Recently I’ve been pining for the big, smelly city New York. Currently playing on my mind is one of my favourite places, the one with the biggest sandwich I’ve ever seen, and where I first tried pastrami, Katz Deli. I have two great loves in my life, one is my family, and the other is Katz.I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is I love the most, it could be the decor which hasn’t changed for forty years, the sheer size of the meat section in the sandwiches, the pickles on the side or the way the bread crumbles under the weight of fresh, hot pastrami – oh man I’m dribbling.
I didn’t love Katz at first but, like most great loves it grew on me. It was always raining when I went. It was never busy. I went in the evening, at lunch, and once at 2 am. The most important thing about Kat’z pastrami on rye (which is what I always got) is the meat. Salty, tender, pink, strips of hot pastrami. The sides are also memorable: old and young gherkins, bright or yellowy green in all shapes and sizes. The acidity of the pickle compliments the salty beef perfectly. The ‘beef – gasm’ of pastrami is barely contained by the thinnest slices of rye bread which wither under the mighty mountain of pastrami. I’d say the ratio is four to one pastrami to bread. The sweet mustard is a welcome extra. Some of the staff have worked at Kat’z for years and the others are hustling for their tips so there is generally a friendly vibe. When I had lunch here with my parents the owner came out and spoke to us. He’s the guy in the all the photos which decorate the walls posing with a myriad of celebrities including Bill Clinton and Nicholas Cage. He’s a lovely man. To drink, I usually go for a Brooklyn lager and plenty of water from the old fountain – that beef is salty. The system in Kat’z is much like any other New York deli of yore. Collect your ticket at the entrance (make sure not to lose it), order at the counter, and pay at the end. Either have waiter service at the table or join the cue (‘line’ to use the native tongue) and wait at the counter. Your pastrami carver will offer you a taster – SAY YES TO THE TASTER- and tip him generously so he might give you a sizeable portion.
Kat’z is a tourist trap thanks to THAT scene in When Harry met Sally when she fakes an orgasm. I really don’t care about this though, and neither should you. I have always gone to Kat’z at a random time, ie. not on a weekend lunchtime when the cue can be out the door, so have never struggled for a table. It’s also at these times that you’ll see real New Yorker’s enjoying Kat’z deli- it’s a great place to people watch.
I do wish I missed the big apple for something cooler and not so meaty and kitsch, but there it is. I love Kat’z. I love the neon lights, the spelling mistakes on the menu, the sawdust on the floor in the bathroom for which no-one knows why and is probably best not to ask. Katz is in one of my favourite neighbourhoods, the Lower East Side where I spent a hella lot of time in dive bars. Katz was born in 1888 but it was during WWII that their slogan for the company ‘Send a salami to your boy in the army’ came to the fore. The three boys in the Kat’z family were sent care packages where their fought on the front. Many other families started to do the same: and always got their salami from Kat’z. Unfortuantely it’s not possible to send pastrami internationally anymore, but maybe one day. Until then I will have to content myself with the memories…