Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The first thing I thought of after receiving the link to my blog-to-be was reviewing Katz's Deli in the LES. When I think of NYC food, Katz's is the quintessential institution. It doesn't get more New York. The fact that they are celebrating 120 years is testimony to that. I love the food there (that means pastrami), but I'm equally enamored by the history and culture. My pops grew up around the corner on Essex and Delancey and knowing he went there 50 years ago and that I continue the tradition means a lot to me. Plus he still loves when I bring him back that divine sandwich- just can't tell Ma Dukes. I'm not trying to be an accomplice to weight gain.
In a neighborhood that used to be a Jewish enclave and is now nothing of the sort, Katz's still holds it's ground and keeps that Old New York alive. On some I see you moving in, but you ain't fucking with me. I'm not even sure how to characterize the new neighborhood with all the new condos (the condo being built across the street uses Katz's as an attraction point) and chi chi shops- a far cry from the tenements and squalor that existed not too long ago. But the lines keep forming, the tickets keep getting handed out, and the turnstyle keeps spinning. (You are handed a ticket upon entrance and each purchase i.e. sandwich, fries, soda is written on the ticket with the total price. Even if you don't use your ticket you need to give it to the cashier or you will pay a penalty.) Business is great as usual. While everything is changing on the outside, time stops in this cavernous room that smells of cured meats and pickles. It's a beautiful thing.
After getting shut down 2 months ago, this past weekend was the first time I had a chance to get my revenge. I admit that I've been to Katz's several times since the blog jumped off, but I never had my camera, and cell phone pics just wouldn't be acceptable for this epicurean landmark. And the crazy shit was that I left my memory card home this weekend, but thankfully Kodak cameras have a decent sized internal memory. You crazy for this one Kodak. It was almost a trip for naught. Not really, I still would have enjoyed the sandwich.
When you walk in, to the right by the window is the grill for hotdogs and knoblewurst (garlic beef sausage) as well as soup and beer. All the way down the counter in the back of the restaurant are desserts, as well as the counter to wrap up any uneaten food. To the right of that are the fries and soft drinks, notably Dr. Brown's, and in the middle is where the magic happens. There are 3 to 4 carvers behind the counter ready to prepare the sandwich of your choice. While corned beef, brisket, roast beef, and turkey are all available, the MVMeat is the Pastrami. I'll profess my love for the cured and seasoned brisket later in the post. There is waiter service along the wall, but that's boring. You need to participate.
For years I've been doing business with the same dude. I trust his knife skills and he has never left me unsatisfied. His name is Peter- a short older white dude with a Europeanish accent and white hair under a black Katz's cap. His sleeves are always rolled up and he has a small tattoo on his right arm. He doesn't smile much, but his sandwiches will leave you grinning from ear to ear. The problem this weekend was that he wasn't there when I went to order. There were 3 Spanish dudes- 2 younger and an older cat- so I went with age thinking experience would garner the better sandwich. It's customary to tip the carver a buck or 2 so that he'll let you sample a slice or two of the pastrami. I always prefer a new brisket fresh out of the smoker, rather than one that was already sliced for a sandwich or 2. Nobody wants that chick that has been ran through. The carver also provides you with pickles- sour or half- and pickled tomatoes. Sours are the perfect compliment to pastrami on seedless rye with mustard.
The pastrami sandwich and pickles were joined by fries and a Dr. Brown's Cream Soda. The sandwich had about 2 and half inches of pinkish red pastrami with plenty of briny ends throughout. I prefer the briny pieces, where all that spice and taste lay. The meat was a little more red than usual meaning it was a little more done, and not as moist as what I'm used to. The fat was minimal. It didn't really matter. It's still so tender and easy to pull apart. The first bite of the salty spiciness makes you wonder how do they get their meat to taste this good. Your teeth cut through the bread and meat with such ease. This is sandwich heaven. A bite from the crispy moist pickle and a swig of cream soda, and the party is in full swing. Like a summer time outdoor jam with Kid Capri on the ones and twos and the heiny lights flowing. It doesn't get better than this.
I always order the fries and then wonder why I did. They're decent- long, thick, uniform looking fries where half are crisp on the outside with a nice soft inside and the other half are too hard and crisp. The portion is pretty big and all it does is put potato in the stomach where pastrami should be . It's cool though, I took home half the sandwich and ate it last night for dinner.
Before I bounced I had to order another sandwich to go for a friend and guess who I saw behind the counter- Peter. I approached and told him I was disappointed he wasn't around earlier. Though he's up there on my list, I doubt he remembers who I am- but I'll stroke myself on this one and believe he does. I told him what I needed and he got to work. He pulled out a fresh moist fatty pastrami and proceeded to create a beast of a sandwich. I was out of singles so I put a 5 in his cup and he gave me a plate with half a sandwich's worth of meat. This was that wet- as Peter called it- decadent meat I was used to. I couldn't even finish that shit. He kept blessing me- pickles, tomatoes, extra slices of rye- I felt VIP in there.
No matter how many times I've been to Katz's, the experience and taste never get old. It's just one of life's finer pleasures. Seeing all the first timers trying the sandwich puts joy in my heart. That's why I love going with people that have never tried it- hopefully out-of-towners because no self-respecting NYer has never been there. Once you've tried the pastrami your brain and tongue will never forget it. The problem this creates is that at random, various times you will get that craving in which you need to head downtown and quench it. All of our problems should be this tough.
205 E. Houston St. on the corner of Ludlow St.
Sunday- 8am - 10:45pm
Mon-Tues- 8am - 9:45pm
Wed-Thurs- 8am- 10:45pm
Fri-Sat- 8am- 2:45am