Delightful delicatessen dishes

The former owner of Russert’s Deli on Route 130 in Washington has created a cookbook that includes more than just recipes.

By: Ken Weingartner
   Anyone who has enjoyed taking home food from Russert’s Deli soon will be able to get something else — the recipes.
   That’s because Cynthia Russert-VanDenBogart, the former owner of the Robbinsville landmark, has compiled a cookbook that includes recipes for many deli favorites (yes, the potato salad and coleslaw are in there).
   Titled "Cyn-fully Delicious," which is the same name as Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart’s catering business, the book will be available next month. It features more than 90 recipes for appetizers, soups and salads, dinners and desserts.
   A debut book signing will be held the morning of May 9 at the former Russert’s Deli, located at the corner of Route 130 North and Robbinsville-Allentown Road. The following day, from 3 to 6 p.m., Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart will sign books and provide appetizers at Ernie’s Tavern on Main Street in Robbinsville.
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart sold the business last summer, which was started by her parents, William and Vivian, in 1971. She said the cookbook was a way of saying good-bye to the deli’s many loyal customers. In addition to recipes, each section in the book begins with a brief story about some aspect of the business (yes, lottery mania is included) or a look at the family behind the name.
   There also is a reference guide for substituting ingredients, a list of kitchen pantry essentials, and quantity suggestions to serve a party of 25 people.
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart said she has 10 area stores that have agreed to sell the cookbook.
   "Most of these recipes I created myself or I come across a recipe I like and I improvise with it," said Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart, 35. "Being from an area where everyone knew us, I also thought it would be nice to do something that brought you behind the scenes of the deli and our family life."
   Almost all of the recipes in the cookbook were created to be simple, yet satisfying, Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart said.
   "I’ve always liked good food," she said. "But I’ve got three kids and I don’t have time to be in the kitchen for hours on end. Most of these meals take a half-hour, and the preparation isn’t a lot."
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart keeps a notebook on the countertop whenever she makes a meal from scratch.
   "I try to keep notes so when I come up with something, and all of a sudden it turns into a really good dish, I’m not trying to remember how I made it," she said. "Not everything I’ve put together comes out wonderfully, but I have a good time with it."
   Having a good time is the underlying theme of Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart’s cooking philosophy.
   "When I come across a recipe in a book, I don’t stick with it, typically," she said. "I urge people with my book not to. Be creative and have fun in your kitchen. Use the recipe as a reference source, not as if it’s carved in stone. I don’t consider myself a chef and I don’t pretend to know it all. But I have fun in the kitchen. I’m just like anyone else, I want to eat food that tastes good and has some substance to it."
   Whenever Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart has a particularly tasty meal at a restaurant, she will try to recreate it at home.
   "The first chance I get, I start combining ingredients," she said.
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart never planned to follow her parents’ footsteps to the deli business. She worked at the shop when she was in high school, but after graduating college went to work in accounting.
   "But I didn’t like sitting behind a desk," she said. "I had to be around people. My dad was thrilled when I wanted to come back."
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart took more responsibility with the business, and tried to run it to her father’s standards.
   "My mother used to call me ‘Bill with a bra,’ " Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart recalled with a laugh.
   In November 1992, Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart’s father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. In 1994, she bought the shop from her mother. A year later, she met her future husband, Joe. The couple has three children — Brooke, 5; Mackenzie, 3; and Jake, 4 months — and resides in Plumsted Township.
   "For me, things were never the same after my dad passed on," she said. "It was hard to run the business, and I wanted to continue with the way he ran it. With my own family, though, it was getting to the point where I couldn’t do it the way he did. When I went in, I had four or five hours to get 10 hours worth of work done. It was just time to move on. You want to leave on a good note. You know when is when."
   Of all the memorable moments at Russert’s Deli, probably none exceed selling the winning Pick Six lottery ticket. Actually, that was five memorable moments because that’s how many times winning numbers were sold at the deli — once just a couple months apart. The last winning ticket was sold in 1991, but the legend remains.
   "It was fun. It was crazy," Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart said. "You’d always have to have two more employees working when the lottery was high. Customers wouldn’t even stop by the store if they wanted a sandwich because they knew how crazy it would be. I would still get phone calls about the lottery up until the day we sold. Anytime the game was big, people would call for tickets."
   Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart said she doesn’t miss running the business, but she misses other aspects of the job.
   "I miss the customers," she said. "People that I used to see day in and day out, I haven’t seen since July. Working at the deli was like being a bartender to some extent. You really got to know your customers. I always wanted to have enough help there so I could stand and talk to my customers. It made a big difference. That’s the part I really miss."
   Because the sale of the deli happened rather quickly, Ms. Russert-VanDenBogart didn’t get to tell all of her regular customers about what happened, or get to say farewell.
   "This way, we get to say good-bye to everyone, and they get some good recipes, too," she said. "It felt good to do this. This is like a legacy in a book."
To order "Cyn-fully Delicious" visit or call (609) 758-6299. The book is $16.95. Pre-orders will receive a $2 discount. Books ordered by April 30 will be numbered and shipped in time for Mother’s Day. Order forms also can be obtained at the deli.