Friday, November 5, 2010

I Love Canter's - LA Halloween 2010

My Kingdom Come

Canter's had always had a special place in my heart as the beginning of this mystical, meaty journey started one late night at the famous 24 hour deli with an O' Malley's sandwich. It finally came full circle in my eyes on Halloween 2010, as I was lauded the Pastrami King with a round of applause from many hungry Halloween deli patrons.

As I was waiting for a seat the host came up and looked at my shirt. I <3 Canter's - it's the same shirt the waiters wear and he started cracking jokes "I need you to take those two tables and go in the back and check the orders for these tables." I promptly pulled out my card and the guy's attitude changed..."Oh, you're for real. Right this way, King." as I walked down the aisle the host shouted "All Hail the Pastrami King" - everyone turned their heads and there I was, in my glory with crown and cape - while doing a parade wave to the crowd. Priceless.

I also went to Langer's with my dad earlier in the week (stellar, as usual) and I picked up this awesome book at the counter. Sheryll Bellman covers many of the famous delis in the USA, the origin of the deli foods, and also gives you some recipes to make some of the items at home on your own time. I wanted this book about a year ago and was unable to get it from Amazon - as I think they were backlogged. I finally got it and wow! I'm going to have to make all these deli dishes and share them with friends and foodies. Stay tuned for some homemade posts!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deli Board, The Sentinel, L'acajou and Perry's in Chicago

Hello, Bay Area Pastrami fans. I celebrated two birthdays since the last post - the birthday of the pastrami blog and my 26th birthday. For the pastrami blog birthday I just went to Miller's East and got a sandwich to go - pretty quiet. On my actual birthday I returned to Saul's Deli in Berkeley, which has made some great strides recently - I suggest you revisit the Berkeley gourmet deli. My best birthday present didn't come until a couple weekends ago - a trip to the Windy City.

I did a whole bunch in a little time in Chicago. I went to a Cub's game, I visited the Sears Tower (now know as the Willis tower - or "Big Willy"), and tried a whole bunch of awesome food. Chicago has three claims to fast food fame - the Chicago deep dish pizza, the Chicago dog, and the hot Italian beef sandwich. I got the trifecta done and I even had time to sneak a nice steak at Harry Caray's as well as some nice Polish food in a neighborhood that is still Polish at heart. I had time to make one pastrami stop and I chose to go to Perry's Deli, mostly because the pictures online reminded me of the Langer's #19, and also because I had already reviewed the old-school classic that is Manny's Deli in previous posts. The small differences : the #19 is a pastrami on rye with coleslaw, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, while "Perry's Favorite" was Corned beef on rye with coleslaw and jack cheese. Traditionally the Midwest is more into the corned beef than pastrami so that explains the corned beef. I have no explanation at all for the jack cheese, but hey let's roll with the jack and see how it tastes.

I ordered the Perry's favorite with pastrami, because that's what this blog is about although the corned beef was probably better. The sandwich was pretty large and in charge. I thanked the deli man for making it for me and he said "pretty good for my first day, huh?"...yeah he's probably been there making sandwiches for fifteen years.

I think the fact the pastrami was in a bin and not hand sliced make it not quite as good as when it's hand sliced or even machine sliced right before order. However it's still acceptable in a steam vault, but it can be better. I found out their pastrami is from Eisenberg's, which is a Chicago sausage/meat company that has been around since 1929. The rye bread was alright, not as good as a double baked rye bread from LA, but better than the bread at Carnegie in NYC. The Russian dressing on the sandwich was a bit thicker than usual and had a deeper color than most Russian dressings.

Perry's Favorite with Pastrami

Dad's sandwich - pastrami with Russian and tomatoes

It was right on point with the great deli flavor you can expect, however it did have all the deli items you can expect at Manny's like a potato pancake and a knish. Perry's focuses on the sandwiches only and has a few sides (macaroni salad and potato salad). I had half my sandwich wrapped up and took it to go and ate the 2nd half while waiting for my plane to board at O'Hare...such a clutch 2nd half as I enjoyed it as others were forced to overpay at the kiosks in the airport. FYI - I found at another deli in the Chicago loop area carries "Manny's" brand pastrami - the Halsted Street Deli. I also noticed a small deli called the Shalom Deli, which I did not have time to visit - so there are plenty of more options to explore in Chicago.

Jack in the Box and Trader Joe's pastrami

I don't know if you've noticed, but the pastrami sandwich has been becoming more mainstream. Recently, Jack-in-the-Box the fast food chain started offering the Pastrami grilled sandwich offering "premium" pastrami with deli mustard, pickles and an artisan bread. The commercial even pointed out how the bread was superior to rye - or that at least a panel of people chose it over rye bread. Note the look of the pastrami in the pictures and videos - Jack advertises thick pieces of pastrami with a nice grilled bread...I tried it and was pretty disappointed, to be honest.

Say Jack in the Box pastrami looks a little different. The sandwich certainly doesn't look as full as the one on the ad. It's that Southern California chopped up pastrami that you can find at places like Johnny's pastrami and the Hat...only I think I like them better. The bread was just kinda meh...although I say that to most rye breads, but the mustard tasted more like French's mustard than deli mustard I thought. It wasn't Hebrew national or Gulden's - that's for sure.

Pictured above is the Reuben wrap from Trader Joe's. This is an interesting addition to the mainstream pastrami world. It's an attempt to make the Reuben healthier and smaller - just a small Reubenesque snack you can pick up for a small fee (about 3$). I was skeptical when I bought it, but I have to give it a thumbs up. The pastrami wasn't the best...but it was acceptable (slightly iridescent though, like it had been packed for awhile), but the pickles, the Russian dressing, and the rye flavored pita wrap seemed to capture the essence of a deli sandwich. I was surprised and I recommend picking one up next time you're in Trader Joe's....try it out and comment on how you liked it. I'm curious to know if other people thought it was a fair representation of a pastrami sandwich in "wrap" form.

Back to the Bay

The Sentinel in San Francisco's FiDi is infamous for their corned beef and gruyere sandwich. It's so indulgent and decadent that it made the top 100 things to eat in SF before you die - several years in a row (#74 in 2010). It also featured in the San Francisco Magazine's opinionated guide to sandwiches - in which Jan Newberry, editor of San Francisco Magazine, describes her love of the classic Reuben sandwich (not the corned beef with gruyere). I tried the corned beef on ciabatta with gruyere so I could mark that one off my list in SF - although next time I think I'm getting the Reuben.

That is definitely unlike any other corned beef sandwich I've had in my life. The corned beef on ciabatta was very good. It was Robert's corned beef with a light coleslaw with an amazing Gruyere cheese on some pretty awesome, fluffy bread. I thought the gruyere cheese overpowered the corned beef taste a bit, which is why I will be trying a Reuben next time.

L'acajou Cafe - Corned beef special

Speaking of Robert's Corned beef - The cafe on the corner next to my work (about 100 steps from Robert's) - Cafe L'acajou - started offering a corned beef sandwich with a homemade coleslaw. The Robert's Corned beef will pretty much make any corned beef sandwich taste awesome and I think I enjoyed this one more than the Gruyere cheese at the Sentinel, because I got the full corned beef flavor and the roll and slaw were decent enough. They seem to have it when they have it and then they run out...I'm sure he can just get more from the supplier the very next day. This Cafe is fairly new (it used to be the MotoJava Cafe) and is generally a coffee/pastry place, but has some lunch items - another notable lunch item - the pulled Moroccan lamb sandwich. Check it out on the corner of Bryant and 9th and I might just bump into you!

I saved my favorite of the new bunch for last. The Deli Board in SoMa San Francisco was brought to my attention by yelp some months ago. The ordering rules are a bit strange as you have to be in biking distance from 7th and Harrison in San Francisco between the hours of 11-2 Monday through Friday and the order has to be at least 20$ - so call hungry. I'm assuming he has some claim of sorts on the catering of business lunches, but I'm not quite sure how his racket works...but I'm down with large mouth-watering sandwiches featuring pastrami, corned beef, and brisket. I'd bet dollars to donuts that yelp HQ has ordered a couple of sandwiches from this spot - as they are right down the street. I e-mailed the owner, Adam, and told him I was eager to try his sandwiches, but due to his ordering policies, I would have to order with my co-workers and that might take some time to coordinate. To my surprise, Adam has actually heard of my blog and was just as eager for me to try his pastrami as I was. I finally got around to it this week!

Boca Sandwich

I ordered the Boca which came with corned beef, pastrami, and brisket - my favorite 3 meats of all time on a French roll with their special "deli board" sauce, brown mustard, and pickles. When you open your sandwich and pull the two halves apart from each other....the cheese stretches out from your sandwich like it would a mozzarella makes you really want to take that first bite. The roll was soft, the sauce was tangy, and the meat was superb. My coworkers mentioned they liked their roast beef and black forest ham and that they were also high quality like my pastrami. I loved every part about this sandwich...even though it wasn't a traditional East Coast pastrami, it still had all the elements, smell, and taste to bring you back to that traditional meaty, deli flavor.

I e-mailed Adam to let him know how much I loved his sandwiches and to ask him where the pastrami comes from. He wrote me back this nice little blurb:

"Oh my--- I have been waiting for this email! The pastrami king! I am so pleased you enjoyed!

I use a brisket cut for my pastrami, which many people shy away from, which is usually the most expensive cut out there---"

That makes me feel pretty good about the Deli Board and pretty awesome about being the Pastrami King of the Bay Area. I haven't quite broken into Abe Froman status...but some people are starting to recognize my name and blog - which is a great feeling.

I have gotten some great compliments from writers and readers a are some of my favorite of the past year -

I love Miller's. But everytime I eat a Pastrami sandwich at Wood Tavern in Oakland, I think of you. - Betty H of Yelp

Read most of your blog... I was salivating for some delicious pastrami. Katz's made me nostalgic. Guess you are the "Pastrami King" - Maureen M. of Yelp

Your passion for pastrami is enchanting. Great list! Loli L. of Yelp

Oh, you dog. I've clicked on a gazillion blogs and have never really cared enough to read through them, but you went ahead and made a blog about pastrami--my one weakness, my kyptonite. If there's one food that's always on my mind, it's pastrami. Mario C.

I Love Theo's Blog - he is the real king of pastrami. Look - he even wears a crown :) Great Blog! Jay. S of Yelp

As a Seattle native living in the bay area, I appreciated your reviews. I haven't been to "I love NY deli" but was just invited to a book signing with David Sax. - Anon

Dude. Your blog is really well written. Props. - Kenan W.

Dean Wixom asked if you were a professional writer. - Richard Y.

It's been a pretty crazy trip over the last year. I've met some great people to eat pastrami with like Ellen F in Jersey and Al. S in Laguna....I've met some awesome owners like Matt Levin at the Refuge and Robby Morgenstein at Miller's East...and most of all I've tried some killer pastrami, all the while establishing myself as a creditable source on what pastrami should taste like. I really appreciated all the love and positive feedback I get from this blog - and I'm sorry it took so long to get this post out! Keep on sending comments and compliments - they make my day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gunter's and Toast Eatery - Treyf's Announcement

Hey there pastrami fans. I have an awesome post for you this time. Fresh off the Save the Deli presses, I would like to announce the opening of a new Jewish deli in SF called "Treyf". Treyf means non-kosher, basically the way I like my sandwiches with Russian dressing and/or cheese is considered treyf - so I'm super excited that there is going to be another premier deli opening in this town. I'm not sure when/where they are going to open, but I will find out ASAP. I first read about it on Save the Deli, but you can check out Treyf's blog here. Tell them I sent you.

I did some great field work, making it down to the San Jose to try out the Jewish/German - Gunter's Restaurant. I rarely make it down to the South Bay, but I had business down there a few weekend's ago and I wanted to track down the best pastrami in town. I think I found something that may have mixed up my ratings for favorite Pastrami in the Bay Area (not to worry Refuge or Miller's - you're still 1 and 1a) - as the Gunter's New Yorker pastrami sandwich was pretty hard to argue with.

Gunter's New Yorker

Great Baked Goods...mmm Black & White Cookie

The pastrami was a bit thinner, than I normally like...that being said it had an excellent flavor and I know plenty of people who prefer their pastrami on the thinner side like Gunter's serves. The rye bread and pickle also had an excellent component of this sandwich was the best ever - but putting it all together....the rye bread with the pastrami and Russian dressing - something magical becomes a delicious delicacy treat most people think they can only get in NYC. About half way through my meal - a gentleman seated on the other side of the deli exclaimed "That looks like a Katz's sandwich." I talked to him a minute, gave him my card as he was leaving he asked "So, How did it compare to Katz's" - the answer - comparable bread, thinner pastrami, but just as tasty. Next time you're in San Jose, stop by Gunter's and try it's worth the visit (They also do catering).

Toast Eatery (Photo via Toast Website)

The last place I went for this installment was Toast Eatery - located on Church street close to 30th Street in the Noe Valley Neighborhood of San Francisco. This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in SF truth be told. Ever seen the movie Sister Act? St Paul's Church right down the street was featured in the movie as they transformed the posh Noe Valley neighborhood to look like a crime ridden community.

St. Paul's Cathedral - San Francisco

Toast features a pastrami sandwich (on a roll with mayo...some people might have a problem) or a "pulled" corned beef Reuben. I was interested to find out what the "pulled" corned beef looked like so I ordered the Reuben.

"Pulled" Corned Beef

The pulled corned beef had the consistency of chipped beef you eat on toast, but still had the lovely corned beef flavor instead of the cheap Stouffer's chipped beef flavor - it was just a bit different than hand sliced or machine sliced corned beef which is something I'm always intrigued to explore. It was a very good, unique Reuben sandwich - try it out if you're in the Noe Valley neighborhood anytime of the day as it sounds like they have an excellent breakfast menu as well. Can't wait to try the pastrami next time (perhaps not on a roll with mayo)!

August 28th is the anniversary of the pastrami it's been about 12 months since I've been breaking down pastrami like an organic compound for ya'll. It's kinda crazy when I look back on how far this blog has come - I've had a great time establishing myself as the Pastrami King of the Bay Area...and I've had countless pastrami sandwiches across various states....gotten many compliments from fans....and made a couple of friends along the way. I'm looking forward to keeping it going strong for another year!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pearl's Kitchen, Ted's 2-way Combo, The LeBron.

Howdy Pastrami fans. Some bad news to start. I fell down running at the beach and fractured my wrist, going to be in a cast until July 21st. I've been eating some great food to make myself feel better...starting off with Pearl's Kitchen. I first read about Pearl's Kitchen in Save the Deli - here . Wow...a street vendor that specializes in home cured corned beef sandwiches...I'm intrigued. I started following Pearl's Kitchen on twitter and found out they would be serving up their special corned beef this past Saturday at an event called Outside in 5 - a food vendor street festival in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

I showed up at 5 PM on the dot to wait for the Pearl's stand to set up. The anticipation and excitement were high...many others started gathering for the food. Jon - one of the owners of Pearl's showed up, took out his rye bread, his mustard, and his hot trays of beautiful corned beef. He looked at my shirt which read "I heart Canter's Fairfax" and he said "you must be the pastrami guy." I talked with Jon for a minute about his business - he likes to use Prather Ranch meat for his corned beef, but doesn't always use them as a supplier. Jon would like to get a pastrami going soon, but he needs to get a smoker to smoke the pastrami. For now...he just has killer corned beef.

6$ for a half corned beef sandwich. Jon starts by slicing a piece of his home made rye and slathering the piece of bread which seems like to be too much mustard...but it's just the right amount. Jon then hand slices the corned beef, against the grain, with great precision. His corned beef slices are just the right thickness...very uniform..he's good with his knife. I took the half sandwich over to a nearby bench to examine the specimen.

The corned beef was a deep, ruby red - a good sign. I sank my teeth into the sandwich and smiled. It tasted exactly like it would at a deli....probably better. The rye bread had an excellent flavor...and the crust was a bit chewy like it's supposed to be. A superb home made rye. The mustard was sharp and tangy - just the way you want it to be for this type of sandwich. and the corned beef....i think it was some of the best corned beef I've ever had...almost brings tears to my eyes thinking about it's simply marvelous. I also sampled a piece of the noodle kugel - still hot from the oven. It had a sweet cinnamon flavor with a consistency of eggs and noodles...a sweet treat. Check out Pearl's Kitchen on twitter to see where their cart we'll be set up, trust me you'll thank yourself for trying this gem.

Ted's 2-way Combo
I've been coming to Ted's market at Howard and 10th for a few years now. I know they have tri-tip on Mondays and Wednesdays....while they have pastrami every day. If you can get to Ted's market on those days before they run out of either meat you can order a half tri-tip, half pastrami. You could have it on rye, but it's pictured above with the baytastic Dutch Crunch. The stars have to align for you to get this sandwich...and to my knowledge - I'm the only one crazy enough to order it. Now you know about it and knowledge is power folks - get to Ted's and try their pastrami - it's one of the best in the city for under 10$.

Congrats to my Lakers for taking their 16th title....the 8th title since 1985. I think this win...the game 7 to become back to back champions while simultaneously avenging our loss to Boston 2 years ago, was the biggest win in Lakers franchise history. The Lakers have little to do with pastrami, but this is my blog and I get to gloat however I damn please on here. How empowering.

So what does the NBA have to do with pastrami? The "LeBron".

This is the biggest free agency market in NBA history....leading the pack of those looking for multiyear, multimillion contracts is super talented LeBron James. People have been speculating since 2008 that LeBron might be bound for NYC, as he is friends with Jay-Z and has been seen at various spots in New York sporting a Yankees cap. The Knicks are obviously one of the worst franchises in the league and the City sees LeBron as its basketball savior. People started making LeBron to NYC teeshirts, LeBron posters were seen all over the City...and of course - The Carnegie Deli offered a 5 pound, 1 foot tall sandwich called the LeBron MVP to honor the basketball star's impending arrival in the Big Apple. Just look at that sandwich for a minute folks....holy moly...the lettuce, cheese and tomatoes at the top of the rye bread just get lost amid the pounds of staggering, stacked-high meat. The best part of the article, is at the end when the owner of Carnegie, Sandy Levine, offered the winning patron another free LeBron sandwich...on the house, which he declined to take. Yeah that's the's overdone in a great way...great sandwiches with great pastrami. The Carnegie is a must visit for me every time I go to NYC in the future. However, I don't think I'd like to give up Langer's and the Lakers....LA really has it going when it comes to pastrami and basketball. This little blurb will be really funny if LeBron decides to go to Chicago and eat Manny's with Obama instead of NYC. Only time will tell.

My last subject is a shout out to another food blogger. While roaming the outside in #5 event I met a man who reviews street vendors and street food. Very cool, San Francisco based food blog. Check out his photos on his blog and you'll notice a picture of a guy wearing the "I <3 Canter's" shirt. That's me still being the phantom of the deli, not showing my face. Check out Very cool, unique food blog.

Thanks for reading my best post in months. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did creating it! until next time...Pastrami King out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Phantom of the Deli - The Bay's Dutch Crunch

How goes it pastrami fans? I've been busy - with school and personal growth. Went on a diet for a little bit - gave up the rye bread and soda for a month and lost some weight. I'm hiding my face - a la Phantom of the Opera, until I feel ready to reveal the new me.The pastrami I have been enjoying has been a dinner plate with brown rice and veggies. The spots to get a pastrami plate in the Bay - Tommy's Joynt on Van Ness, Brennan's in Berkeley, and of course the Chicken coop - all locations...all these places hand slice their lovely, smoky pastrami right in front of you!

Did anyone catch the Food Wars episode on pastrami? They took the challenge to New York to put the 2nd Ave Deli vs Katz's Deli to find out which one would win a taste challenge to be deemed the best pastrami in NYC. Check out the teaser on youtube. My good friend and pastrami brother David Sax made a nice cameo as he declared the war between 2nd Ave and Katz's would be an epic battle of two heavyweights. Sax also had a great article on San Francisco Deli food where he proclaimed "The city is on the fringes of deli greatness." Read the article here. It leads into an article from the Jweekly - a SF Bay Area Jewish magazine - with a nice story on the owners of Pearl's kitchen, which is a new food cart that serves corned beef/pastrami. The next event where they will be serving their meats will be June 26th at an event called Outside in #5...there are going to be many food vendors at the event from 6-11 - read about it on SF Weekly or RSVP on Facebook here.

I'd really like to give also give some props to my newest NYC blogger friend Brian Hoffman of Eat This - New York. Brian has been working really hard trying out all the corned beef and pastrami combo sandwiches in New York, while also taking on other foot categories such as pizza...although I have a sneaking suspicion his real true love is the smoked, cured meats. Check out his video where he went to Carnegie Deli and Katz's deli and also his great blog here.

My last topic - Dutch crunch. What is Dutch crunch? Dutch crunch is a type of bread made with sesame seed oil and rice paste that cracks while baking leaving a distinctive markings on the bread. It was first made in Holland, but it was called something different - tijgerbrood and in the UK - tiger's bread. If you're from San Francisco...odds are you've had a sandwich with Dutch crunch or you've at least been offered it as an option. I wonder how Tiger's bread in Holland stacks up to the Dutch crunch here in SF? This bread is selectively available in LA (I originally thought it didn't exist)'s not available in NYC...It's something truly unique to the Bay Area, something we've taken and expanded upon. It's so widely available that deli men ask you in passé "Would you like sourdough or Dutch crunch." and people don't even blink...they don't even think "Hey, that's weird. I've never seen this bread outside of SF." A pastrami on Dutch crunch? Only if you live in the Bay.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

San Francisco Magazine - No Beef with Pastrami

This post starts at the San Francisco International Airport. Have you tried to fly into or out of the Bay Area recently? I think I've been delayed the last four out of five times when dealing with this airport. They blame it on the fog bank...and while I can see their point...I find it completely hilarious that I can fly in or out of Oakland with no problems, while flights at SFO are being delayed down the whole board. I'm not sure there is a fix to this problem, but I have noticed the airport has gone completely downhill since Virgin America made the airport it's hub. Coincidence? I think not. Travel and Leisure ranked SFO as the 7th worst airport when concerning delays...I think it's up in 2010 from my personal experience.

I was planning to catch an 8:20 flight to Los Angeles on the evening of April 2nd - going down South to enjoy the Easter festivities. I showed up without an Ipod or a book - I totally failed on preparing media for my one hour flight - but it's just an hour right? Wrong. My flight was delayed until 10:20...and like I said this is like the fourth time in a row and I'm getting pretty sick of it. I decided to buy some magazines while I enjoyed my 12$ chicken salad sandwich from the Max's Café extension in the airport (yeah I know, but chicken salad is really good too!). I got some regulars...Sports Illustrated and National I was about to check out I passed the new San Francisco Magazine. It came out the day prior - the April issue - and promised to deliver the 40 sandwiches worth waiting in line for in San Francisco. My pastrami senses went up...this magazine normally features the new trendy spots to eat/drink in SF, but I've yet to see an issue dedicated solely to sandwiches.

Before I bought the magazine I thumbed through the pages extensively to see if they included pastrami in their search of the Bay Areas greatest sandwiches. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the page entitled "No Beef with Pastrami". Jan Newberry, writer for SF Mag, started the article with a soliloquy to the Bay Area's pastrami endeavors

"Like bagels and foldable slices of pizza, pastrami is one of those iconic New York foods that former residents of that city complain we don’t have here. The Bay Area still needs a decent bagel, and the pizza question may never be resolved—but when it comes to our four best pastrami sandwiches, former Gothamites can shut their pieholes and eat." That's right folks...we have pastrami sandwiches around here...and they're some of the best around - bar none! Check out the rest of the article, including other sandwiches to die for, here.

There were 5 sandwiches featured in the magazine - 4 pastrami and 1 corned beef - two of which (The Refuge and Wood Tavern) I have already reviewed and loved, but then there were two surprises in the Orson and the Spruce. I am really anticipating trying the house baked rye bread and the Orson and the Spruce pastrami has a smoked gouda with a red cabbage slaw. Towards the top of the article there was mention on the corned beef sandwich at the Sentinel which features either a classic Reuben or a corned beef with gruyère cheese. The Sentinel and the corned beef sandwich were mentioned in the top 100 things to eat in San Francisco before you die at #74 on the list and it is a favorite of people in the Financial District. However, it is rather hard to get to if you don't work around the area as there is no parking and they're only open weekdays till about 2:30 PM.

San Francisco makes some of the most appealing, interesting food in the nation and our pastrami sandwiches are fresh and exciting. The classic NY pastrami on rye is still in minds of the chefs, but they like to push the envelope in creating something uniquely San Francisco, uniquely Californian by adding such ingredients as a home baked rye bread, a special creamy cheese never thought to be compared with pastrami, or simply homemaking your pastrami - like the Refuge. The result is one of the most delicious, unprecedented pastrami scenes in the USA.

If you get to one of these places before I do, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Click the interesting/funny/cool button I put at the bottom if you liked my writing. Don't forget to pick up your issue of San Francisco Magazine as well. Take care and enjoy the nice April weather!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let's go Irish!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! The traditional meal on the Irish holiday is corned beef with cabbage, so it's only natural that they also have excellent pastrami at most of these tray-grabbing cafeteria style pubs. The examination of the Irish meat market in San Francisco has led me to a great revelation - I know where everyone gets their meat comes from. That's right...all the spots I visited buy their corned beef and pastrami from one spot in the city - Robert's Corned Meats.

I've walked by this building every weekday for the last two years - it's actually one block away from my work. One of the largest distributors of pastrami in the Bay Area had been operating under my nose, right by my work in SoMa at Bryant and 9th. I've paid some attention as I've walked by..."Hmm...that's awfully alot of beef brisket." I'd think to myself as I walked by a palette full of meat on my way to get a soda from the Shell station around the corner, but I've never actually had the gall to walk in the place...even though I knew at some point. I recently hooked up with Greg Dixon (the man behind the counter!) on facebook and I had the pleasure of speaking with him on location this past Thursday. It was by far one of the best conversations I've had about pastrami in the Bay Area.

The owner of Robert's Corned Meat is Jim Dixon AKA Corned Beef King of San Francisco (I dare not challenge his title). The Examiner had an article celebrating Robert's Corned Meat 100 year anniversay and Jim Dixon's unique corning method. Some of the success of the corning technique
he attributed to Hetch-Hetchy, the Bay Area's source of crystal clean drinking water. Greg, Jim's son is the man I went to for my pastrami blog answers. The place shovels out 10,000/lbs of meat per month which includes pastrami, corned beef, brisket - all top quality prepackaged meat. They have many different types of pastrami made from either the navel cut, the brisket cut, or the bottom round cut. Traditionally the navel cut is the most flavorful and most desired for pastrami while corned beef is normally made from the brisket "chest" cut which is naturally less fatty (we're talking relatively less), while the bottom round pastrami was a little new to me. Greg really broke it down for me who uses which type of meat at each of the big named Bay Area Irish restaurants and even added a few places I had been wondering about. "Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie's came here looking for uncured navel cuts, but all out stuff is comes precured." I was excited when he mentioned the Lower Haight BBQ shack as I had been wondering how Mr. Kantor does his Wednesday only pastrami sandwiches and reubens. "Memphis Minnie's actually uses braised short ribs and then smokes them until the meat gets so tender it falls off." He even mentioned the Jewish style deli - Miller's East Coast Deli - the premiere pastrami spot in the city - "Miller's get their corned beef from us and in a pinch they'll use some of our NYC style pastrami, but most of the time they get their pastrami from Sy Ginsburg." Sy Ginsburg was featured in the Sax's book, Save the Deli, and supplies much of the greater Midwest with their corned meats. While I was talking with him a customer came in and bought a 5 pound cut of corned beef. Greg gave him some extra corning spices for the meat, which I thought was a nice touch. I left Robert's Corned meat armed with knowledge about the places I already loved - a truly great experience. Now let's get down to eating some pastrami!

The first place I visited was Lefty O' Doul's, which is right down the street from Union Square on Geary Street. The place opened in 1958 and features large wood paneling with pictures of old baseball starts lining the wall. None of them more featured than Joe DiMaggio himself.

Why the Yankee Clipper in San Francisco? Why not Willie Mays or Barroid Bonds? Not alot of people know that Joe D was actually born in Martinez, CA and went to high school in San Francisco. The first professional team he played for was a Pacific Coast League team named the San Francisco Seals, before he was eventually sold to Yankees for a handsome sum of 25,000$. You may have wondered why you've seen his picture around town or why the Giant's mascot is a seal - now you know!

When you walk in you grab a tray and order to the man at the counter who promptly takes out the pastrami and hand slices your pastrami. Lefty O' Doul's uses the Robert's Brand brisket cut pastrami, which has slightly less fat, but is still very flavorful. I got it on rye bread and enjoyed their pastrami with some mustard in the quiet dining room.

The pastrami came with lettuce and tomatoes on the side which i didn't really use. I just put some mustard on it and I was in heaven. As I was kinda spacing out towards the end of my meal I looked straight ahead and there she was - Marilyn Monroe - lit up with bright lights behind a pink curtain in the Seven Year Itch pose that infamously sent Joe DiMaggio into a jealous rage. The parody of the whole situation is something that is so San Francisco - which is somehow Dirty Harry and Jerry Garcia all at the same time.

For my next adventure I go across the Bay to Berkeley to visit one of my old favorites - Brennan's. Brennan's recently opened a new building just adjacent to their old location which stood for about 49 years as they recently celebrated their 50th anniversary in their new building. The new building has bigger televisions, better seats, and is right by next to the train tracks so you can see Amtrak trains passing by on their way to Sacramento. The old building had a certain charm and charisma of an old Irish pub that will never be matched by the new establishment which is brighter and more comfortable overall. I understand the move, but it doesn't mean I can't miss the old building.

The Old Brennan's

The New Brennan's

They're still the same trays!

My buddy Peter and I walked up to the meat cutter - he ordered first getting corned beef with cabbage with gravy all over it. I got a pastrami on rye with some mash potatoes. The meat man proceeded to hand cut our Robert's brand corned beef and Robert's lighter navel cut of pastrami.

The corned beef was juicy and succulent - it was a good night for the corned beef. The pastrami and Brennan's is my favorite of all the Irish spots I go to and this night was no change - top notch! It did cost a bit more money than the Lefty O'Doul's, but it was worth it!

The last place I visited for the Irish part of the blog was Tommy's Joynt at Geary and Van Ness. Tommy's Joynt has been around since 1947 and the first owner was Irish and went by the last name of Harris, but Greg at Robert's corned meat told me the owners are now Jewish. I'm not sure I consider Tommy's Joynt fully Irish - it's more a San Francisco Hofbrau with items on the menu such as grilled chuck steak sandwich, braised lamb shanks, and turkey sloppy joe's. However it was the day of the St. Patrick's day parade and most people were here decked out in green, ready for their famously good corned beef and cabbage.

World Famous Corned Beef

Founder of Tommy's Joynt

I went with three friends and everyone else got corned beef, except for me. I got the pastrami on rye again which was alot like the Lefty O'doul's brisket pastrami, very good for 5.50$ a sandwich. Peter came again and got the cheesecake, which I had a bit of - it was superb.

Pastrami and Coleslaw

Corned Beef on Sourdough - Cheesecake Upper Right

The sandwiches came with an au jus dip, if you wanted to make your pastrami and French dip it would be very easy to order on a french roll and use the au jus at your discretion. At the table there were two house mustard - a mild and a hot. The hot one clears your nasal passages - just a warning!

Geoff at The Refuge

Before I got to my Irish pastrami spots, I took my friend Geoff down to the Refuge in San Carlos. He wanted to try really good pastrami for the first time and I told him I would take him to the best. When he bit down in the perfectly sliced, perfectly smoke pastrami from the Refuge slathered in Russian dressing with a bit of Gulden's mustard he knew what it was all about. "It's so much better than the packaged stuff." Of course it is, the time and care Matt Levine takes into his pastrami is artfully mastered in his chique gastropub in the Peninsula. It's like going to a microbrewery - only for pastrami. Oh did I mention microbrewery - the guy has like 25 Belgian beers on the menu! I chatted with Matt a little bit about my NYC trip and he told me Carnegie under cooks their pastrami a slight bit because they sell so much of it - I couldn't really tell I liked it alot. He was surprised I said my Kat'z sandwich was a bit small, but after reading into it a bit more then next time I'm going to counter service and I'm tipping the guy cutting my meat like 5$ for a big one - and don't forget the pickle!

Toasted #19 - The Refuge

While writing this blog and self proclaiming myself SF Pastrami King, I've come to respect so of the true players in the pastrami game right here in the Bay Area. Jim and Greg Dixon of Robert's Corned Meats, Matt Levine of the Refuge , Robby Morgenstein of Miller's East Coast Deli, and Joe Sattler of Moishe's Pippic are truly deli men of the best kind - I thank you especially for making my pastrami just the way I like it!