It’s early Sunday night at Parkway Deli & Restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., And a customer is sorry not to find one of the reasons for his visit.
Time to take to an oldtimer, to break the bread with the past. Parkway, introduced by Lou Gurewitz in 1963, commits. Named after its proximity to Rock Creek Park, the company is now in the hands of grandson Danny Gurewitz, 52, who took over the operation from his father, Stuart, after Stuart suffered a stroke in 2005. Danny, who moved to Texas when his parents became divorced in 1979 but returned to Maryland to see his father and hit the Parkway, is also the resident guy, repairing toasters, installing WiFi and assembling outdoor canopies as needed.
The front of the operation is a small grocery store and deli that you pass through to reach the dining room with 110 seats. A semi-visible grill and kitchen tip for what to expect on the multi-sided, plastic-bound menu: chili, chicken, hash-brown omelets, salads galore, Reubens (and enough other sandwiches to fill a Potbelly), “Jewish food” and dinners of the type that suggest home (fried turkey, stuffed cabbage).
Parkway’s chicken soup – with or without an airy-if-undersalted matzoh ball – I know well. While working from home during the pandemic, my boyfriend knew that a takeaway order from Parkway was pretty much all I needed to drive myself until showtime (okay, a dinner review). Tender pieces or pieces of chicken wrapped the container with golden broth, gently seasoned and stuffed with a fist cut carrots, celery, onions and egg noodles. Each spoonful had the power of a hug.
I can understand why the gentleman from my first sitting at Parkway was upset about the missing pickle bar. “It gives you something to do while you wait for your food,” Gurewitz says. In the 70s and 80s, he says, pickles and sauerkraut were brought to the table. The welcome was later replaced by a help-yourself-refrigerated cart and expanded to include pickled beets, bread-and-butter “chips” and more.
The dining room, painted in purple and aqua, is otherwise plain and practical. A band of mirrors allows you to play voyeur from just about any table, and a carousel of spices caters to a host of wishes: salt and pepper shakers, of course, but also two kinds of hot sauce, three sweeteners plus a plastic card that promotes happy hour offer.
The dinners served from kl. 16 every day, makes me wish there were more such sources. Slices of turkey fried internally almost hide the onion-filled cornbread that supports them. Just like on Thanksgiving, the bounty comes with brown sauce and cranberry sauce. Diners choose a side; lightly dressed coleslaw or creamy macaroni and cheese tend to round out my party. Cabbage stuffed with ground beef and rice is for some of us as cheering as a call from home, despite its too sweet tomato sauce. And I love the crunch and juice from the fried half chicken. Alas, the idea of liver and onions is better than reality: Thin slices of veal liver that seem to have left all their juice on the grill make me comfort myself with the crispy bacon and roasted peppers dipped in the main course.
“The menu is so large that the kitchen can not cook everything,” says a young waiter when we ask how a few dishes are prepared. Staples including minced chicken livers, knishes (both sweet) and fish and chips are made by a food distributor. Does it necessarily mean anything, though? The beer-hit cod comes from a vendor, but the tartar sauce and slaw are from scratch. All in all, a tasty combination. Similarly, the thick apple puree you can get with the crispy golden potato cakes tastes of a home kitchen, but it is made elsewhere.
Can we talk? The blueberry pancakes are tough and the hash browns inside the omelettes are understated. However, I like Ruben. Grilled rye bread pack shaved corned beef, sour sauerkraut, sweet Russian dressing and melted Swiss press all the right buttons. Same for the gracious service and teasing at the counter that comes from staff who know longtime customers. There is something to be said for a place that has survived so many other area trials of “deli”.
When I later talk to Gurewitz on the phone, I am startled by his openness. “We’re not trying to be top of the line, but we are not at the bottom either,” he says. His goal with Parkway is consistency and value. Reliability is spurred on by a head chef, Rene Santos, 52, who started 28 years ago.
The pandemic forced Gurewitz to raise prices recently, a task he delegated to his leaders because “I can not justify charging $ 8 for a grilled cheese.” Still, the custom sandwiches hover around $ 10, no dinner costs more than $ 19, and leftovers are almost a matter of course. The best thing about the cake box is a moist plate of hot-spiced carrot cake with the weight of a brick that can easily satisfy three forks. Do not just take my word. The owner says he sells 20 of the 13 pounds a week.
Such comfort and abundance explains the cross-section of patrons on any given day. “We get all kinds of people,” says the owner. “Old, young, all ethnicities,” a reality affirmed during all my visits. In the early years, he says, Parkway was predominantly frequented by Jews nearby; for a long time now, Gurewitz says, the clientele has been a “cornucopia.”
Parkway may not be your dream medium and restaurant. Your mileage depends on knowing the strengths of the kitchen. So again, the price is right, there always seems to be parking, there are open three meals seven days a week, and Gurewitz thinks he might want to bring the pickle bar back sometime soon.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant
8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 301-587-1427. theparkwaydeli.com. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining and takeaway 8.30am to 9pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 9pm Saturday and Sunday. Prices: Sandwiches $ 7.49 to $ 16.99, dinners $ 14.49 to $ 18.99. Audio check: 73 decibels / Must speak with a raised voice Accessibility: Wheelchair users can enter through the front door or access the back outside dining via a ramp; toilets have handles but are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs. Pandemic protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.