Fresh from our vacation in the Middle East, the one thing Mr. M. kept noticing everywhere in Israel were restaurant signs for “beef bacon.” It’s made from beef, but it looks, smells and tastes very much like pork bacon. The place we know to get it in Milwaukee is award-winning Benji’s Deli, the locally famous Jewish delicatessen with locations in Shorewood and Fox Point.
Benji’s has been around since 1963. Current owners Chris and Mike Price bought the business in 2006 from the lawyer, judge and accountant who bought it from the original owners, one of whom, Benji himself (now in his 80s), still maintains an office in the original deli in Shorewood and visits it daily.
You don’t have to be Jewish to really appreciate this Milwaukee-area jewel. We’re fond of the Shorewood location and just had brunch there again. It’s a no-frills kind of eatery where they concentrate on getting as much good food out to as many hungry diners as they can, quickly and efficiently. The sparsely decorated interior filled with hungry patrons is a clear indication that this place is all about the food — no cosmetic cover-ups here, just good food at a great price and great service. If you want to admire artwork on the walls, then go to the Milwaukee Art Museum, because this place is strictly for eating!
On the extensive menu are many kosher favorites, as well as non-kosher, Jewish-American originals. Mr. M. started out with a bowl of Benji’s “Mish Mosh” soup for $3.75. That’s traditional matzo-ball soup, which is seasoned chicken broth with large balls made of crushed matzo-cracker meal, eggs, salt, chicken fat and sometimes other seasonings. But Mish Mosh soup has lots more – noodles, rice, grain cereal and meat dumplings. Benji’s matzo balls aren’t the boring kind made from boxed mixes. They’re firm enough to hold up to the broth and are very nicely seasoned. YUM!
Mrs. M. ordered the huge, to-die-for corned beef sandwich with potato chips for $7.65. It isn’t as briny as typical corned beef, and the rye bread is refreshingly light, which makes for a really nice contrast.
For $7.65, Mr. M. had a half-order of Benji’s Super “Hopple Popple” (scrambled eggs with diced, fried salami, browned potatoes, bell pepper, onions and mushrooms, all covered with cheese), which comes with toast and a side of beef bacon (of course!) for an extra $4.00.
For around $5 each, appetizers include classic chopped chicken liver, tuna salad, chicken salad and herring in wine or cream sauce. Soups are available by the cup ($2.75) or bowl ($3.50) and include a soup of the day, chicken soup (with matzo balls, noodles, rice, kreplach or kasha), mushroom barley, cabbage borscht (a Russian favorite, it is a tomato-based, sweet and sour soup), beet borscht (a semi-sweet soup served cold with a dollop of sour cream) and Benji’s chili.
Salad choices include “Triple Delight” (tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, served on fresh tossed greens), Benji’s Deli Salad (corned beef, turkey and roast beef with three cheeses, tomato, egg and a pickle), Cobb salad, “Tomato Stuffers” (two tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad or chicken salad) and a grilled salmon salad (six-ounce, grilled salmon fillet served over tossed greens with fruit). As you can see, these “salads” are more like complete meals, but a simple house salad is available for four bucks.
Served with a cup of soup or the house salad, plus potato and vegetable, and ranging in price from $9.75 to $12.75, Benji’s entrées are classic beef brisket, meat loaf, corned beef and cabbage, roast chicken, and “The Stack” — half a pound of slow-roasted beef brisket served with two potato pancakes (this is what Mr. M. is having next time!).
Specialty dishes include half a chicken served in homemade chicken broth with matzo ball, noodle and boiled carrots, two whitefish served with a generous portion of potato salad and coleslaw, two grilled, all-beef Vienna hot dogs with vegetarian baked beans, and three homemade potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce (all between $6 and $9).
On the specialty sandwich list, you can get a classic Reuben for $8.25, half a pound of Benji’s famous corned beef piled high on Miller rye called “The Benji” for $10.25, a hot pepper beef sandwich for $8, the “Hear O Israel” sandwich (corned beef, pastrami, salami and pepper beef piled high with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing – definitely not kosher) for $11.25, and various tuna and beef melts for between $6 and $8.
Other house specialties include corned beef hash for $5.75, “Spinach Benedict” for $8.50 (two poached eggs served on a bed of sautéed spinach with pine nuts, provolone cheese and mushrooms then smothered in homemade hollandaise sauce — served weekends only).
Eggs are prepared various ways for breakfast, along with a wide range of omelets, bagels, different side dishes and other breakfast favorites – and kids’ offerings – round out Benji’s comprehensive menu.
4156 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, WI
8683 N. Port Washington Rd., Fox Point, WI
When one orders a “salad” in Israeli restaurants and diners, we found that one will most likely get the following, or some variation:
Israeli Salad – recipe serves about six.
3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 green onions/scallions, finely diced
1 can (19 oz.) chick peas/garbanzos
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, chopped/minced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1 cup olive oil (we prefer to use regular, rather than extra-virgin for this)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Toss all the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. The juice from the tomatoes will eventually leach out and mingle with the olive oil, making for a very nice dressing on its own! Refrigerate until ready to serve. Be sure to give it another good stir before serving.
Mr. M. has had this recipe for a long time and was quite happy to find the various ways that it’s made and served in Israel.