You never know where you'll be when the craving for good Jewish deli fare hits. If you're in the Five Towns area, you'll want to know about Traditions, a glatt kosher delicatessen and restaurant that has what it takes to deliver that all-important pastrami fix.

In a comfortable dining room, you'll start with pickles (sour and half-sour) and coleslaw (delicious, with a slightly sweet mayonnaise dressing), which arrive immediately after you're seated. Chicken noodle soup, with or without matzoh balls, is a full-bodied brew reminiscent of grandma's. You may end up wishing that your matzoh balls had been seasoned with more salt and pepper. Split pea soup is thick and uninteresting; skip it.

But stuffed derma is homey and delicious; you won't want to think about fat or cholesterol content. Gefilte fish is good, stuffed cabbage overly sweet. Dome-shaped potato knishes are savory on the inside, flaky without. Great garlicky frankfurters go well with the terrific hand-cut French fries.

Sandwiches? First and foremost, there's pastrami - peppery meat, warm and relatively lean, with a spicy frill of fat on the outside. Corned beef is flavorful and fine; sliced turkey surprisingly moist. Tongue is a treat, cold roast beef fine.

But if you get the hot open roast beef sandwich, it'll be greyish-brown,drowning in a thick gravy. That letdown can be offset by the simple but so-tasty roast chicken, great with the restaurant's super mashed potatoes. Romanian tenderloin steak with sauteed onions, even if overcooked, is juicy, tender and flavorsome, served with a vibrant melange of fresh vegetables.

Sliced Romanian tenderloin is used in the "Sino steak" sandwich, an oddly appealing affair wherein the meat is coated with a slightly sweet barbecue sauce (not really Chinese) and served on a toasted club roll. Sweet potato fries - taste subtly of onion. Good stuff.

For dessert, the dairy-free chocolate-raspberry cake is a surprise hit, preferable to the dry carrot cake topped with icing that tastes suspiciously like non-dairy creamer. But, then, who comes to a glatt kosher deli for dessert? What you come for is a soothing dose of old-fashioned too-good-to-be-good-for-you Jewish food. It's no less than tradition.

-- Joan Reminick

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