Katz's Deli - How A Sandwich Defined My Trip To New York City
New York is a state that is jam packed with hidden gems. And situated in Lower East Side, Katz's Deli is for sure a place that not only retains this authentic sense of New Yorker history, but this family run business that has been going for over 100 years has people queuing around the block because they just can't seem to get enough of a simple pastrami and rye bread sandwich. So what's all the fuss?
Born in 1888, this once small deli next to 2nd Avenue Station became such a focal point for congregating. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the Lower East Side was the home to millions of newly immigrated families. Alongside this, the lack of public and private transportation was able to bring together a community and every Friday, the neighbourhood came to enjoy franks and beans, a Katz tradition.
In the height of Yiddish theatre, the restaurant was constantly being used as the hub for good food, socialising and was filled with singers, actors and comedians that used to perform from the theatres on 2nd Avenue and the National Theatre on Houston Street. Even though the age of Yiddish theatre has passed, Katz's walls are adorned with photographs of all these famous customers that had once been there. It's also the same deli that was used for a famous scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally (They've put a sign above the table for tourist satisfaction. I didn't even realise I actually sat there till after). These days, thousands of people from all around the world visit this legendary deli to enjoy the most incredible sandwiches, platters and meats. As New Yorker's continue to spread the word, people have been coming back for more. This Deli is now critically acclaimed for producing tantalising cuts of their corned beef, pastrami, brisket and other fine foods. Or you can choose to opt for a reuben sandwich - American grilled cheese with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a Russian dressing in-between rye bread, highlighting the unkosherness of this Jewish delicatessen. However Katz's has never actually been kosher from the start.
Inside the Deli it was swarming with customers carrying huge plates with meat stacked sandwiches with gorgeous brisket or pastrami spilling out the sides, pressed between two thick slices of mustarded rye bread. The layout was like a large L shape with garish fluorescent lights and outdated furniture but in a way makes sense in retaining its authenticity.
The queue was long but we were served quickly. In this no nonsense establishment, one of the things that makes Katz's notable are the multiple ordering stations. The servers were incredibly friendly and had tip jars overflowing in front of them. We were also able to get some pieces to taste as the servers cut up fresh-out-the-smoker brisket, pastrami or corned beef with long, sharp knives. When we got our orders (a pastrami sandwich, brisket sandwich, potato salad and a free plate of pickles) the sandwiches were a lot larger than we thought. But for the price, you couldn’t really complain.
So how was their famous $22 pastrami sandwich? From reading previous articles before attending, it appears that Katz's can have good or bad days depending on whether the brisket/pastrami is adequate but I think I was lucky on this one particular occasion. The meats were a beautiful blush colour with blackened edges, delicately flavoured, soft, hot and juicy. It almost makes you wish you could never get full because leaving some over feels like a crime. The pickles were crunchy and salty, complimenting the sandwiches. But the texture was gorgeous and just mouth-wateringly delectable.
Make sure you have a large appetite too because it comes to a lot of food, and we came to a total of nearly $65 not inc tips. Another quirk the deli has is it's ticketing system whereby you have to take a paper ticket from a roll upon entry and return at the end of your meal where a cashier adds up your final tab. Also, don’t lose your ticket upon entry otherwise it’s a $50 loss fee.
Would I visit again? Of course! There are so many other items on the menu that I wish I could have stayed a few extra days to try their other Jewish staples such as noodle pudding, chopped liver, kishka (stuffed derma), knishes, matzo ball soup and of course a classic bagel with lox (salmon) and cream cheese. I will definitely be coming back soon!