Jeffrey Merlot

Jake’s Deli is Deliciously Old School

Great corned beef and pastrami in a no-frills setting. But after 3 p.m. you’d better take a number.

By - Feb 11th, 2014 03:27 pm
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Jake's Interior. Photo by Jeffrey Merlot.

Jake’s Interior. Photo by Jeffrey Merlot.

A new friend introduced me to an old eatery hidden away at 1634 W. North Avenue on Milwaukee’s near North Side. Jake’s Deli has been a North-Avenue monument of sorts since 1955. While it has two other locations (Grand Avenue Mall and Southridge), this original location on North Avenue is truly “old school” and offers the most unique experience. The menu features kosher Zion products with “Hand Cut Corned Beef. Hand Cut Pastrami. Homemade Soups. Hand Made Sides.” as its website proclaims.

My friend remembered that her mom and dad went to Jake’s when they were dating as teenagers, and she has not been back for many years. So she and I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. Walking through the door I was immediately confused; there were two different lines at two different counters. I heard “Number 143, you’re up!” So, from that, I deduced that we needed to take a number, though no number dispenser was to be found. What I learned after asking questions of a patron, is that wait-service is only available until 3:00 p.m. and after that you must stand in line to get your food. You must first stand in the line to the left as you enter the deli and place your order. You then receive a receipt with a number on it,  wait until you hear your number called and go to the counter on the deli interior’s right side to pick up your order. Whew.

Meanwhile you should try to grab a booth or table. You may still dine in, if space is available.

Jake's Reuben. Photo by Jeffrey Merlot.

Jake’s Reuben. Photo by Jeffrey Merlot.

I ordered the Reuben sandwich served on Miller’s rye bread for $9.99 with a Dr. Brown’s cream soda for $1.25, while we both ordered a bowl of the intriguing-sounding “corned beef and cabbage” soup for $3.00 which, to me, was like tasty French onion soup minus the cheese and crouton but full of big chunks of delicious corned beef. The Reuben sandwich was exactly what you hope to get at an old-school deli: Buttery slices of crispy-grilled rye bread fatly packed with tender, succulent corned beef and lots of tangy sauerkraut. It was delicious, but I couldn’t eat the whole thing and had to take home half of it to eat later, which was sort of a bonus.

Other classic deli items offered on the menu are a spiced pastrami sandwich on rye and a slow-cooked corned beef sandwich on rye, both for $8.45. Among some unique sandwiches served at Jake’s is a “Pastrami Dog,” which is a hot dog and pastrami with Swiss cheese served on a pretzel roll ($6.99), Turkey Pastrami ($8.45), and The Commish, no doubt named after Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, the longtime co-owner of the deli, which is Angus beef, aged cheddar, carmalized onions & lettuce served hot on a toasted artisan roll ($7.99).

Soups always include the “corned beef and cabbage” soup that we ordered, plus traditional matzo ball soup, both for $2.75 for a cup and $3.75 for a bowl, and a featured soup each day.

Or order meat from the deli to take home!  For $19.99 a pound, “The Works” will send you home with a pound of any deli meat you like, including bread, pickles and mustard on the side.

An old-school charmer still imbedded in its original neighborhood, Jake’s Deli is a savory blast back to the past.

Jake’s Deli

1634 West North Avenue, Milwaukee

(414) 562-1272

Major credit cards accepted


Recipe for Classic Reuben Sandwich 

(recipe makes 2 sandwiches)



4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

4 tablespoons Thousand Island dressing, divided

½ cup sauerkraut

4 slices dark rye bread

4 – 6 deli slices corned beef

4 deli slices Swiss cheese

Ground, black pepper, to taste

Pickle spears, for serving



Preheat a large skillet or griddle on low heat.

Spread one side of each bread slice with a tablespoon of the Thousand Island dressing (more or less, to taste). On 2 bread slices, layer 1 slice Swiss cheese, 2 slices corned beef, 3 tablespoons sauerkraut, sprinkle with a little black pepper, then top with a second slice of Swiss cheese. Top with remaining bread slices (Thousand-Island side down on the top slice of cheese), and slather the outside of the top slice of bread with a tablespoon of butter.

Place the sandwich butter-side down on the grill surface and slather the remaining slice of bread with a tablespoon each of butter. Gently grill low and slow until both sides are golden brown. (I flip them several times while grilling).

Serve hot with the traditional pickle spears on the side and kettle-crisp potato chips.


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