Do you ever drive the I-84 north-south corridor? Then you have to know about Rein’s Deli. No? I grew up just two towns over from this gem but it didn’t take on must-do status until I found myself regularly driving from New Haven to Boston or Maine to visit friends or steal time for vacation. And now the reverse, Groton to Connecticut or NYC, as I did this week.
Set in an unimpressive strip mall in Vernon, a town defined by strip malls and easy access to Hartford, Rein’s is an anomaly. It’s a New York style delicatessen in New England cow country. It’s open 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. As any good deli should be. When you’re travelling and faced with the fast-food chains, it stands out as a beacon to the road-weary. My mouth starts watering when I step out of the car.
The locals tend to Anglicize it as “Ry-ans.” Diehard fans decorate their cars with orange and black bumper stickers that used to be available: I Brake for Rein’s Deli. I’m sure there’s some on e-bay if you go looking.
Rein’s has also become my place for Irish wakes – the times when I have returned to my hometown for wakes and funerals. If you know how we Irish do it, there’s the keening, then the drinking and eating. Rein’s is the place where I gather my friends to join me in celebrating. We feast on corned beef and pastrami, kugel and cheesecake. And drink, of course. On those occasions, the staff has let us hang onto our corner of the restaurant as we shared stories and the most comforting–perhaps not most healthful–food.
If you’ve been there, you know that it’s short on decor. The staff is efficient and too busy to waste time with chitchat. On any weekend there is a line, so tables are in demand. Somehow, that doesn’t matter. The reason to go is the food. The menu runs for pages. Best are the classics. Most everyone also hits the take-out counter afterwards for treats to savor back home. I always grab a loaf of rye bread, some bagels and a frozen container of their great matzoh ball or mushroom barley soup. If I’m feeling extravagant, I order up a half pound of lox and watch as the master carver slices whispery thin slices of the succulent, sweet salmon.
My favorite mystery writer, the late very great Robert B. Parker, even wrote Rein’s into several of his Boston based Spenser novels, having the hero stop in for a sandwich when he had to make trips to NYC. I suspect Parker had done the same as well as he travelled to visit his publisher and agent. Another reason to love Parker.
My husband goes for the pastrami with chopped chicken liver, grilled. I try to be open to new ideas but for me, it’s always a corned beef Reuben. I get the first cut, extra lean. Mustard along with the Russian dressing. Nothing on the side except the fresh brined pickles that get delivered to every table.
Close your eyes and picture … if you could have a Rein’s knosh right now, what would it be?
* there is also a Springfield MA Rein’s, but Vernon is the original and will always be tops for me!