For years I have dreamed of trying the renowned pastrami at Katz's Deli in New York City. As a serious fan of good Jewish-style deli, I've lived in frustration in Houston and the Bay Area unable to obtain anything deserving of the name pastrami or corned beef. I satisfied my deli cravings vicariously by reading dining reports of those fortunate enough to eat in NYC, and based on those reports felt certain that Katz's pastrami was the king. And so it is.
I finally had the opportunity to eat there last week.
Thanks to many reports and insider tips, I knew the best way to order. When you enter Katz's you are given a ticket like a movie ticket. Don't lose it! And don't sit down and receive table service. Go directly to the deli counter and stand in line in front of one of the deli servers. Hold a couple bucks in your hand so the deli person can see it and know they will be tipped. Order your sandwich. They'll hand slice it, first giving you a generous sample. They'll place your sandwich on a paper plate and throw some pickles on another plate. Give them your ticket and they'll write the amount you owe on it. Put your tip in the cup, take your plates and then go find a table. If you want something to drink like a beer, go back up to a different area of the counter.
I made a terrible ordering mistake. Even though I had been assured many, many times that their pastrami was the best, I just had to hedge my bet by getting half a corned beef sandwich and half a pastrami sandwich.
The pastrami, identifiable by the black pepper coating, was absolutely superb...by far the best I've ever tasted. It was juicy brisket with just enough fat and a depth of flavor that wasn't overwhelmed by the pepper coating. It was enhanced by being hand sliced the old-fashioned way. I think Katz's is the last NYC deli that hasn't switched to machine slicing.The corned beef was very good but paled in comparison to the pastrami. Don't bother with it. (Also, be careful with those tastings you get at the counter. I was already full by the time I sat down!)
The crispy pickles were just the way I like, barely cured. They hadn't even reached the half-sour stage.
Katz's has no atmosphere to speak of. It's basically a dive, but an authentic one with a long history dating back to 1888 when it first opened.
Oh, you haven't lost that ticket they gave you on the way in? You need it to get out. Hand it to the cashier at the door and she rings up your purchases. $50 charge for lost tickets.