There are the Montagues and the Capulets and then there are the Carnegie’s and the Katz’s. My family was always a Carnegie family. No matter what we did when we visited New York as kids, we always ended up dropping into Carnegie Deli to get a corn beef sandwich and what I called the Best New York Cheesecake I’ve ever had and the only cheesecake I would ever agree to eat. I remember holding my breath at the checkout as I was watching the staff yell to move the lines along. All of my questions about each dessert in the case or what comes on the sandwich were answered in a snapping manner. I was intrigued by this New York “dialect” and speech coming from the ‘ole sweet Southern Texas and didn’t always know how to react. Now that I live here, when my parents visit me it’s the same tradition. Once or twice a year, we always make a point to stop in to grab a slice of cheesecake no matter what because ya know it’s the best, and while we’re at it, my dad will usually get a corn beef sandwich to go for the plane ride. So, no, I’ve never been to Katz’s (except that one time this summer when my best friend and I strolled in at 4 a.m. on a Saturday- it really never closes).
So Mom and Dad, aka Terry and Steve ventured to visit right after the restaurant celebrated their 125th Anniversary, and I decided we needed to do a taste test and go to Katz’s Deli. Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. the line is out the door. Walk in, grab a ticket -don’t lose this- figure out which line you want to order from either hot sandwich, cold sandwich, grill, omelet, etc. Step up to the plate then tell the man behind the counter your order. You say Pastrami on Rye with Spicy Mustard? He slices up a few cuts, slaps it on a mini plate in your face for you to taste, it melts in your mouth and you nod for him to go ahead and make that sandwich. It’s a fun and personal process. Those few minutes you spend speaking to that man is all part of the experience. He then hands over your plate/tray and looks at you and in a nice passive aggressive way saying “bye bye” with a smile or aka “get out of here so I can help the next person in line.”The place is a zoo, but good thing there are lots of tables and constant bussers cleaning up the tables. You’ll find a seat- don’t worry. Katz’s has the best lighting in any restaurant I’ve ever seen. It looks like daylight in there all 24 hours.If you didn’t know, the meat on the sandwiches are stacked a mile high (not as high as Carnegie) so one of the best deals on the menu is a 1/2 sandwich with matzo ball or chicken soup for $14.85. This is also cheaper than Carnegie and even if you wanted to split a sandwich with a friend at Carnegie they charge you a split fee.
My first bite of the pastrami sandwich exploded my mind. So many things changed for me at this point. First I realized WHY have I been ordering corn beef my whole life? This smoked meat is more tender, melts in your mouth, and I love the peppery and smoky flavor. Second, I realized I’d been fooled for so long and Katz’s has stolen my heart from my old uptown love and truly is the best deli. This pastrami sandwich is serious. Everything else around you stops and all you want to do is concentrate on eating it. Save the Pastrami Reuben with cheese and sauerkraut for a 4 a.m. visit when you’ve been drinking and need that cheesy appeal (4th pic). Otherwise it masks the meat. The Chicken Soup is also incredible, and I love the thin spaghetti like noodles instead of thick ones that overpower the broth. This sandwich has really become a turning point in my dining life here as I still just can’t believe I have found something better right down the street that I’d never given a a look at or consideration. The turkey is pretty juicy as well and they have a hamburger similar to Shake Shack that fits right in the palm of your hand. They also ship world-wide.
I mean I know it’s high up on any tourists list and it’s nothing new to anyone (but me), but everyone really needs to visit Katz’s, and if you are a local you need to repay a visit. You’ll fall in love with New York all over again.
p.s. Carnegie still has better Cheesecake….