Rein's New York Style Deli Restaurant: Vernon, Conn.
When the good people at Inc.com asked me what my favorite hometown business is, the first thought that jumped into my mind was, "Which hometown are you talking about?" Like many mortgageless folks in their twenties, I'm a multicity kind of guy. My home home is Boston, where Inc is based. But I'm a native of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. (and yes, that's the real name), a small town in Bergen County, the northeastern corner of the state. My family still lives there, in the split-level I grew up in, and I make the trip between the Bay and Garden states pretty regularly. My favorite hometown business is in neither place, however. It's en route.
Rein's New York Style Deli Restaurant is a must-stop pit stop in Vernon, Conn., on the Hartford Turnpike about half an hour south of Sturbridge, Mass. If you have ever driven that stretch of Interstate 84, it's likely that you saw Rein's billboard, which exhorts motorists to turn off at exit 65. The deli was founded three decades ago by New York City expats.
The food? It's to die for. Garlic pickles. Cole slaw. Pastrami. Crisp BLTs. Chocolate egg creams. Chicken salad. A bagel with lox and a schmear. And the matzo-ball soup is so invigorating -- believe me -- that you have to order the bowl, not the cup. There are also those intimidating menu items like tongue and tripe that some courageous folks order but I avoid.
Rein's is located at the corner of a strip mall and has a capacity of 190. Various parts of the dining room are named after the five boroughs of New York City, the bar (remember, you're driving) is called the Off Broadway Lounge, and the restrooms are labeled "Flushing." Rein's also has a take-out area and a counter to eat at. When it's warm, some diners sit at picnic tables on the side of the building or prop containers of food on the hood of their cars in the parking lot.
Around holidays that draw both Jews and Christians to the roads -- Thanksgiving and the Passover/Easter holy week -- the place is jammed. When those occasions roll around, the wait staff (a well-appointed, youthful horde) has a tough time serving you "in a New York minute," as the company's marketing material promises. Still, there's something wonderful about cooling your heels at Rein's at dusk on one of those bustling holiday weekends. You strike up conversations with the folks at the next table, inevitably to discover that they grew up on the street you live on now or that they live on the street you grew up on.
In that way, Rein's brings the hometown sense of belonging to the Eisenhower highway system. Not only can you always go home, but, through Rein's, home turns out to be a movable feast.
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