I know I’m probably food blogger number 184,965 to write about Katz’s Deli. And chances are I’m not going to write anything that hasn’t been written before or show a picture that hasn’t been shown before. But you know what, that’s ok because that’s exactly what makes Katz’s the institution, landmark and Mecca that it is.
I basically have two different New York food lists. One is the great restaurants that everyone talks about and writes about. The ones that show up on the Food Network shows as the best places to eat. The ones who’s chefs compete in things like Top Chef and Iron Chef. The ones that will set me back a pretty penny, but will be an excellent dining experiences. And then there are the classic New York foods that need to be eaten at the places that do them best. This means pastrami. This means pizza. This means bagels and cheesecake. These were the things I had my eyes, and stomach, set on for this trip. So when I asked My friend Scott where I should go for pastrami, he told me Katz’s without hesitation.
I’m not sure if it was because it was a Friday, or because I just missed the lunch rush, but the restaurant wasn’t nearly as packed as I had expected. I mean pretty much every table was taken, but the line was only about one deep. While waiting my turn, I took in my surroundings. The walls were covered in pictures and miscellaneous memorabilia. There was a sign reminding people where Harry met Sally. The counter was divided into various stations and the menu was pretty basic. But I didn’t even need a menu. I was on a mission for one thing…Pastrami. So when it was my turn, I had a simple request; Pastrami on Rye. Yes mustard. To go, please.
I watched as the deli counter guy (I’m sure there is a technical name, and I apologize to him for not knowing it) walked to what looked like metal chest freezer and pulled out a huge hunk of steaming pastrami. He brought it back to his cutting board and cut me off two small pieces to try. As soon as the smell hit me, I was won over, but I sampled it anyway. It was hands down, the juiciest, most flavorful perfect piece of pastrami that I have ever had. My excitement level for lunch went up another notch.
Somehow I managed to take my sandwich and the package of pickles they included onto the Subway, and then all the way to Battery Park without opening it. Finally, about 30 minutes after that first taste, my mouth watering, I found a seat on a bench overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, pulled out my sandwich, and took a huge bite (feeling quintessentially American). The sharpness of the mustard melded with the richness of the meat so perfectly. And the rye bead was the perfect vehicle…not too chewy, but dense enough to hold up to all the moisture from the meat without falling apart in my hands.
I made short work of the sandwich and crunched on a couple pickles as I sat back and just enjoyed the day. And while there may be better pastrami sandwiches in New York (and definitely cheaper ones), this was exactly what I was hoping to find. It was the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had, no questions asked. It actually lived up to the hype, which sometimes isn’t the case in iconic places like this that choose to simply let their reputation win out over quality. And it is absolutely worth the trip.