Saturday, August 30, 2008

NY Event Number Thirteen: Eating at Katz's Delicatessen

One of the things that had been added to my list a little bit ago, out of a fit of hunger one day, was to make sure I had a real New York Reuben before I left the country. It maybe prejudiced of me, but I doubt the English would understand the subtly of a good Reuben sandwich. The problem is, though, you have to really know where to go to pull this off--a lot of establishments in Manhattan sell Reubens, but few do it exceptionally. So I did a Google search before I ventured out for this one. Some notable places came up, all pricey, some reviewed poorly--rude waiters seem to be the trend at Carnegie especially. There was one, however, that peaked my interest.

During my time in NY, I have spent many an evening in the LES, drunkenly looking for a meal. This would not only ensure that something solid was in my stomach, but that the act of ingesting a foodstuff would keep me from passing out before I got to the subway. I usually ended up at Ray's Pizza (the one at 195 E. Houston), as it was cheap and I'd have little money left after whatever drunkest I was leaving. Also, there was always a curiously long line at the overpriced deli on the corner. In all those drunken nights, and any sober day that I found myself in the same neighborhood, I never made the connection of what I was passing while stumbling over to Ray's or heading out to some piece of off-off-off Broadway. It was Katz's Delicatessen--one of the oldest delis in New York City, a mecca for celebrity drop ins, and most notably the location of one of the more famous quasi-sex scenes in cinema history:

Yes, that's right: this is the place where Sally faked her orgasm. Knowing that clinched it for me--I'm a HUGE When Harry Met Sally fan--and Alex (one of the people in my life who, like Amy Lee and Lori, has made a point of trying to assist me with my list) and I set off, me for my Reuben, him for a brisket sandwich. (Despite Alex's Judaism, it would appear he's not a fan of Reubens. Strange, I know. But I digress.)

We got there at 4:45. Alex made a crack about us being senior citizens, eating dinner in the middle of the day. But thank goodness we did! When we arrived, there was a sign on the door saying that they would be closed from 6 to 10 that evening, re-opening after and staying open till their customary 3AM. I can't imagine ordering a salami sandwich and piece of cheesecake at any time past 11PM, but it's NY, so there's no doubt a market for it. We tried guessing at what it could be--a rehearsal dinner, some flight of fancy of a movie star (I quietly imagined DeNiro closing down the whole place for a nice dinner all on his own), some wealthy NY private schooled teenager throwing themselves a birthday party. We asked our waitress, a lovely middle aged woman who worked there as her second job what was going on. She didn't know, she wasn't working the party, and no one else on staff seemed to know either. She did inform us, however, that it costs $4,000 an hour to rent out the deli. This has to do, no doubt, with the reputation of the establishment, not the decor, which was nothing to brag about. But given the cost of the food, it may have been completely comparable to what the restaurant would have made that evening--my Reuben was $15.75, Alex's brisket was$14.45, and that was JUST for the sandwich, no side of fries, coleslaw extra, all that.

Our food came pretty fast, and was pretty decent--I was expecting something gargantuan, but the sandwich was totally manageable, unlike Carnegie's $21+ Reuben, which I have heard ranges around the size of an average adult male's head. We also got a plate of pickles to start with--standard fare at such an establishment--that had on it some pickled tomatoes which neither of us ventured to taste. I also got an egg cream, another NY first for myself, and only fitting given where we were eating. Overall, it was a good meal, though I still think a little too expensive.

On our way out there were cops manning the door, keeping out any would-be customers who wouldn't have been served in time before the start of the mystery party. When we were outside, Alex asked me if I'd seen the sign hanging from the ceiling with an arrow pointing down that read "Where Harry Met Sally--Hope You Had What She Had!" I totally missed it. Obviously, there's now at least one reason to come back to NY. And anyway, I don't think the British appreciate pastrami the way we do here. But that's what you get for kicking the Jewish out in 1290. Their loss!

1 comment:

clayton said...

I've been eating at Katz's for years, and I must tell you it's better than Carnegie by far, if not just for the atmosphere. I suppose part of this comes from my father's love of the place, which started at around age 7. It seems he passed something on to me.

Yes, the sandwiches are expensive (I think they were around $8.75 when I first started eating there), but I really do feel it's the best you can get pretty much anywhere. I've never tried the reuben, preferring either the corned beef or pastrami sandwich, which I can guarantee you are larger than your reuben, and guaranteed to be larger if you tip the cutter while he's cutting (order at the counter for a more hands on experience). Sandwiches must be accompanied by a knish, if not two or three hot dogs with sauerkraut and onions. Wash it down with Dr. Brown's Celray soda, or for the more tame of heart, Black Cherry.

I'm so happy you chose here over all the others! I go here at least once every single time I'm on the East Coast and/or in NYC. Great. Now my ham and turkey sandwich for lunch will never do....