Oy Vey: So-So Deli Fare at Transit's Nosh Cafe & Jonny C's

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Nosh Deli
7900 Transit Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Phone: 716.633.8417‎
Rating:    [learn more]
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"A $5 order of three Potato Latkes came with a big cup full of good applesauce, but the pancakes themselves tasted like slightly rubbery, reheated microwave hash browns."

From a storyteller's perspective, there's plenty to say about Nosh Cafe in Williamsville and Jonny C's NY Deli in East Amherst, two Transit Road delicatessens we've visited over the past week. Nosh is a true rarity locally - a glatt kosher restaurant, adhering to the strict preparatory standards necessary to satisfy the needs of conservative Jewish customers - while Jonny C's is well-respected in Western New York for its competent, reasonably priced catering services, and known as a fun place for people to hang out and gossip. But when we dine out, we're not looking for stories or places to sit around; rather, we show up hoping for great food, good service, and a clean environment to enjoy them in - a short list, and to us, little else matters.

Apart from a relatively long wait at the all but empty Nosh Cafe for a relatively simple order, we preferred the atmosphere and overall experience at this recently-opened deli. It's hardly fancy inside, yet everything from the tile floors and wooden tables to the glass and metal refrigeration units impressed us as clean - yes, it's a new place, but well-kept - and the menu's a fairly typical deli-style list of choices: chicken soup with vegetables, turkey pastrami, tongue, and chopped liver sandwiches, brisket, and even beef hot dogs for the kids. The prices are relatively high, as sandwiches almost all start at $8 or $9 for small four-ounce portions - twice what Jonny C's would charge - and climb as high as $19 for 10-ounce versions, although they include potato chips and pickles. Don't expect to find kaiser or kummelweck rolls here, but slices of rye, pumpernickel, white, Ciabatta bread, and bagel are in abundance, as are $1.29 Dr. Brown's sodas, plates of nice-looking fruit and sesame pastries, and plenty of pre-packaged Brown's meats, soups, and meals. Kosher customers will be pleased.

Though the sandwiches weren't cheap, we ordered and started eating them operating from the assumption that they might well exceed Jonny C's on quality. Unfortunately, they didn't. The best of the bunch was a four-ounce Corn Beef Sandwich ($9/4 oz., $18/10 oz.), which had good meat on what was supposed to be a white roll but turned out to be very plain white bread. Mustard and Russian dressing were requested, but sparing, and the included pickles were quite literally the worst we've had in memory - if not rotten, something close to it. By comparison, a Roast Beef Sandwich ($9/4 oz., $18/10 oz.) came as ordered on very good Ciabatta bread, crispy on the outside and soft inside, but the meat was almost dry and certainly plain; it too had the awful pickles. Thankfully, the potato chips included with both sandwiches were fresh and tasty, if not quite enough to justify the high prices.

Other items generally rated "meh" at best. An order of three Potato Latkes ($5) came with a big cup full of good applesauce, but the pancakes themselves tasted like slightly rubbery, reheated microwave hash browns. A cup of Matzo Ball Soup ($2.50) consisted of a light chicken broth that was only a touch above lukewarm, with a single ball of matzo dough inside. On the positive side, we genuinely liked the soft, easy to cut matzo, which had the requisite flavor of chicken fat, but we didn't think the small portion was worth the price. A Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich ($9) was arguably the biggest disappointment of the meal; we should have known better than to order it after we saw the deep-fried cutlets sitting out on a plate near the counter, and therefore we weren't totally surprised when the sandwich tasted like a reheated, breaded chicken breast on rye bread. It was more than mediocre; we handed almost all of it over to our dogs rather than eat it, and once again threw away the pickles. Even the dogs have standards.

Regardless of whether the desserts were made in-house or not, they were good. A sweet glazed Phyllo dough Elephant Ear was flaky and fresh, and an Apple Streudel was as well, with fine sliced apples and raisins inside. One of us thought they were merely better than the rest of the meal; the other would have ordered them, and really any other of the interesting-looking pastries at Nosh again. They go for around $10-$15 per pound, which sounds steep, but the portions shown here were slightly under $1 each. We view them as exceptions to the norm here, reasonably priced and delicious little items that accompany overly expensive and underwhelming deli sandwiches. Nosh Cafe rates 1.75 stars overall.

Nosh Cafe on Urbanspoon

By contrast, the scene at Jonny C's NY Deli & Catering (9350 Transit, E. Amherst, NY 14051, 716.688.8446) was substantially different: staffed largely by kids when we arrived, Jonny C's was closer to a convenience store in appearance - like a busy Wilson Farms or 7-Eleven counter with a small seating area. The menu is similarly packed with sandwiches, but also includes a Friday fish fry, wraps, salads, and egg dishes, all at reasonable prices, a point that needs to be underscored relative to Nosh Cafe. For slightly under $20, the meal we ordered here was roughly as large as the nearly $40 meal above from Nosh. For instance, Jonny C's full-sized $6 Beef on Weck was the most expensive item in our collection, with the other three "half" sandwiches going for $4 or $4.50 a piece - each a seemingly extraordinary value. They were beautiful, on roughly 6" rolls, and packed with items; each came with a big, fresh pickle slice, besides. Leaving this place anything but full is merely a matter of choice, not of budget, as the largest and most expensive full-sized sandwich ("The Glutton") sells for $9, packing everything from steak to chicken fingers, cheese, mushrooms, onions, lettuce and tomatoes on a toasted sub roll.

The bad news here is that the pricing and quantities don't mean that the sandwiches were very good; to the contrary, we again wound up feeling substantial parts of them to the dogs - the first time we've ever done so with a Beef on Weck. In that sandwich, the meat was far more generously proportioned than on the smaller, more expensive Nosh Cafe version, but neither Jonny C's beef nor its kummelweck roll was very good, with far too much caraway, too little salt, and fairly dry beef. To see what the place thought it did well, we asked the person behind the counter for a recommendation, and wound up with the popular "Number 41," the Pittsburgh, a chopped steak and french fry sandwich mixed with mayonnaise, oil, tomato, cole slaw and melted Provolone cheese. It wasn't bad; the grilled, hacked up steak was decent in quality and again generous in quantity, though the combination of items tasted something like thrown-together leftovers rather than carefully chosen elements of a finely-tuned sandwich. We'd call it the best of the items we tried, but only okay on an absolute scale.

Two different Parmesan sandwiches suffered from a shared problem: weak meat. After a couple of bites, we didn't want any more of the Meatball Parmesan; this was around half way through the first meatball and its red tomato sauce coating, neither of which had enough flavor. As with the Nosh Cafe's Chicken Schnitzel, Jonny C's Chicken Parmesan Sandwich came with a deep-fried, breaded chicken cutlet that tasted as if it had been reheated in a microwave, here tossed in with too little Mozzarella cheese and weakly flavored red sauce. Once again, both of these sandwiches looked great, and came with nice pickles, but they just didn't taste all that good.

At least, to us. As was the case with Nosh, our dogs were happy to eat our significant leftovers, and we were unusually glad to share them. We strongly prefer to eat at locally owned places, and will sometimes go out of our way for them if the food is great, but without superior ingredients and preparation, there's little reason to drive past a Subway or a Quiznos for something that's more expensive and less satisfying. Those requiring kosher meals may find these places to be worthwhile, but from where we stand, Jonny C's biggest asset is its aggressive pricing, rather than the outstanding quality of anything it serves. It's worthy of 2 stars, slightly higher than Nosh Deli, and then only because of the price differences.

Jonny C's NY Deli on Urbanspoon

We're interested in hearing from you, readers, particularly if you're familiar with great delis in Manhattan or elsewhere: where do you go in Western New York for your pastrami, corned beef, and other deli sandwiches? What would it take to bring this area up to speed with New York's Katz's, 2nd Avenue, or Carnegie? Speak your mind in the comments area below.

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Comments (7)

Jane S. :

First, I love this site, so thank you for all of the work that you put into it. I find myself checking it everyday, and appreciate how often you update it.
I have to disagree with some of the review for Nosh Cafe. I have been there at least 7 times now, and have found everything to be really good, even the pickles! I think that they use Strub's brand, from Canada, and I admit they are a little bit more sour than a regular dill pickle. I do agree with you about the prices, but the fact that it is truly kosher, and not just kosher style, like Jonny C's factor in. Also, at lunchtime they have a special for $6.99 that includes half a sandwich and a cup of soup, or coleslaw or potato salad, which I think is a pretty good deal.
For people like my husband, who is kosher both in our house and does not eat meat out in restaurants, just fish or vegetarian, this place is so needed and we are so happy to have it, that yes, I do overlook some things, such as the prices, or the occasional bowl of lukewarm soup. The pastries are all homemade, made by the wife, and all that I have tried have been really good, especially the elephant ear. I love the fact that I am supporting a local couple, and that we can finally eat meat out in a new, clean restaurant.

Steven Clark :

I appreciate your review of both nosh cafe and Johnny C's. I feel confident that I won't ever visit nosh cafe, especially since I don't have a dog to feed! I do however have some concerns for your review of Johnny C's. I'll agree that the ambience leaves something to be desired, but when there's good food to be had at great prices, something has to give.

Mike E. :

Tried Jonny C's last week for lunch.
Was a comedy of errors but they did their best to make it up to me-to no avail.
I didnt want to write them off either tho. Good/authentic deli is almost non-existent in WNY. I called & spoke to the owner & he sent me a $20 gift cetificate. (My lunch had only cost like $12 with tip)
Took my mom there last nite and found out the only meat they make themselves is the corned beef. We sampled the turkey which was Boars Head and probably the best packaged turkey we ever head but no comparison whatsoever to fresh roasted of course. You think theyd at least do that, the pastrami & the roast beef...
On my previous visit i had the Reuben and there seemed to be some spice or something in the kraut I didnt care for so this time I just ordered the corned beef. AMAZINGLY tender, piled to the sky, just like NY or LA deli, but alas, that flavor I disliked was in the beef!
Wanna see a grown man cry??
I still cant figure what it was..is it too much like a pickle? "perfumy"? or just too much of the usual spice mixture? Never tasted anything like it in my life.
The matzo ball soup was something else. Probably the best chicken soup i ever had out. And scalding hot which is a gift these days. But the added matzo ball was not so the soup went cold fast. sigh.
They have this amazing instant steamer that they warm the corned beef in so it doesnt dry out. I wonder if they could do that to the matzo balls.
The potato salad is really useless. Its potatoes & mayo. THATS IT! They could have opted for egg, mustard, relish, onion, SOMETHING. Wasnt worth a 2nd bite.
The kids that worked there and also the staff that was on the previous time tho I will tell you had a very keen sense of customer service. Absolutely impressive.
Also their website has not been updated since like 2005 or something.
So, a mixed bag. But Im sure they do well. People dont really know food nowadays & will eat anything. And their fare is above average by todays standards. Not to mention as deli goes, their prices are super competitive.
Maybe I should open a deli LOL

Lori :

I grew up in NYC. Jonny C's corned beef sandwich is the real thing!! Bet you can't finish one! I usually have a half. You'll love the place if you need a fast fix before a movie.

Darrell :

I went to Johnny C's because someone said they made their own Corned Beer, so I assumed that they made their own Pastrami, however they didn't. I've been searching for a place in Buffalo that makes their own Pastrami! Either way I'd like to go back and try some other stuff that is more home made. Boarshead is good if your at home and want a sandwich, not if you're going out to eat.

Jack :

As Jane points out, Nosh is strictly kosher (which accounts for the higher prices). Of course in the long run, that will limit their business to people who eat only kosher. We recently spent some time in Cleveland and they have a bunch of great kosher style delis (with wonderful ambiance) that are doing a booming business. There really hasn't been anything similar here since Max's Deli (Williamsville Place on Sheridan) folded. Risa's on Hertel was small but decent. I hear they will be re-opening downtown at 285 Delaware.

Jonny C's best item, in my opinion, is the matzo ball soup. Usually has great big chunks of chicken.

Harold :

I had the best pastrami on rye at the Nosh Cafe that I've found in Buffalo since the old, old days of Ralph's Restaurant on Hertel Avenue. This place bakes its own rye bread -- and it is exceptional. I had the $9.99 sandwich and it was more than ample -- plenty of meat -- and totally delicious. As for the kvetching in one of your previous reviews about the dill pickles, the pickle pieces I had were exactly what a kosher pickle is supposed to be: delectably sour and flavorful. I will unhesitatingly return to Nosh Cafe for more!

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