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Running out of one faves a chance to discover another

Weekend!Food: Taste
by: SARAH TOOR, In the basement kitchen of Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, head baker Tim Healea pulls a batch of poppy seed bagels out of the oven.

There aren't enough good places to eat in downtown Portland. Yes, there are a few, but not nearly enough - especially for a city that gets so much national press about its restaurants.

So Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen (1038 S.W. Stark St., 503-222-3354), which opened two months ago, is a very nice addition to the neighborhood.

The deli is a collaboration of Ken Gordon (who formerly owned and operated Ken's Place on Hawthorne Boulevard) and Nick Zukin (a food blogger who started the culinary Web site www.extramsg.com).

Gordon is the executive chef and Zukin the general manager. Neither is slacking off - the food's great, and the service is organized and friendly.

I had a terrific sandwich there last week. I went intending to get corned beef but, disappointingly, they were out of it. So I took a server's advice and ordered Ken's Special sandwich from the 'signature sandwiches' section of the menu.

I was rewarded for my flexibility.

Ken's Special is a pile of tender pastrami, topped with creamy chopped liver and tangy coleslaw, served on rye bread smeared generously with Russian dressing. The humongous sandwich practically explodes with flavor.

I'll have a hard time resisting it on future visits.

But before it spoiled me for anything else, I sampled a few other items on the menu. Unlike most of the matzo ball soups I've tried, which consisted of soggy matzo balls floating in a weak broth, Kenny and Zuke's version hits the sweet spot.

The broth is rich and adequately salted, and the matzo balls are just the right consistency, firm but velvety. A bowl of the soup with a toasted bagel and lox spread makes a fine lunch.

Another highlight of the menu is the pastrami burger, which doesn't mean a burger made out of pastrami, but a juicy burger topped with pastrami.

If you prefer something more classic, the substantial pastrami sandwich, made with super-succulent meat (available by the pound at the deli counter), also is a winner. Sides of zesty coleslaw and subtly vinegary potato salad are worthy of admiration (and weight gain), too.

Only two items have disappointed me. The chicken salad is not terribly interesting. It's too bland (chopped pickles or onions would help) and also overmixed, so the pieces of chicken are tiny and shredded.

And good brownies are so easy to make well at home, a restaurant shouldn't serve them unless they're exceptional. Kenny and Zuke's aren't. The one I got was dry and hard, and not particularly flavorful.

But there are plenty of other desserts to choose from, including cheesecake, which Zukin says is the best he's ever had, 'and that's with my food blogger hat on, not my proud restaurant owner hat.'

There also is a variety of floats, ice cream and chocolate sauce, and daily dessert specials.

Since a food blogger (Zukin) co-owns the restaurant, I was interested to read what people are saying about it on local food blogs. The buzz is mostly positive, although a number of people have complained that the restaurant runs out of items too frequently.

Zukin claims that problem really has improved since they first opened, plus, he adds, 'we make nearly everything from scratch, so we can't just have a pile of whatever in the freezer. We have to make more in batches throughout the day.'

I would not have tried Ken's Special sandwich if they hadn't run out of corned beef, so I'm cool with it.

The restaurant recently introduced a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight, which includes $2 draft beers, $5 Reuben sliders, $5 burgers and other treats.

Kenny and Zuke's is open 7 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

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You can't throw a bagel nowadays without hitting a food writer in Portland. The fertile restaurant industry and the popularity of blogs have created a large population of people eager to write about food.

If you'd like to join the party, sign up for Diane Morgan's fifth annual 'Art of Food Writing Course.'

Morgan, a noted cookbook author and experienced instructor, teaches the course from her Eastmoreland home. Classes include expert, practical advice from professional editors, writers and literary agents.

The six-week course begins Jan. 24 and is $425. For information, or to register, visit www.dianemorgancooks.com If you're interested, hurry. Space is limited to 15 participants.

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