Keeping Kosher means little to me, as I'm not Jewish and would likely not be kosher if I were. I do like the pig, plus I am weak. But I also like a good matzo ball soup, would eat lox and bagels every morning if my waistline would allow, and don't even get me started on chopped liver -- I love it.
Holy Cow, the kosher deli in the lobby of the Memphis Jewish Community Center, has obvious appeal to the Jewish community, but it doesn't stop there. Who doesn't like a good chicken salad?
Holy Cow's chicken salad judiciously mixes one of my favorite herbs, tarragon, with red grapes, walnuts and just enough mayonnaise to moisten it and hold it together. The light hand with the mayo is also present in the superb tuna and egg salad, and is appreciated both for the nod to healthier eating and for taste.
Holy Cow opened in September after having an outside grill and poolside kiosk at the center through the summer. The owners also own the Bach's Lunch around town, but kosher requirements dictate they maintain a separate kitchen for Holy Cow, which is in the Renaissance Center and is under the supervision of Rabbi Levi Y. Klein. Food is delivered throughout the day and beginning next week a mashgiach will be on premise during breakfast hours so the menu can expand to some cooked items.
Kosher-observant Jews know this and it might not matter to anyone else, but it's interesting, so here's a quick rundown on some of the rules.
There are foods that are forbidden and then there are combinations of food that are forbidden. Pork is a no-no and beef is allowed, but you can't mix dairy with meat. At Holy Cow, beef salami is on the menu and there are no dairy products because while it would be kosher, for instance, to serve cream cheese on a bagel, you can't have dairy and meat in the same location.
These rules (and there are many others from allowable foods to preparation to serving) are enforced by Rabbi Klein and, under his supervision, the mashgiach who must, for instance, light a fire as well as inspect all items for kosher conformation and physically assemble the food in the restaurant. This week we had to toast our own bagels -- no big deal -- as the breakfast shift won't have a mashgiach until next week.
Further, even the business operation of Bach's Lunch and Holy Cow, both co-owned by Scott and Shelly Ostrow and Shelly's brother and sister-in-law, Jeffrey and Larissa Kay, are separate.
Now to the food.
Homemade soups are prepared daily. The matzo ball soup is excellent; the matzo balls are light but substantial enough to have bite, the equivalent of a pasta cooked al dente. The chicken broth is homemade and rich; this is one of those soups that'll cure what ails ya. A half sandwich with a small serving is $5.25.
The chicken for the sandwiches, wraps or dinners are roasted whole and the meat pulled from them. The Mediterranean Chicken Wrap, the best-seller at the deli, includes a generous serving of the tender meat with hummus, cucumbers, lettuce and tahini in a whole wheat tortilla.
The Manhattan Stacker is also popular. It's 3 ounces of turkey and 3 ounces of beef salami stacked on rye (mine came on ciabatta, though) and topped with coleslaw and thousand island dressing. It's huge and certainly I can see the appeal of beef salami to someone who can't eat pork salami, but it's not the same. The flavor is less intense, possibly because the meat seems by appearance and texture to be considerably lower in fat.
But Shelly's Chopped Salad is darn near as good as a salad gets. Crisp romaine leaves are chopped and topped with tomato, red onion, cucumber, hearts of palm, black and green olives, pickled banana peppers and chick peas. The balsamic vinaigrette that comes with it tasted a bit sweet and I hesitated before I poured it, but it turned out to be the perfect complement to the sour and salty peppers, olives and hearts of palm.
A young man leaving the center's gym came in for a smoothie when we were eating dinner, and he told me about a dessert he called a brownie. He confessed that it was the only reason he went to the gym, but there were none available that night. When I went back for lunch, I saw what I recognized as a Butter Gooey and realized that was his brownie -- in fact, it's called a Parve Cream Cheese Brownie, though it contains no chocolate.
We ooh-ed and mmm-ed over the dessert and were surprised to find that the cream cheese, which is the same used for the bagels, is a soy-based product. No dairy, but you won't miss it.
Address: 6560 Poplar Ave.
Telephone: (901) 598-1152
Hours: Starting Sunday, hours are 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m. on Sunday; 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday; closed Saturday.
Reviewer's choices: Albacore tuna salad, chicken salad or egg salad ($4.95 for a sandwich or $3.75 for a small container); Shelly's Chopped Salad ($5.95; add $3 for meat); Mediterranean Chicken Wrap ($6.95)
Poor: Zero Stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars