Brownstein's knows from sandwiches and bagels
Kosher deli and bakery serves authentic fare in Brighton
If you are in the Twelve Corners area of Brighton around lunch time, you have plenty of choices. There are more than ten places alone where you can order a sandwich—including one that has served customers for nearly a quarter of a century.
Brownstein’s Deli and Bakery is in a small building sandwiched between two car repair shops. With its small parking lot in front near the intersection of Monroe, Elmwood, and Winton avenues, you might even drive past without knowing it. But if you make a point to stop, you’ll discover one of the best deli sandwiches in the Rochester area.
When you walk in, you’ll most likely be served by the shop’s owner, Irwin Brown, who opened Brownstein’s more than twenty-six years ago. He also owned a pizza place next door but sold it. “I had two young kids at the time,” Brown remembers. “One is a night business, and one is a morning business. I was killing myself!”
Brown has made Brownstein’s a go-to place for bagels and sandwiches. I had a cold pastrami on rye, loaded with meat and topped with lettuce, tomato, and mustard. The meat is stacked high, making the sandwich much larger than expected. The most pleasant surprise, though, is the bread. The rye has a crunchy crust that adds a nice texture to the sandwich. While I ordered my pastrami cold, Brown says their best sandwich is the hot pastrami. He also suggests the chicken salad, which he calls the “best in town.”
If you’re coming for lunch, be prepared; Brownstein’s is takeout and cash only—but that hasn’t deterred people. Besides their sandwiches, Brownstein’s is known for their bagels—twenty-two varieties of them. While Brownstein’s is a kosher establishment, people from all walks of life stop by for their spherical treats.
“My bagel business is sixty-forty Jewish and non-Jewish. It’s not ethnic anymore like it used to be twenty or thirty years ago. Everybody eats bagels.”
Brown’s bagels can be found in a handful of school districts, and a few corporate cafeterias and hospitals, along with little shops across the Rochester region. This wholesale business has been key to his company’s success.
Brownstein’s is one of a handful of certified kosher delis operating in the Rochester area, home to the second-largest Jewish population in New York State. But maintaining the deli portion of his business has become tough as newer generations make Kosher eating a lower priority.
“Deli is kind of a dying business,” Brown states. “My grandparents ate it, my parents ate it—but the kids nowadays don’t mess with it. And its tougher and tougher to find product, too. If you look at my cases, they get emptier and emptier because you can’t find the product.”
As other restaurants have come and gone near Twelve Corners, Brownstein’s and Irwin himself continue to be a mainstay. He’s spent most of his career on Monroe Avenue.
“I give people a good product at a good price, and it’s fresh every day. If I wouldn’t eat it, I wouldn’t sell it. That’s my philosophy.”
Kosher foods conform to kashrut, the Jewish dietary law. Kosher foods do not include pork or shellfish; other animals not slaughtered according to established ritual; mixtures of meat, milk, or cheese; wine or grape juice; and food not prepared with proper utensils and machinery. In New York, kosher foods are regulated by both the synagogue and state government.