March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After being offered a third helping of matzo ball soup, Marilyn Monroe once famously quipped, “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?” While the classic Jewish soup may not be everyone’s thing, when it’s done right—like it is at Swartz’s Delicatessen & Bagels in Omaha—it’s hard to turn down. I’d happily eat a bowl of the restaurant’s matzo ball soup any day.

Swartz’s house-made matzo balls (round, bread-like dumplings) have just the right texture: not too dense, not too soft. The broth is just as good. It gets its deep, savory flavor from a whole chicken boiled with carrots, onions, and celery. The mixture is strained, leaving a clear, aromatic broth that’s light yet flavorful. It’s that extra effort, along with quality ingredients and time-honored recipes, that makes the dish a menu highlight.

Swartz’s Delicatessen owner Shervin Ansari calls the soup “Jewish penicillin” for its ability to cure whatever ails you. Since opening in fall 2016, the restaurant has become a popular spot to savor not only soup—in addition to matzo ball, there’s chicken noodle and chicken with rice—but other Jewish deli staples such as pastrami on rye, bagels with cream cheese and lox, potato latkes, knishes, and more.

Ansari grew up in Maryland, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, and later owned a deli on the East Coast. He moved to Omaha and spent 15 years working as an executive at Kiewit Corp. After noticing a lack of traditional Jewish deli fare in the city, he opened his own place in Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific streets. Business is strong, and the restaurant is already slated to expand. Ansari plans to open two additional locations in Dundee and Aksarben Village by late 2018/early 2019.

In true Jewish deli fashion, the menu includes heaping sandwiches stuffed with corned beef, pastrami, and other meats prepared in-house. Most are offered in three sizes: JV (small), regular, and piled high. Highlights include corned beef on rye that, when ordered Reubenized, comes grilled with tangy kraut, melted Swiss, and a slathering of sauce. Also good is the pastrami sandwich with chopped liver: a generous stack of lean, thinly sliced pastrami and a rich, smooth spread made with beef and chicken liver.

The deli uses fresh bread from Rotella’s Italian Bakery in Omaha (except the light rye, which is imported from back East). Bagels are shipped from New York and then baked in-house. Deli salads, including egg, tuna, chicken, and whitefish, are made fresh each day. Meat sourced from Nebraska and Iowa farms is cured, smoked, and cooked in-house. “There’s no preservatives, no nitrates,” Ansari says. “It really makes a big difference.”

Avocado burger with side of coleslaw and pickles

Prices are higher than a typical sandwich shop, but portions are generous, and the food is made in small batches using fresh ingredients, Ansari says. Guests order and pay at the counter, and there are a few stools with a view of the kitchen. The dining area is stylish and inviting, with black-and-white flooring, globe light fixtures, subway tile, spacious booths, and tables with French-style bistro chairs.

Like many Jewish delis, Swartz’s isn’t fully kosher but does offer some kosher items. Customers can order kosher sandwiches, which the staff prepare using designated cutting boards and separate knives. The kitchen knows its way around Jewish comfort food classics such as potato latkes and sweet noodle kugel. And there are modern touches, too, including more healthful options, brunch specialties, and online ordering.

The deli case up front is loaded with brisket, lox (cured salmon), potato and spinach knishes, assorted salads, and other specialties. But save room for dessert. A big slice of carrot cake—ultra-moist layers full of warm spices, nuts, and cream cheese frosting—is the perfect sweet finish.

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Western Omelet (with onions, green peppers, brisket, and tomatoes), with a side of hashbrowns and toast

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.