Mmm…love that Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. Think we were full after that? Wrong! We got a couple of desserts to share–the noodle pudding and homemade apple strudel–to end our afternoon feast. We had no idea what the noodle pudding would be when we picked it. Sometimes it’s fun to just go for the unfamiliar item on the menu! It ended up being like a sort of casserole with egg noodles, and I’ve since learned that it’s also called noodle kugel. The strudel here had a crepe-like texture rather than the flaky pastry exterior we were experiencing, so both desserts were something new for us.
So are you ready to hear a cute story about my mom now? Good. When we were eating, I kept talking about how much I loved matzo ball soup and how it was so simple but so heartwarming and delicious. At the end of our meal, I went up to go to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a big to-go container of soup all wrapped up on our table. These weren’t our leftovers–we ate ALL of our order. Turns out that while I was up, my mom ordered some to take away so I could eat it at home because she saw how much I enjoyed it. Say it with me now. 1…2…3…AWWWWWW. Ben’s Best…moms are the best.
Matzo ball soup, hot pastrami sandwich, fries, noodle pudding, and homemade apple strudel
96-40 Queens Blvd
Rego Park, NY 11374