Authentic Jewish Food at Bridges Restaurant

September 2, 2021 at 2:14 p.m.
Authentic Jewish Food at Bridges Restaurant
Authentic Jewish Food at Bridges Restaurant

By Sharyn Lonsdale

In that quiet hour between a late lunch and early dinner, my fiance Daniel and I score a window table at Bridges restaurant on the eighth floor at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Sarasota, but we are not here for the view. We are here for “real deli” and the chance to finally sample the food of Executive Chef Solomon Shenker.
Daniel and I are Jewish. I grew up just outside of Boston and he grew up in and around New York City. In our families, every graduation, bar mitzvah and funeral led to a buffet of pastrami and corned beef (not too lean, not too fatty), tongue, (so that one uncle wouldn’t complain “What, no tongue?”) knishes, fresh rye bread and “bulkie” rolls, potato salad, coleslaw and half-sour pickles.
We were spoiled, able to indulge our passion for pastrami with a quick walk, subway ride or drive to a Jewish deli. While Englewood has many wonderful restaurants, no place in our area serves authentic Jewish food. With TooJays in Sarasota closing in 2020, it got even worse. But then there’s Sol.
Back in early 2016 after reading a rave review of Sol Meyer’s NY Deli, I skipped breakfast and drove to Sarasota, only to be greeted by what looked like a line for Springsteen tickets. It would be an hour wait for a table so my friend and I reluctantly moved on. By the time I was ready to try again, Sol’s was closed. Shenker moved to another location, took over the kitchens at a hotel or two, and I got my deli fix at TooJays in Delray, and an unforgettable 2019 stop at Katz’s in New York City.
Now, Sol is sitting at our table, describing the trajectory that led him to Bridges, where he credits owner Jim Bridges and General Manager Nick Mavrikas for giving him the freedom to offer innovative dinner specials alongside his trademark New York deli. He works about 80 hours a week and also supplies Brooklyn Bagels in Sarasota, with its deli and catering, including a take-out menu for the Jewish holidays this month.
“My passion is keeping the deli alive. This food soothes your soul,” he says. Sol glosses over his degree from the Culinary Institute of America to focus on working as a “pickle boy” in New York, running the Second Avenue Deli, and making bread pudding in New Orleans. He promises “latkes like I wish my mother used to make” and “chopped liver at least half as good as your grandmother’s.” He knows that diners like us are here for more than a great sandwich. We’re here to remember.
We wanted to sample several dishes so I asked Sol for “small” portions. He looked at me and replied, “Sol doesn’t do small.” Our server Erick brings out bowls of coleslaw and pickles. One crunch and I’m in heaven. This is the half-sour I’ve been searching for the past 30 years. Daniel declares the coleslaw “maybe the best I’ve ever had” and the chopped liver almost up there with his grandmother’s. We could go home now and we’d be happy.
But here comes the matzah ball soup. Sol had brought me to the kitchen to see the stockpot of broth brimming with bones, so I knew it was the real deal. The soup served with just a bit of diced carrot and celery surrounding a solo mammoth matzah ball. I asked for his secret as my matzah balls have been mistaken for baseballs. “Seltzer,” he says. When I ask how much, he squeezes an invisible seltzer bottle. Apparently Sol doesn’t do recipes either.
Next are two plate-sized latkes with sour cream and applesauce, thin, crispy with a hint of cooking oil. I had just a bite or two because Sol had warned us, “You’ve got to have room for cheesecake.” And then, the sandwiches. Pastrami, corned beef and brisket, piled high of course, on seeded rye of course. You can request another bread, but why would you? There’s only one condiment on the table, Gulden’s Brown Mustard. We dig in. Sol gets his meat from New York and steams it in-house. I would put his brisket, so tender you could cut it with a spoon, up against my Aunt Gloria’s any day and hers was the best I ever had. The pastrami and corned beef were full of flavor, but I would request more fat next time.
Looking at the bounty of food on our table, I could think of only one word, verklempt, Yiddish for overcome with emotion. With the High Holidays less than a month away, I think of my family even more. I can’t go home and recreate this meal or the memories. Sol’s food is my soul food. Daniel feels it too. “I wish my dad was here,” he says.
We had paced ourselves enough that we did have room for cheesecake. And it was definitely worth it. Sol calls his cheesecake, “my retirement plan.” The generous slice is surrounded by strawberries, whipped cream and homemade salted caramel sauce. “Better than Junior’s right?” asked Sol, referring to the legendary New York cheesecake emporium. We nodded in agreement and savored half a slice before eating one bite of bread pudding and surrendering our forks in a food coma.
It’s easy to see why people drive an hour or more to eat Sol’s food and he said, “leave with $300 worth of groceries.” I was ready to order $300 worth of half-sours. Instead we left with two bags of leftovers and the challenge of dividing it up. Guess who got all the pickles?
Bridges Restaurant is located on the eighth floor of the Embassy Suites, 202 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
Hours: Noon to 11 pm, daily. Validated parking available. 941-536-9107.