During his tenure as executive chef at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, Dan Strackbein took some continuing education courses at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. The dining delights of New York City were within reach down the Hudson River, and he did some exploring.
That most New York of institutions, the corned beef and pastrami emporium-deli, tripped his switch. “This is what I want to do,” Strackbein recalls thinking. Like many chefs, he hoped to own his own restaurant, and a New York-style delicatessen became the goal.
Downtown Waukesha may not exactly be Times Square, but The Rochester Deli has been flourishing there since June of 2004. Strackbein and his wife Laura, who runs the business side of the operation, say it is a fun coincidence that their restaurant is on a street named Broadway.
The Rochester Deli’s signature item, a reuben sandwich on marble rye (8.25), has given the establishment an identity that extends beyond Waukesha. The eatery has expanded from a corner space into the storefront next door, and the Stackbeins wish they had further room to grow in the 1917-vintage building.
The eclectically-decorated dining room can accommodate about 50, and another 20 persons can be seated outdoors in the summer. A second Rochester Deli location is a possibility if the couple can find a location they like.
New York Jewish delicatessens always have matzoh ball soup on their menus. Dan Strackbein offers a cousin of that delicacy to his Waukesha customers – his own chicken dumpling soup. He sells it in varying sizes up to a quart, and you can also buy it frozen.
In addition to the reuben, he makes a rachel sandwich ($7.95), which substitutes turkey for corned beef. Hand carved pastrami or corned beef sammies are $7.85, and just like the delis in the Big Apple, you can get a combination of the two meats stuffed between two slices of lightly seeded rye bread for $9.25.
Specialty sandwiches with more of a Waukesha flair include meatloaf wrapped in bacon with a barbecue glaze grilled on Vienna bread ($7.65), chicken parmigiana on a roll ($7.25) and grilled vegetable panini ($7.25). They come with a choice of a side.
Honey ham ($6.55), egg salad ($5.75) and Usinger’s liver sausage ($6.50) are among the simpler sammies offered. The deli also prepares wraps, salads and Vienna all-beef hotdogs.
Pan-fried Canadian walleye pike ($12.25) is finished with a sun-dried tomato beurre blanc sauce.
Much of what comes out of the kitchen, from coleslaw and pasta salads to tartar sauce, is made from scratch. Wine by the glass and bottled beer are available.
Like the New York delis The Rochester emulates, the restaurant offers an eye-popping array of bakery items. All but two varieties of cookies are baked on the premises.
Chocolate covered cheesecake, carrot, red velvet and German chocolate cakes, European tortes, key lime pie, lemon squares, pecan squares, chocolate dipped almond macaroons, chocolate topped Rice Krispie treats – the list goes on and on. Strackbein does not consider himself a pastry chef, but he learned a lot about baking from a colleague when he was the executive chef at a private golf club in Boynton Beach, Fla.
The Rochester also sells wedding and special occasion cakes. Strackbein says he enjoys the artistic side of creating pastry, but as his business has expanded he has handed off much of the daily baking to his daughter Alicia and employe Monica Humes.
The deli has a large catering presence in the Waukesha area. Specializing in sandwich platters and box lunches, it is not unusual for the restaurant to prepare food for 250 on a given day. Laura Strackbein says The Rochester has about 30 corporate catering accounts that provide frequent business.
Individual orders for anything on the menu can be placed online, and free delivery is offered for purchases of at least $35.
If The Rochester was inspired by traditional New York City Jewish delicatessens, how did this Waukesha restaurant come by its name? The Strackbeins explain they had originally planned on opening their deli at a site on Rochester Street in Mukwonago. They incorporated the business as The Rochester Deli, obtained the www.rochesterdeli.com domain name, and then had second thoughts about the location.
A friend who owns a downtown Waukesha store encouraged them to explore opening the restaurant there, and that is how The Rochester Deli came to be on Broadway in the center of Les Paul’s hometown.