Beyond Big Sandwiches: Hungarian Classics and Ashkenazi Cuisine at Kenny & Ziggy's

If you go to Kenny & Ziggy's and order a pastrami on rye or a Reuben, you will leave satiated and satisfied. You are likely to rave about the impressive mountain of quality cold cuts, the tangy sauerkraut and the complimentary pickles. You might even, if you haven't already, remind yourself to go back on Sunday morning to try the challah French toast. But if this is the only way you think about the food at Kenny & Ziggy's, you are missing out on what the restaurant does best.

Yes, I'm going to go so far as to assert that the super sandwiches and bountiful brunch dishes are not the main reason to go to Kenny & Ziggy's (though they certainly provide ample motivation). Rather, it's the Ashkenazi dishes and Hungarian classics, painstakingly crafted by Cordon Bleu-trained chef and owner Ziggy Gruber, that make this restaurant one of the most authentic, old-school Jewish delis in the country.

I'm talking about "noshes" such as the chopped liver, a rich confection of chicken organ meat, onions and earthy spices that spreads easily on half-toasts of rye bread and definitely challenges the pejorative implications of the associated adage. It's a dish that reflects a Jewish tradition of culinary utility during tough times, specifically, the practice of using every last bit of an animal to feed the family. But eating chopped liver at K&Z's is no hardship.

I might have lingered longer over the chopped liver (and would have eventually had to request more bread to wipe the bowl of any remaining traces), but my attention was hijacked by the appearance the kishke and gravy. Admittedly, I wanted to try the kishke and gravy because I thought it would be a "good experience," a means of educating myself on Ashkenazi Jewish dishes I was NOT reared on growing up Catholic in central Pennsylvania. I didn't expect to absolutely adore the slightly sweet, grainy sausage stuffing made all the more succulent with a dollop of brown gravy. I may forgo cornbread dressing for kishke this Thanksgiving.

Also compelling were the stuffed peppers, a food with which I was somewhat familiar thanks to my Polish grandmother. This Hungarian version was more robust and less mushy (sorry, Nana), with a moist filling of rice and ground beef, which in combination with a dressing of paprika-spiked tomato sauce achieved a wonderful umami flavor.

If I hadn't been on a mission to go on the road less traveled at Kenny & Ziggy's, I might have ordered a towering egg salad sandwich on wheat with a side of fries for my main course. I'm glad I stayed the course, going instead for the Romanian steak, a tender skirt cut cooked medium well and generously topped with fried onions. And the potato for my meat? A latke, of course, a fried (but not greasy) disc of soft shredded spuds.

If you can't be swayed from ordering a sandwich at Kenny & Ziggy's, at least pair it with a more unusual (well, at least to goyim) side, such as the noodle kugel. A casserole of egg noodles bound with cream and cottage cheese, kugel is a sweeter version of macaroni and cheese that can double as a dessert pudding.

There's much, much more I need to try at Kenny & Ziggy's in terms of traditional Jewish dishes and Eastern European delicacies (as I write this, I'm already craving matzo brei), so stay tuned for some words on kreplach and smoked fish.

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Joanna O'Leary