New York Delis – Junior’s, Katz’s, Carnegie Deli and Russ&Daughter
According to Allen Ginsberg – the famous New York poet -‘Allegories are like lettuce in reality sandwiches’. The implication is that a sandwich should have very little lettuce; the important thing is the meat.
New York sandwiches traditionally have vast quantities of meat – often far more than anyone would actually want to eat. This is particularly true of the delis – some of which are very famous.
Possibly the most famous is Carnegie Deli near Carnegie Hall on Seventh Avenue, which specialises in corned beef sandwiches (in Britain we would call it ‘salt beef’) and pastrami. A corn beef sandwich at Carnegie is an eloquent argument against the American way of life. I visited two years ago. The corn beef sandwich costs $30 and is about the size of a small football. I split one with my wife and between us we managed to get through about half of it. They do a nice chicken and matza ball soup, but the matza ball is slightly larger than a tennis ball and has about a zillion calories. We did ask the Chinese waiter if anyone ever finished the food. He told us that such events are a rarity.
Carnegie is a New York institution. The walls are literally covered with photos of celebrities eating there. It’s a lovely place to sit and talk and to push the food, that you can’t possibly finish, around your plate.
Katz’s is another institution. It is in the Jewish area around the East Village. If you ever watched the film When Harry Met Sally, you’ll remember the scene in which Meg Ryan is sitting in a deli and fakes a very noisy orgasm. This was filmed in Katz’s and there is a banner above the seat where Meg Ryan sat.
Mercifully the portions are smaller in Katz’s than at Carnegie. The corn beef is better at Katz’s but the soup is more flavoursome at Carnegie.The thing I love about Katz is the old posters including one with the slogan ‘Buy a Salami for your boy in the army!’ I bought a T-shirt with this slogan on it.
These delis are about 80 years old. There are some great new places. After going to the theatre one night, we dropped into Juniors on Broadway. The food is reasonably priced and very good. I shared a corned beef sandwich and a cup of matza ball soup with my wife.The corn beef is manageable – not too big – and very tasty. The soup is delicious – although a bit heavy on the salt. And the chopped liver was absolutely wonderful – very creamy, deep flavours of onion and lots of mashed up egg. The burger, which my son ordered, was nicely cooked and the chips were crisp and well sized. It cost $70 for four, which I thought pretty reasonable.
More recently there has been a move towards upmarket deli food. Russ & Daughters has for many years operated a traditional Jewish delicatessen shop in the Jewish area around Houston Street. It sells salmon, bagels, dried fruit etc to take away. More recently, the firm has opened a sit-down restaurant on Orchard Street. They sell large platters of traditional Jewish deli food – and it’s all very classy. You can buy caviar and shots of vodka, as well as various types of herring. It is served by neatly dressed women in suits and – in addition to the elderly Jewish couples – there are lots of businessmen at lunchtime.
We ordered one of their large platters, which will serve three or four people. In our case, the platter, which cost $90, contained smoked salmon, sturgeon, smoked trout, smoked cod and wild Alaskan roe – along with bread, cream cheese, onion, tomato salad and capers. By the time we’d ordered a couple of side dishes, the bill came to around $150 for four. It’s not a bargain, but the quality is good.
If I lived in New York, I’d probably go to Russ and Daughters every few months, Juniors about once a fortnight and Katz’s about once a month. And I’d go to Carnegie if I got tired of life and decided to eat myself to death.