Looks like Al Brown's done it again. It started with Depot. Then came Best Ugly. Now Aucklanders are being enchanted by the 1950s Manhattan charm of Federal Delicatessen, which in the short time it has been open, has affectionately come to be known as 'The Fed'.
Walking into The Fed is like being sucked into a time-warp, where water is served in red acrylic tumblers and linoleum floors and Formica are the vogue. I half-expected and half-hoped Don Draper would walk in at any moment. The Fed is by no means large, and as it favours the non-system of seating by walk-ins, it pays to visit in smaller groups. On a bustling weekday lunch hour, Zoe and I found ourselves perched at the deli counter in front of the guy whose job was to thinly slice enormous sides of cured salmon. We were like two hungry kittens with our faces (nearly) smooshed against a fishmonger’s window.
If you’re anything like me, anything and everything on The Fed’s menu appeals. I have yet to rise early enough to sample their breakfast fare, but I have my stomach set on the crispy latkes with lox and the smoked mullet hash. The lunch and dinner menu is wide and varying, and demands multiple visits in order to fairly sample the lot. On this particular visit, I couldn’t look past the toasted Reuben sandwich ($22) whilst Zoe, going on a recommendation opted for the turkey meatloaf on rye ($15).
The Fed, like all of Al Brown’s ventures, is a little bit pricey. I can't remember the last time I paid for a sandwich that cost $10 (wait, yes I can, never). So I can be forgiven for gawking a bit at a sandwich that went for over $20. But when my Reuben arrived, it was nothing short of enormous. And delicious. The slices of pastrami were so thick they were almost slab like, and the rich Russian dressing that accompanied it was off-set well by the tangy dill pickles and sauerkraut. My one gripe is I'd prefer the pastrami to be thinly sliced, with more of a hot and smoky kick to it; Al's errs on the side of caution. Zoe's turkey was beautifully moist (which is so often tricky to get right with this bird) and tasty, the cranberry and iceberg lettuce adding a sprightliness to it, making it a much lighter sandwich than mine. I could only finish half of my Reuben. Just. But they do a window-operated take-out service that will happily wrap your leftover sandwich in waxed paper with a cute Fed sticker for you.
Special mention must go to the slaw that played side-kick to both our sandwiches:it was simple, tangy and utterly moreish.
The Fed has recently extended their hours so that they close late (like properly, 2am, late) so that weekend revellers can enjoy some real food. Like the night we three shared a slice of their delicious banana toffee pie with caramel popcorn. Think of the best banoffee pie you've ever had, then refine it and add some restraint.Then you'll have The Fed's version which ticked all the right boxes with its ginger-nut base, just enough caramel to sate your craving for burnt sugar without going overboard and marshmallow-shaped pillows of whipped cream. And, hallelujah, their caramel popcorn is crunchy!
To quote Kath and Kim, "It's nice. It's different. It's unusual." The Fed is all these things, and I'll be back soon for the poutine and oyster stew. And the schnitzel. Oh just all of it.
86 Federal Street