Louie’s Habit

Twin Cities Taste® Dining Guide

E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata, 952-249-7700
Review published April 2005

LOUIE’S HABIT IN WAYZATA’S COLONIAL SQUARE MALL (home to Lunds, the Sports Hut, and the Party Safari) is the latest addition to the Twin Cities Jewish deli scene. Though the owner purports to have named it for a 1920s Lower East Side hot dog vendor, it’s doubtful Louie himself would recognize his own Habit, as its ethnic character has been homogenized into a prototype that appears ready to franchise. The restaurant’s shtick is classy throwback: dark wooden booths, black-and-white photos of pre-war New York, and wait staff in khaki jackets. It feels more like a concept than a place—like Macaroni Grill without the singing, or Chevys without the sombreros.

But as we learned from the now-shuttered Zaroff’s in Minnetonka, you can find great old-time food in a new deli. Louie’s corned beef and pastrami sandwiches are terrific and massive—hard to get your hands around, much less your mouth. (Perhaps they’re sized for the men shopping in Foursome’s Big & Tall department down the street.)

Cured-meat sandwiches can be a risky order: a Reuben at the wrong restaurant can put you in the embarrassing position of having clamped down on a mouthful, only to discover that your teeth are unable to saw through the sinew. You’ll never have this problem at Louie’s; the meat’s more tender than The Way We Were. Plus, there’s a host of other sandwiches and chopped salads, as well as kreplach (ravioli) and a mild-mannered matzo ball soup.

Not to kvetch, but if you take the Jewishness out of the Jewish deli—as it feels they have here—no matter how succulent the meats, how light and eggy the matzo balls, Louie’s will never achieve the mythic status of such places as Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street in New York City. Operating since 1888, Katz’s is full of old people who eat there every day; really old people who could have retired a dozen years ago working behind the counter and dispensing unsolicited advice; and women with oversized, thick-rimmed glasses and splashy jewelry. It’s legendary enough to have hosted Meg Ryan’s famous outburst in When Harry Met Sally and to inspire visitors to lug brisket packed in dry ice back home on the airplane.

Here in the Twin Cities, we’ve seen countless ethnic restaurateurs tone things down to bring in the broadest patronage. But it’s the unfamiliar things that can be the most pleasurable treats. Some of our local deli’s best attributes are their most “ethnic”: celery soda and gefilte fish, photographs of bar mitzvahs on the wall, the sweet scent of fresh-baked challah, portions doled out for “noshers” or “fressers” (small or large appetites), young men wearing yarmulkes, and dishes of pickled beets served with the bread.

Perhaps, like good pastrami, Louie’s just needs to age, so its polish can take on a patina. Then we’d make it a real habit.