What goes into a Matzo Ball anyway?

Dish Seventeen: Matzo Ball Soup at Famous 4th St. Delicatessen

Maybe it was the manhole cover-sized black and white cookies, or the foot-tall cakes. Maybe it was the puffy down coats and sour looks of passersby on the street. Maybe it was the bite in the cold winter air. Personally, I think it was the car that nearly clipped me as it pulled out abruptly from a parking garage. Whatever it was, today, 19th street could have been any street in Midtown, for all I knew.

Don’t worry, I won’t get sniffly. Fact of the matter is that I still don’t “get” matzo ball soup. It’s kind of gross. This one was less gross than others that I’ve tried, but it doesn’t make sense to me, not in a gastronomic or, more importantly, a scientific sense. Exactly what is in those matzo dumplings that permits them to cook evenly throughout without obtaining any diversity in texture or taste? And why do I have so much difficulty enjoying a food that I can’t understand on a molecular level?

Famous 4th does what Stephen Starr does, but with heart. The door was on 19th, but I walked into the Carnegie Deli. (I did. I really did a double take.) It’s a different time and place without the Disneyworld feel of Starr restaurants, without the glitz and excess. I was immediately dying for corned beef of any kind. Something quintessentially New York, just to test where I really was.

Everything is enormous; the matzo ball itself is baseball-sized, and the “pint” serving takes up two pint cups, one for the matzo ball and one for the soup. The carrots are firm and sweet, the noodles just al dente, the chicken tender and shredded. (Shredded is a must. It has to be shredded.) The matzo ball is- it’s wet. And hot. And spongey, but neither doughy nor chewy. Sort of matzo flavored- I don’t know, if that sounds good to you, go try it. Oh! Oh, I get it! It’s nutty and mealy and dry flavored and rich but not excessively salty. Oh, it makes sense! This is good. I will be back, Famous 4th St. I can tell that we will be good friends.

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