The Oleks never meant to get into the deli business. Yet after relocating to Florida, switching careers, and losing everything husband-and-wife team Lisa, who is 56, and Steve, 52, opened The Pastrami Joint in Hollywood’s Yellow Green Farmer’s Market and quickly became one of the complex’s most popular stalls.
Last month, the pair reopened their popular sandwich spot inside a Little River coworking complex that’s a short hop from area culinary attractions like The Citadel and Pack Supermarket, which boasts the city’s best affordable fried chicken.
The menu here is tight and focused, as a proper deli should be. The center of gravity are the three billowing smokers situated outside the restaurant that slow cook turkey, pastrami, and brisket. All three are arranged in different juicy iterations in either half or full sandwiches.
There’s the classic Reuben ($9/$17) with pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled Rye from Zak The Baker. Swap the pastrami for corned beef and make it a Rachel.
The most unctuous option is the brisket melt ($9/$17) in which the tough cut is smoked into delightfully fatty submission and tucked into rye bread with au jus, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and horseradish mayo. There are also classic deli sides, hot dogs, and sandwiches – just meat and bread for $8.50 a half and $15 for the whole thing.
For years deli has been poised to become Miami’s next big food thing, but never quite took off. In the middle of the 20th Century, thanks to its large Jewish population, Miami was a hub of the deli universe with places like Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House and Stephen’s Deli in Hialeah. More recently, enthusiastic chefs and owners like Zak The Baker tried to relaunch delis but saw a tepid response. Hank and Harry’s, from local restaurateur turned hopeful politician Buzzy Sklar, popped open in several locations around town only to shutter en masse in the summer of 2018. Still, the hopeful hang out as Stephen’s Deli, now under the ownership of Matt Kuscher (Lokal, Kush, Vicky’s House, et al.) is set to reopen with its original chef and cook Junior Biggers still manning the kitchen.
The Pastrami Joint seems to have similarly historical chops. Steve Olek grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn and started working in a now-shuttered neighborhood deli called Grabstein’s when he was 15.
“It was odd jobs, anything from dish washing to lifting pickling barrels,” he said. “Eventually I learned how to brine the pastrami and corned beef, smoking and everything like that.”
A classic pastrami on rye.
As he got older he left the deli to work in construction but kept the recipes in his back pocket and brought them out for holidays, special occasions and family gatherings. In 2003 he and his family relocated to Florida to take advantage of the lucrative real estate boom, but a heart attack ended Steve’s days on the job site and he and the family moved into the jewelry business. Despite hating the business it worked out until 2015, when thieves broke into their store and cleaned the place out, leaving the Oleks with nothing. With a big family, a passion for cooking, a few old recipes, and literally nothing to lose they decided to give smoked meat a whirl, and it worked.
“We started selling 200 pounds of a pastrami a weekend, but we were so broke we had to go buy old refrigerators, whatever we could to keep up,” Lisa said.
Now, they’re working in a building with a dedicated kitchen adjacent to their restaurant space. It can be difficult to find. But don’t be discouraged. Keep circling the block and you’ll be rewarded with juicy, thick-sliced meats the likes of which have come and gone in Miami, but will always have a home.
The Pastrami Joint. 370 NE 75th St., Miami; 954-295-2604; Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
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