You’ll definitely have what she’s having.

I recently took my girlfriend to Katz’s for her first taste of pastrami.  Personally, having grown up with mediocre deli pastrami, corned beef, etc, I can’t even imagine having the luxury of beginning one’s pastrami experience with Katz’s.  The stuff is SO DAMN GOOD.  I don’t claim that Katz’s is the best – I’ve only eaten at one other NYC “institutional” deli (Carnegie, and I had the tongue), and worthy contenders like the 2nd Ave. deli and Sarge’s must also be investigated.  Again, though – Katz’s is SO DAMN GOOD that it’s hard to imagine the formula improved upon.

First of all, the place – on the corner of Houston and Ludlow since the dawn of time and somewhat dilapidated both outside and in, the Katz’s facility is integral to the Katz’s experience.  You can see the sign from the moment you ascend from 2nd Ave. subway hell, and it guides you seductively past a doner kebap pretender and the most overpriced Tasti-D in the city (which used to be a frites place, sadly).  I can only imagine what it must have been like to make a pilgrimage (by car?) back when the surrounding nabe was scary.

Katz’s has a few infamous idiosyncrasies that, in the genuine NYC fashion, seem to be continued mostly for the benefit of the tourists.  For instance, they hand you a ticket when you walk in – don’t lose it.  According to the posted rules, you’ll be charged an exorbitant sum on ticket-less exit.  The reasons for this are several-fold, I’m guessing, and the more draconian reasons probably date back to the afore-mentioned scary times, but, I mean…sheesh.  A ticket?  For a restaurant?  I don’t even care that it doubles as your check – seems dumb.

It’s also one of those places where it behooves you to have made up your mind before stepping to the counter, and don’t cheat: if you retire immediately to one of the tables with wait service against the wall, you are officially chickenshit.  The meat cutters like to stay busy, but they’re friendly, and precious few places like this in NY suffer menu-challenged fools gladly.  Hell, aren’t you there for the pastrami?  If you’re not, you’ve probably been back enough times to know better than to step to the counter empty-headed.  Order up your pastrami on rye ($12.50), with a little mustard perhaps, nosh on the piece of meat that they give you directly after ordering, and marvel at the efficiency of a professional sandwich artist (Subway’s “artists,”  by comparison, are coloring in a by-numbers Mona Lisa with Elmo’s face).  

There are two kinds of pickles available – what I deem “regular” and half-sours.  Half-sours are, as the name suggests, significantly less pickled and less sour than the regular – halfway between cucumber and full pickle-hood.  I like ‘em, but I like the full sours better.  They’ll give you almost as many as you can carry, just for asking, so if you’re a pickle nut, try both.

The walls of the dining room at Katz’s are blanketed with pictures of the owner with celebrities from A to D-lists and beyond.  If you sit in the back of the restaurant, where are hung most of the newer photos, you probably won’t recognize more than a handful of them.  This leads me to believe that either the publicists call ahead to arrange a photo-op, or the owner of Katz’s watches too much TV.  Either way, it’s fun to ponder what one would have to do to get a photo on the wall.  I think that the line of demarcation is somewhere around Pauly Shore, but it might actually be lower(!).

And, of course, as you, sit, contemplate the pastrami.  The sandwich is nearly big enough for two, particularly with a bunch of pickles riding shotgun.  I’ve been known to say that Katz’s cheats, because their pastrami (like Peter Luger’s steak) comes to you soaking in fatty, buttery goodness, but that isn’t going to matter to anyone but your cardiologist when you’re devouring one of the best sandwiches in the world.  I want one, like, right now.


Filed under NYC

2 responses to “You’ll definitely have what she’s having.

  1. Anonymous

    My bf is one hot pastrama.

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