Every joint that Al Brown has opened has been embraced with fervent adoration and it’s no surprise why. Dining is casual but with a certain flair of style that elevates it from typical to gourmet, yet not so much that it turns into a fancy-schmancy eatery. Exactly what New Zealanders love.
I must admit that I’ve purposely been avoiding Federal Delicatessen since I heard of its opening last year. Not because of Al Brown himself and his Midas touch of course, but because frankly, I’m not a fan of American cuisine. Their penchant love for the most unhealthy combinations of food slathered with lashings of butter and cheese (like Rachel Ray where the crowd cheers every time she adds those ingredients) induces a tremor of panic in my arteries. Before you scornfully start throwing pizza at me, I have been to America and eaten there (okay, half the time it was Lee’s Sandwiches- the Vietnamese bread aka Banh Mi fast food chain) and I have been game to try new things. I just…. have a different (read- weird) palate? Everyone is different, let’s embrace that ;)
I do have a sweet tooth however, so the mention of desserts was all it took for ears to prick up and willingly agree for a venture to Federal Delicatessen, also known by it’s nickname, The Fed- a 1930’s New York style diner. The interior is an experience in itself- the slightly faded Vintage colours that retain a clean look without looking drab, all down to the cute pastel staff uniforms. Not an inch of detail was missed- the waitresses had their hair and makeup down pat too.The staff walk the floor with such confidence and smooth efficiency like a well oiled machine, it felt like this diner has really been around for tens of years rather than only a year. Coincidentally, we happened to visit exactly on their one year birthday mark.
Establishing what to order was difficult- we wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for dessert.
I sneaked a bite of this sandwich from S to find out if I could be converted. Unfortunately, sandwich is still just a sandwich for me. Just a personal preference in taste though, everyone else appears to love them.
Of course, Poutine was ordered too. Despite my initial inhibitions, I’ve been converted! Goodness, they were good, and very reminiscent of KFC chips that you dip into their potato gravy. Somehow, you’re transported back to your childhood AND to New York at the same time. Definitely order the large size because well, chips. It’s nice how he kept it exactly as it should be, but would it be blasphemy to consider making the fries thick cut? Normal/ string fries sadly do not retain that lovely crunch, especially when gravy and cheese curd is cascading through the pile.
Sitting at the Kitchen provided us the marvelous opportunity to gaze at the way the food was being prepared. The salad chef in particular constructed the salads with such loving care, it was like an art. Pumpkin, spinach and cranberries are a beautiful combination.
Finally, the star of the show arrived. Desserts.
We all agreed that these were honestly the best desserts we had devoured in a long time. The NY Cheesecake was very rich- definitely one to share. Not many people are a fan of baked cheesecakes but this is definitely one to try. The Banana and Toffee Pie was a great combination with the addictive crunch of the caramel popcorn. Lemon Meringue Pie had to be my favourite- the meringue was so fluffy yet smooth (none of that bubbly, aerated texture), and the lemon was a lovely slightly-still-wobbly consistency.
All of the desserts were just amazing, with just the perfect amount of sweetness that would make your dentist approve. All too often, these dessert fiends seek your attention so much, they whack you in the face (or rather, teeth) with their copious amounts of sugar.
Dare I say, I prefer these over Milse- the only dessert eatery in town?
Overall, this was probably not very authentic in several factors when compared to America- the serving sizes are reduced by three times (it’s insane how much food you get given in America!) and the price is probably doubled. The food is no doubt a lot healthier than those I’ve seen in Los Angeles, and the restaurant markedly more slick. But I like it like that. It’s our take on the cuisine, and exactly the kind of changes that would have been needed to make this eatery successful.
On a side note- I took a candid picture of F and unintentionally, this photo with his slightly distant stare along with the American diner-style background made me think of Humans Of New York.
86 Federal Street, Auckland