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NYC: Katz’s Delicatessen

For some reasons, probably being a historical blue collar city with large population of Greeks, Italians, and Jewish people, New York City is famous for its deli. That’s on top of competition against steakhouses, Michelin restaurants, dollar pizza stands and halal food carts. I don’t look down at delis, but sandwich isn’t on the top of my food list at any given day. Why would I ever choose a fast food burger over a boring sandwich? Bologna and roast beef are both good, but they aren’t that different from the ones I make for myself. As such, I have never been to a NYC deli. It would have remained that way until the main branch of the famed Carnegie Deli closed a year ago. I have neither heard of that place, nor Katz’s. (yes, the fake orgasm scene in Harry meets Sally; no, I have not watched it) Not wanting to miss out on a piece of tradition, I set my eyes on Katz’s Delicatessen.

About half a block from Katz’s, there is a line forming next to some construction. Even though we have not seen the restaurant because the scafolding blocks most of the view, we know this is the line. Everyone looks like a tourist, including us. It might be luck, because we got into the restaurant in rather short time. The attendant issue each of us a ticket – we will get stamps for every item ordered, which we pay as we get out. For those who are thinking about gaming the system, $50 for each “lost” ticket. Don’t do it.

The ticket where we record too much amount of money spent.

The line continues on, but this new one is for food. Ordering food by going to a counter, each with its own sandwich maker. There are around 10 counters, but the lines are not created equal. I pick the shortest line, rookie mistake – the line is more stationary than the sun. It turns out that the guy at the front orders enough food to feed a village for the two upcoming apocalypses. After observing for a little while, I think I learn the trick. Choose a line where most people are young, and are talking to each other, on the assumption that everyone is ordering for themselves. If they look older and do not seem to interact with anyone in line, each of them is probably ordering for their family. In that case, good luck waiting for the sandwich, just like me.

Sample cut.

Once the 2nd wait is over, now comes the 3rd. My sandwich barista look at me condescendingly, and take my order begrudgingly. I guess the service does live up to the rumor. Let’s talk about pricing for a minute. Subway foot long goes for $6 these days? Well, a Katz’s sandwich is $22. Since it comes in 2 halves, I got 2 meats instead, which drives the price up to $26. I understand that meat can be expensive, a 1lbs of corned beef isn’t cheap, but man, they are treating each customer like a cash cow. At this rate they should just go for $50 – the crowd will still not go away. Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever come back to dine at this evil empire, so I got the combo, corned beef and pastrami. My personal sandwich maker cut a piece each and left them on a dish for me to try while he continues to prepare the sandwiches. The sandwiches also come with cut cucumber and pickles on the side. After he stamp my ticket, he give me the same look as before – annoyance. Well, I could care less, I’m very curious how great these sandwiches are. Are they as divine as the legends has it?

First off, as much as I criticize the cost, Katz’s does give a lot of meat. More than what a normal person should eat for lunch, anyway. But, I have seen pictures of ridiculous deli sandwich, and this isn’t one. My previous conclusion of overprice sandwich still stand. The pastrami and corned beef looks the same, thinly sliced, pink meat. The corned beef does have yellow spots and salt on them, probably due to the corning process. (I have no clue what I’m talking about.) I like the pastrami more than the corned beef – pastrami is juicier, but both are similar in taste. The sandwiches have Katz’s special mustard on the bread. The mustard is rather delicious, but the bread is definitely an afterthought. I don’t have any evidence, but I’m sure they found the cheapest supplier on Manhattan. It is dry, tasteless and stale. Toasting them could make a world of difference. Overall, pastrami sandwich is what you should get. The drier corned beef with the blend bread makes that so hard to swallow. I forgo the bread because it would not be pretty eating that desert-like sandwich.

Pastrami sandwich.
Corned beef sandwich.

Katz’s sandwiches are a lot of food for one person, so sharing it might be a good idea. It still doesn’t make it right to charge so much. Come here to see how deli sandwiches were made a century ago. Maybe to visit the set of a classic movie. Or enjoy being push around by tourists from all corners of the world. There are two kinds of classic restaurants. Some are worth preserving, like Peter Luger’s that continue to churn out extraordinary steak, and any of the White diners with smacking dollar-ish sliders. The second camp includes Pat’s and Geno’s in Philly, or any restaurants that refuse to die in the face of modernization. In my opinion, there are far better options out there, in terms of price, value and quality. Maybe that’s why delis are a dying breed. Capitalism might just be doing its job, for once.

Visited: May 26th 2018 at 1pm for lunch.
Address: 205 E Houston St, New York.

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