There’s no Yiddish needed at Attman’s Deli, the New York-style eatery at Park Potomac.
Step inside the small entry area and down the narrow aisle past the booths and it feels like you’re in a cramped New York deli, circa 1955. The view out the window reminds you that you’re in sprawling suburbia.
(The staff are nice, too. This is Potomac, thankfully, not 7th Avenue.)
And, yes, you can order a corned beef or hot pastrami sandwich the size of your dad’s Buick. But the sandwiches come in three enigmatically named sizes – like Starbucks coffee. Open Attman’s’ menu and you’ll find breakfast items, sandwiches and triple-deckers, burgers and salads, and kids items. There’s Jewish food that made it into the vernacular — bagels, latkes and matzah ball soup. And there are a few that may be just marking time: tongue, herring and chopped liver.
Sam Lerner figures the days of these latter Jewish imports from Eastern Europe are numbered. Lerner, the deli’s general manager and keeper of the old delicatessen knowledge, describes hand slicing lox in such detail, you can imagine smoked fish so thin that you can practically see through it.
Attman’s in Potomac won in three categories in Montgomery Magazine’s 2022 Readers’ Choice competition: Best Deli, Best Breakfast and Best Weekend Brunch. Attman’s originated in Baltimore. So did Lerner, who was born there and says he was raised on Attman’s corned beef. But he’s been synonymous with deli in Montgomery County since the Gerald Ford administration. His barely filled out LinkedIn account says he’s been doing his job for 48 years.
He opened Potomac Village Deli in February 1975. And before he sold it to Attman’s five years ago and joined the Baltimore-based restaurant’s business, Lerner was a walking advertisement for his own deli.
“Back when people wrote checks, we’d get them made out to Sam’s Deli,” says Lerner, 70.He never got tired of the work — or the food, which Wikipedia describes as “Ashkenazi staples.”
“I like this type of cuisine. I love our customers. They like quality, and they’re willing to pay for quality,” he says.
The pandemic changed the business, he says. Near the registers, a refrigerated case is filled with “grab and go” items. Customers are in a bigger hurry now, he says; they don’t want to watch you cut the corned beef or smoked fish. And the less handling, the better.When there are orders to deliver, drivers go out in trucks named for the Three Stooges.
“We have Moe, Curly and Curly Joe,” Lerner says. “We lost Larry.”
Like the Stooges, the names of the trucks have changed over time. For a while, they had so many trucks that they ran out of Stooges. So the fleet included a truck named Groucho. No doubt the boys would have felt right at home here.