I grew up on Long Island, and one of my favorite things in the world is a good Jewish-style Delicatessan. Sadly, while there are a few outside of New York worth eating at in a pinch (and some of the better ones in Los Angeles certainly have their partisans), the best deli food can be especially hard to find in my travels. There’s certainly not any worth mentioning in my home town of DC.
So when I head to New York I almost invariably have to seek out my favorite Pastrami, which comes from Katz’s on the Lower East Side.
More often than not I’m busy, and have any number of restaurant meals booked and obligated, and so I’ll find the only chance to head over there being on the way out of town. No matter how little time I have left, it’s a must-do. And a couple of weeks ago was no exception.
Now, being the sucker that I am for this kind of food, and being nostalgic for my childhood, I can find it hard to resist on the street as well. Not nearly as many food carts offer knishes as used to, so when I find one that does — against my better judgment — I’m unable to pass it by.
This time was no exception:
But I really should know better, it’s not as though a knish on the street is going to be the best I can do. In this case I was paying for the decision over the next couple of hours before heading over to try out the new Lotus of Siam.
Fortunately, Katz’s was a Sunday afternoon opportunity to redeem the deli component of the trip. I’ve written about Katz’s before, it’s almost always packed on a weekend afternoon and always delivers the goods.
Here’s the packed entrance and exit
And the chaotic lines to wait in for food
They do have tables with waiter service alone the side of the restaurant. Otherwise, just send someone in your party to stake out a table while you wait for your food. The place to start is with the sandwiches, and each sandwich maker — known as a cutter since they’re slicing the meat fresh for you — has their own line. Do your best to judge the shortest, it’s usually farther in, though personally I always pick the same line, the guy who is an institution there and is usually in the background whenever there are TV shots of the place. Great guy, but he can be slow if he winds up chatting while helping one of the regulars.
This is, of course, the restaurant used in the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from “When Harry Met Sally.”
There are separate lines for sides like cole slaw and drinks (gotta go with Dr. Brown’s), and also for knishes and the like though I just had my guy grab a couple of knishes while helping me out with sandwiches in order to save a line.
Now, I should say — in my opinion only their Pastrami is actually stand out. Everything else is merely fine, but not the absolute best in New York deli food.
I had everything package to go because of time, even though I planned to eat in the restaurant. My original flight home was cancelled, I had spent time messing with that and had organized a booking on an earlier train. Time was tight.
So the presentation wasn’t much. But I wasn’t there for the presentation.
The main event was of course the pastrami.
We finished our sandwiches, grabbed a cab and headed to Penn station .. arriving literally as our train came up on the board, and only after walking the last several blocks to the station because of traffic. Katz’s had nearly cost us our train back to DC, but it was certainly worth it.
Update: As studio253 notes in the comments, and as I should have mentioned, Katz’s is cash only. They give each person a ticket on the way in, the ticket is noted with how much you owe for your food, and you pay on the way out. Now, my wife and I go in and they hand us two tickets. I just have them put everything on one, pay off of that, but return both the used ticket with pricing and the blank one as we leave.