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Appalling Saul's

Once every year or so, I eat at Saul"s. It must be that I start missing the Jewish deli vibe of my youth in the Bronx. But Saul's never lives up to my expectations. Or maybe it does. It never fails to disappoint me most profoundly. Last night will be the last night I patronize Saul's. My daughter and I had a most aggravating experience due to poor food preparation, poor waitstaff, mismanagement and terrible customer service. We ordered a reuben sandwich, fries, and a vanilla egg cream to share. We waited quite a while and finally the sandwich came w/a side of slaw. The sandwich looked rather sparse, not in terms of quantity of meat, but of everything else. There was a microscopically thin slice of some unidentifiable cheese that was not melted and no sauerkraut on my half. My daughter got two strands of kraut on hers. Our egg cream failed to arrive. I called the waitress over and told her the problems. She apologized and I told her I didn't feel it was her fault and she said she'd have the problems remedied. My daughter asked about the egg cream. The waitress said "oh, didn't it come?" No, you're standing here looking at our table and it's obvious that it isn't here so why ask? Within minutes after she left our table, the egg cream arrived. Later still the sandwich came back....same one, but now hot. Still no cheese to speak of and still no sauerkraut. I was disgusted and caught the waitress's attention again. I told her that we were still dissatisfied and why and she immediately said "I'll get a manager". I felt like she was capable of taking care of the issue if she cared to, but was foisting us off on a manager because she considered us problem patrons. A manager then approached our table and asked what the problem was. I explained that we'd sent the sandwich back due to lack of kraut and he said he would get the kitchen to make us a "new sandwich" and supervise it himself and wouldn't charge us for the sandwich. When he left, I asked my daughter what she thought he meant...was he not charging us for the sandwich we'd ordered or was he not charging us to make us a sandwich the right way? After some time, the waitress returned w/our "new" sandwich which was, in fact, new and we knew that because they'd left the original sandwich on the table in all its cold, congealing glory. I was anxious to dig in, but realized that this sandwich looked suspiciously the same as the original so I looked under the bread and again, no kraut. I decided to give up and eat the damned thing rather than throw it at someone and storm out. About 2/3's into my half sandwich, the manager returned and asked if everything was ok now. I said no, there's still no sauerkraut on the sandwich. Obviously, he hadn't supervised its creation as promised. He asked if he could bring us a side of sauerkraut. At that point, I wanted to tell him to put his face in a vat of kraut, but I said that would be nice. Did he notice that I was almost finished with my sandwich? It took him almost five minutes to return with the sauerkraut. Veins in my head were threatening to burst. I put the kraut on what remained of my sandwich and it made all the difference. Now it was at least one step closer to what a reuben is supposed to be. We finished our meal and requested the check. The check was written as if we'd ordered 2 reubens and then were credited back for one. So we were offered nothing in the way of compensation for all the aggravation we suffered. We weren't even offered a damned cookie! I didn't leave a tip because I wasn't willing to pay one penny more than I was being charged for the overpriced piece of crap they served us. On our way out, I asked the manager if we could speak for a moment and I told him I thought the waitress was not at fault and I hoped he'd convey to her that my not leaving a tip wasn't meant as a slap to her. I said that not only was this the worst and most inauthentic reuben I'd ever been served, but the waitress was unhelpful, the kitchen was (presumably) unhelpful, and his customer service skills were sorely lacking. He said "I'm sorry. I did everything I could for you, ma'am. Have a nice evening." What a putz!

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  1. Three not-a-Reubens in a row with the same problem is bizarre. The only explanation I can think of is the cooks don't speak enough English to communicate with the servers.

    If the server took a sandwich back to the kitchen and it came back with the same problem, she most likely called over the manager due to her inability to get the kitchen to fix it the first time.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      The waiter and manager are last line of quality control. If the sandwich wasn't right it should not have gone out. In spite of a language barrier, communicating "this needs sauerkraut" is not that difficult.

      1. re: blexo

        You would think, but the kitchen making the same mistake three times in a row suggests otherwise.

    2. Lacerise, welcome to the club. If you find something good, let's do lunch.
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4707...

      1. Laden with those of the Hebrew persuasion as it is, why can the Berkeley/East Bay not support an excellent deli?

        29 Replies
        1. re: rccola

          People don't want to eat that way often enough to support one.

          1. re: rccola

            Meat heavy deli food is going the same way as BBQ and soul food...out of style due to food trends. BBQ in the Bay Area suffers from this as well. I heard good delis in NYC are even dying off.

            I could see eating a big deli sandwich (or BBQ) maybe once a month at the most, although every two months is probably more realistic.

            1. re: ML8000

              It doesn't have to be that heavy. A big sandwich or an overstuffed knish is one thing but salad and good kasha varniskes or stuffed cabbage or kugel (solid pasta anyone?) could make a tasty and even innovative dish if done right. It seems delis in this country are like taco joints. And speaking of that, no one seems to have a problem supporting Gordo's or other Tex-Mex, which is heavier to me than a roast beef on rye with horseradish, half eaten in the restaurant, the remainder home for dinner.

              1. re: rccola

                I don't know. If I go to a traditional deli I'm not looking to order a salad, although if it comes on the side I'm more then happy. Same with a BBQ joint...not there for the slaw but if it's good, great. I think you're right that taquerias are the new delis but they have options...veggie, grilled chicken, etc. and a a couple of sizes, taco or burritos and super burritos. In my book, a grilled chicken taco with pinto or black beans is way less heavy then RB on R. IMO half a burrito reheats better then a cold sandwich.

                1. re: rccola

                  To me, what makes a deli good is first and foremost a good pastrami sandwich. Salad? Uh ... good potato salad is a plus. Anything innovative is a deal-breaker.

                  Miller's in SF is probably the best or least bad we've got these days.

                  Nothing like a deli, but Holy Land has good matzo ball soup and stuffed cabbage, with other Euro-American Jewish specialties as occasional specials.

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                  Miller's East Coast Deli
                  1725 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Refuge in San Carlos has the best pastrami. It is not a deli, but they make their own and have a killer rueben.

                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      To me, what makes a deli good is first and foremost a good pastrami sandwich.
                      Does that make Wood Tavern a deli?
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4140...

                      1. re: wolfe

                        No, but Wood Tavern's pastrami sandwich makes me a lot less concerned about our not having a decent deli.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          I found it waaay too greasy. Not that grease is bad. Has anyone tried the pastami sandwich from Tangerine on Solano?

                          1. re: rccola

                            Wood Tavern's pastrami sandwich isn't greasy, it's fatty, the way pastrami sandwiches are supposed to be.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I had it and it was greasy. Period. Believe me, I grew up eating roast beef on rye and pastrami. With no cheese--that's not kosher. Wood Tavern's was GREASY. Sorry to diss one of your pet places but I reports 'em as I see 'em. I like WT but wouldn't order the pastrami again.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Pastrami sandwiches should certainly be rich and fatty. However, I too had a WT pastrami sandwich that was so greasy I didn't want to finish it. Yes: greasy, not fatty. WT is wonderful in lots of ways but I found the pastrami sandwich to be way, way overrated. And greasy.

                          2. re: Shane Greenwood

                            Agreed. The Refuge IS a Chow-destination. There is *no* comparison between the product Matt makes there and a typical deli pastrami. It must be tried to be believed. I get it with coleslaw and russian dressing.

                            1. re: orezscu

                              The link

                              -----
                              The Refuge
                              963 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

                      2. re: ML8000

                        This is ridiculous. Check out LA, the health conscience capital of CA. Canter's is always busy. Brent's, Langer's, Jerry's, Johnnie's Pastrami, The Hat, Junior's, etc. etc. etc. BTW, there are many new BBQ places in LA, Chicago, NY, etc.

                        1. re: The Old Man

                          Here's a good read from the NYT about the decline in soul food joints in Harlem, and the change in food trends. Yes, it's about NY but I think the trends are spread across the country. I think the argument that there's a shift towards healhier eats is real.

                          http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/06/nyr...

                          As for LA, yes there's a bunch of delis down there. I was just at Phillipe's..great stuff...but we're talking about the Bay Area. As to why or how LA supports more delis, I can't guess on why they work there, perhaps it's cultural, but it's not happening here in the Bay Area.

                          1. re: The Old Man

                            I agree Old Man. Langers is the best deli I've ever been to (and the NYT agreed in an article about the place), and L.A. has lots of delis all over the place. You missed Arts on Ventura in the Valley - where every sandwich is a Work of Art!

                            That said, the famous delis in L.A. are "kosher-style" rather than kosher, and pastrami and swiss with Russian Dressing is a best-seller. It's the bread I miss the most. Haven't found that wonderful crusty on the outside, soft on the inside loaf around here.

                            1. re: oakjoan

                              Acme makes a good corn rye, but I think only one day a week.

                              1. re: oakjoan

                                Oakjoan: The Max's chain has (or used to have -- I haven't been for a while) that great L.A. style crusty-but-soft-inside rye bread. And last time I was there, you could buy a loaf.

                                1. re: Steve Green

                                  Many Mollie Stone's Markets (the ones with bakeries in the stores) sell Max's rye bread every day. Unfortunately, Mollie Stone's Tower Market in SFdoesn't sell this excellent bread, but the MS in the Bayhill Shopping Center in San Bruno does.

                                  And another bakery that bakes that style of rye bread is Le Boulanger, a chain with lots of branches on the Peninsula. I usually go to the one in Los Altos, but there are others all over San Mateo and Santa Clara County. http://www.leboulanger.com/retailloca...

                                  -----
                                  Mollie Stone's
                                  851 Cherry Ave # 22, San Bruno, CA

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      I think Odessa rye from Semi-Freddi is the closest one you can get.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        I think that I prefer the New York-style jewish rye that I grew up with in the Catskills. Places like Cohen's in Ellenville, Katz's in Monticello and many others in the Catskills and NYC baked a rye bread that was much more similar to Max's or Le Boulanger's than it was to either Acme's or Semifreddi's. All of these breads are sour rye breads. But the crust in the NY-style is pliable and has a pull to it when you bite into it rather than being crisp and it isn't as thick as the Acme or Semifreddi crust. And the crumb is denser and moister than that of these breads. Actually, the "local" jewish rye bread that I really prefer is baked by Gayle's in Capitola, but that's for another board. so Max's or Le Boulanger will have to do for the SF Bay Area.

                                        1. re: Nancy Berry

                                          Metropolis Baking Co., from Berkeley, makes a delicious, authentic NY-style rye. Since some of every loaf becomes toast at my house, this wins the prize for me -- both fresh and toasted.

                                          http://www.metropolisbaking.com/

                                          1. re: anyhow

                                            It's delicious but sour dough. And my baker grandfather from Podolny in the Pale (makes it sound nice, right?) would never have put the black cumin seed in.

                                            1. re: rccola

                                              Sorry, I didn't say that right. Having nearly given up on either real pastrami or rye bread, I should have said, simply, it's my favorite of rye breads in the area.

                                              *hint to General Chowhounding Topics -- I've posted a link to Langer's deli, in L.A. where you can order vacuum-packed pastrami, and rye bread, with overnight FedEx shipping.

                                          2. re: Nancy Berry

                                            Nancy, have you tried the Acme rye baked for Saul's? It is what you are talking about and not what they sell elsewhere.

                                2. re: rccola

                                  Saul's and other "Jewish delis" in the Bay Area aren't set up to appeal to the most die-hard customer - actual kosher Jews. By definition, many of the Berkeleyites who WOULD eat at Saul's won't.

                                  (There was, briefly, an actual kosher deli in San Francisco but it tanked because it was situated in yuppie lunch hell on Justin Herman plaza where people don't understand why a sandwich costs 9 bucks. Kosher meat costs more.)

                                  1. re: sarahlefton

                                    SF New York Deli's prices were similar to Miller's, maybe lower.

                                    I don't know why they closed (could have had something to do with the kosher meat shortage) but their food wasn't good enough to be worth a detour and that location is dead except at weekday lunchtime.

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3084...
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/332695

                                3. The truth about Saul's is that, yes, they offer fair to mediocre food at high prices and which is served by a waitstaff that seems unhappy and turns over often. Also true is that they are always busy, make lots of money and don't care what customers think.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Marat

                                    the PT Barnum effect or else, wishing for that nostalgic taste, the customers keep thinking it will return to the past. I eat there every two-three years just in case. And am disappointed every time. So, again, if they flourish, why can't a good deli? The tri-tip Brazilian guy had to go get a hard-copy restaurant...

                                  2. I'm curious why you kept going back time after time...

                                    1. I feel your pain. I think you would find a general consensus among Jewish deli lovers (who have experienced the real thing in places like New York, New Jersey and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale) that Saul's was probably good when it opened and then three decades later has tumbled way, way down through too many owners and managers until today. I've eaten there twice in the last five years -- dragged there by well-meaning friends -- and both times, I was appalled, too but more saddened by the obvious lack of care for the food: pickles that bend, latkes that are too big and raw inside, horseradish that was an odd choice -- raw and chopped? what was that?), tasteless vegetables...and the list goes on and on...yes, it could be a lack of local knowledge of what these dishes are supposed to be...but don't you think they would bother finding out?? I guess not.

                                      Subjective opinions of Saul's food aside, if the Reuben was listed as coming with kraut and cheese as opposed to the regular pastrami sandwich and you ordered a Reuben with fries and an egg cream, everything should have arrived as ordered, end of story. The fact that the manager, the cooks and the servers refused to acknowledge that is baffling. I would have pointed to the menu and then pointed to the plate and ask "what happened? Did you run out of kraut?"

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: melisky

                                        From the story in the original post, the server and manager both understood and acknowledged the mistake. The problem was that somehow the kitchen didn't understand what was wrong and first sent the sandwich back without fixing it, then made a second non-Reuben.

                                        It's described on the menu as "Niman Ranch corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing grilled on old-fashioned Jewish rye."

                                        1. re: melisky

                                          It has been a long time since I've had their regular lattkes, but on the two weekends preceeding Chanukah every year Saul's sets up a stand where they have a big pot of hot oil with some delicious lattkes are fried to order. They also sell wonderful jelly donuts (sufganiyot). Last year they had a nice little three-piece group playing Jewish music.
                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/467898

                                          Saul's can be very hit and miss, maybe more miss but they are the only source for loaves of decent Jewish rye (a special recipe for them by Acme). I also like the beet horseradish and herring.

                                          Also they have really great roasted Diesel Turkey. One Thanksgiving when I had a restaurant reservation but still wanted some Thanksgiving stuff at home to nibble, I got take-out from Saul's. It was excellent ... very, very expensive, but excellent.

                                          Thanksgiving at Saul’s
                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/550543

                                          As to the OP ... who really did as much as he could while at the restaurant ... I'd send a follow-up letter to Saul's about why they lost your business. That "Have a nice evening." shot by the manager even pissed me off. I hate someone makes a passive-aggresive remark like that when they know you are unhappy. Putz is the perfect description. As to doing everything they could ... I would have said that after three tries to make a decent Rueben ... no ... no, you did not do the simplest thing, deliver the sandwich that was promised by the menu.

                                          I wonder if it is still owned by the same people. They redid the website removing info about who is running it. There was that business about them replacing the kitchen staff a while back.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Saul's is still owned by the same people.

                                        2. Link:

                                          -----
                                          Saul's Deli
                                          1475 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709