Saturday, July 7, 2007

Senda Salami to Your Boy in the Army: Visiting Katz's Deli

New York is the best at many things in this world - finance, fashion, publishing, theater, fundraising, take your pick. One thing this city is undoubtedly the best at is delis, and there are many great ones here: the Carnegie, the Stage, Barney Greengrass, Zabars. But perhaps the most beloved is Katz's, the 100 year-plus establishment on East Houston, right off Ludlow street in the Lower East Side. It is the ultimate for big sandwiches and hearty Jewish fair. Frank Bruni of The New York Times
recently had a great review of it and he summed it up well when he wrote that you go to Katz's:

"To revel in its pastrami sandwich, one of the best in the land, with an eye-popping stack of brined beef that’s juicy, smoky, rapturous. To glory in the intricate ritual of the place: the taking of a ticket at the door; the lining-up in front of one of the servers who carves that beef by hand; the tasting of the thick, ridged slices the server gives us as the sandwich is being built; the nodding when we’re asked if we want pickles, because of course we want pickles."

As Bruni indicates, when you enter Katz's, you are immediately given a red ticket that you must hold on to. Once you order at he counter (or, if you get table service, once you pay your bill on the way out of the door), it is punched. If you should lose your ticket, then you must pay $50. The deli has a huge and always busy counter. There are also a lot of tables where you can sit and a number of them include waiter service. The walls are lined with literally hundreds if not thousands of photos of the myriad famous people that have visited over the years. These faces include the famous and the infamous, the A-list to the Z-list, from Ed Koch to Joan Hamburg, from James Gandolfini to Jerry Seinfeld, from Ron Jeremy to (I kid you not) Mikhail Gorbachev! In the middle of the sea of tables is the table, the one where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal sat in "When Harry Met Sally ...", site of the most famous fake orgasm in history. The table is indicated by an overhanging sign and, needless to say, it is always taken.

I recently visited Katz's for the first time. I went around 5 PM on a Saturday afternoon and had no problem getting a table (although not the "When Harry Met Sally..." one). Since Mr. Bruni suggested it, I had a pastrami sandwhich while my beloved had a Rueben. The sandwhiches were large and hearty but not unreasonably big. In addition, I had a bowl of matzah ball soup and it was delicious! (Just a friendly note: should you ever consume matzah ball soup, DO NOT mash the matzah ball into the broth. Instead, slice it down with your spoon.) Overall, we had a lovely time and hope to go back soon.

Oh, and when you're there, you'll see a sign that advises you to "Sena Salami to Your Boy in the Army!" It's a bit of Old New York sadly relevant today.

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