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East To West

From classic deli cold cuts to hot wraps

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If you think a Sloppy Joe is a triple-decker cold cut sandwich on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing, then you must be from Northern Jersey. If so, you need to go to Lee Katz's deli, Katz New York. If you twist his arm, Katz, a native of Bergen County, NJ, will produce a Sloppy Joe for you. The reason he doesn't offer Sloppy Joes on the menu is "they are sloppy." Well, yeah, but where else in Charlotte can I get one? If you are from, or enjoy visiting Jersey, Long Island, the City, or any other part of the New York metropolitan area, you are going to like Katz. For approximately 20 years, Katz worked in the food industry, including managing a kosher deli in New Hyde Park, NY. When he moved to Charlotte in 2000 after a brief stint here in the early 1990s, he came back with the intent of opening a deli. In July, he opened Katz in the Arboretum Office Park. The logo includes the New York City skyline with the twin towers, which he does not plan to change.

The front room is dominated by the glass deli counter with bags of rugelach by the cash register. The dining area is primarily in the back. Photographs of the Big Apple skyline stare back at you from the wall. Be warned not to fill up munching the complimentary pickles and house made coleslaw. Save room for the hand cut fries and potato knish (made in New York).

The taste hurdle for all delicatessens to clear is having a well-made, quintessential cold cut sandwich. Katz ample housemade corned beef is truly faultless. Second up is the hot pastrami, although not as thickly sliced as I would like, but this is a personal preference. These sandwiches are not six inches high as you find in some New York area delis, but the prices are not sky high either. Both the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches are only $7.

All the classic deli selections are available: matzo ball and vegetable soups, a Reuben sandwich, as well as sandwiches choices of tongue, brisket of beef, homemade egg salad, and a smartly turned out chicken salad with hardy chunks of breast meat, among others. The rye is locally made at Metropolitan Bakery. With the exception of the too chewy crust, the bread has a delightful flavor.

Someone once told me that chopped liver is the supreme achievement of the Jewish American kitchen, but I would have to quibble with this, especially when smoked whitefish salad is at hand. Katz serves both, however, if you want to do your own taste test. Grilled franks are served with sauerkraut, of course. The warm sweet noodle pudding was serviceable, but not in the same league as some of Katz's other dishes.

Also on the menu are eggs, omelets, bagels, and burgers, including a pastrami burger. Service is fast and friendly. "I had someone complain about the pastrami not being lean. All you have to do is ask. You should ask," says Katz. This attitude of keeping the customer happy is what characterizes great restaurants, even if they happen to be humble New York delicatessens in south Charlotte.

Katz admits he is possibly one of the few restaurants in Charlotte which doesn't offer sweet tea, but he does have egg cream and Dr. Brown's sodas. Soon the restaurant will have music in the dining room, which will be fun. Planned is a New York theme with the sounds of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and other New York tunes. Just as long as Katz doesn't play "Memories," I'm OK with this.

Katz New York, 8045 Providence Road (in the Arboretum Office Park). 704-543-4666. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 11am until 8pm, Saturday 8am until 8pm, and Sunday 8am until 4pm. Closed Monday. AmEx, MC, Visa.

Open the door at the 60-seat Moe's Southwest Grill in Dilworth and the sounds of Jimi Hendrix or the Grateful Dead may greet you. This burrito shop has the vibrancy of the American Southwest and a sense of humor to boot. On the menu is the "Homewrecker," a larger than life burrito. The same burrito without meat is the "Art Vandalay," the alias George Costanza used on Seinfeld to impress people.

Moe's Southwest is an Atlanta-based franchise owned by franchise veterans Nick Smith and Chris Hunter. Smith owns five Charlotte area Jersey Mike's Subs and Hunter, who lived in Raleigh, owns three. One is co-owned. Moe's was created by Atlantan Martin Sprock, who, according to Smith, also started Clarence Foster's and Planet Smoothies. The Dilworth location is the first Moe's franchise to open outside Atlanta and the local owners plan to open three more Moe's this year. This first of these is scheduled to open by the end of January in Carmel Commons Shopping Center in another spot formerly occupied by Big Sky Bakery.

The dining room in the Dilworth shop is awash in color, yet functional at the same time. Abstract portraits of the musicians whose music is played on the restaurant's soundtrack line the walls: Elvis, Sinatra, Lennon, Garcia, Joplin, Morrison, and Marley among others. On a side wall are the housemade salsas and sauces. "There's not a freezer in the place," says Smith. "Everything is made fresh daily except the guacamole, which is made twice daily."

The modus operandi in the kitchen is using marinated steak, chicken, and tofu, and high quality ingredients. Behind the line, the cooks are terrifically friendly and chatty while preparing your choices and the results are first rate. The perfectly judged ooziness of the gargantuan burrito should be enough to satisfy even the most voracious customer. The nachos are a melange of three varieties of brightly colored chips, earthy black beans, shredded jack, and black olives and jalapeno slices. The cheese quesadilla is meltingly soft until jazzed with drizzling hot sauce. It's all good.

Prices range from a low of $2.49 for a Puff the Magic Dragon kids meal which includes a taco, tricolor chips, a drink and cookie, to the $6.29 Alfredo Garcia fajita. Moe's also offers beer and frozen margaritas: Blabbermouth Soup, the Village Idiot, and Fun Bobby.

In this aggressive market with many players, 2002 may turn out to be High Noon for the burrito shops in town. Do not underestimate Moe's, though. They bundle their food with a spirited, yet savvy vengeance while ensuring their customers have some fun.

Moe's Southwest Grill, 1500 East Boulevard. 704-377-6344. Hours are 11am until 10pm daily. AmEx, MC, Visa.

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