Friday, February 19, 2010

Langer's on the Go, Miller's French Dip

I just came back from Southern California - man is the weather great out there. While I was in Chicago I saw a baseball field covered with ice, lifeless. February in Los Angeles, the sun was shining, the BBQ pits were filled with charcoal, and the baseball field was packed with softball players enjoying the rays....what a different world. The East Coast simply hates to hear about it - yes we're relaxing by the pool while you're shoveling snow. Keep on rooting for the Arizona Bay - if you're an LA hater. True LA locals and those that have been introduced to LA in a proper manner know the City of Angels to be a genuine thriving metropolis, with unending recreational possibilities. Some of my favorites things about LA include the beaches, the Lakers, and Langer's.

Pack of Pastrami

I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get any pastrami in on my vacation there. Saturday was the LA food festival, where many food trucks were parked in a row in a small lot in Downtown LA for foodies to enjoy, including Fresser's - a pastrami wielding food truck. My dad and I showed up to the event only to find a huge line - 2 hours just to get in the place...on top of that you only got small samples of the food from each truck - not full We left and tried to head to Langer's, which was also packed. It was the first nice weekend in a long time and people were out - the long wait at Langer's didn't seem appealing. I told my dad "Father's Office would be great too." which is a place that serves gourmet burgers along the lines of a Paragon/Zuni burger in SF. They had no wait and we enjoyed our burgers outside in the sunshine. When I woke up the next morning, I found out my dad had been busy while I was sleeping and picked up a Langer's to go pack! I was familiar with this pack, not because I've seen it, but because I read about it an article by the website Serious Eats - NY.

Heating Instructions

I was happy to find out my dad had procured a whole loaf of Langer's double baked rye bread - it's killer bread. "You know how they give them to you?" my dad asked me. "They put loaves that are almost the size of 2 loaves of bread on a large rack, this is actually about half of a loaf." The bag looked pretty full to me. The Serious Eats article declared "that the source of Langer's superiority (over Katz's) was its double-baked rye". I was surprised by the lack of quality of the bread at some of the NYC Delis I visited. Langer's, Canters, Brent's, Nate n' Al's, all the LA heavy hitters, have heavenly rye bread. My friend Peter said to me "You know what you are almost more than a pastrami expert - you're a bread snob." He's probably right - I loathe the bread at Saul's in Berkeley and I love it at Miller's East Deli. It's a very simple matter of taste, with a crispy crust, this article sums it up pretty well and Save the Deli supports my claim saying "most of the rye bread at delicatessens around America is not worth the effort it takes to chew. Of all the ryes I tasted in my global research into Jewish delicatessens, none were more disappointing than the supposedly legendary New York rye." Many people tell me "Oh I don't like rye bread - it's bland and I don't like the seeds" and so on and so forth. The level of difference between a proper double baked rye and a regular rye is like comparing pastrami to spam. There is a BIG difference. I took the Langer's bread we had left over in the plane back with me and enjoyed it for several days..I think there might be one piece left in the fridge - but it's not what it once was.

Russian Dressing and Tomatoes - Langer's #29

Pastrami Service

#29 W/o Bread

My President's Day Sandwich

We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed our pastrami while humming birds buzzed above our heads. Poor Sue is allergic to gluten and had the pastrami without bread, poor Sue! They tasted pretty darn close to the real Langer's sit down - which is as always excellent, if not the best.

Jessica and I Love Our Cel-ray Sodas

I took some friends to Miller's in SF today for their very first pastrami experience. When I walked in I watched the meat cutter doing his work. He grabbed a big piece of pastrami - like a 5 pound cut - and took a knife to the center of it hand slicing the middle, yellow, fatty part of the pastrami that would ruin the sandwich if put in the slicer. He then put the pastrami into the slicer and made a nice sized pile of pastrami to go on the next sandwich. My friends Jessica and Rose were very excited when they saw the menu. "Do we have to order pastrami?" They asked me. I said the same thing Grandpa Ralph said to me when I was a young guy squirming in the booth at Langer's - "You'd be a fool not to get the pastrami."

Grilled NY Special - The Best Pastrami Sandwich in SF City Limits

Cheese Blintzes and Potato Pancakes

The Elusive Pastrami Dip - IN SF!

Philly Cheesesteak

I started by ordering everyone cel-ray sodas. They came in bottles, which is only in California for some strange reason, everyone else has cans. They actually had been miscapped with caps that read "ginger ale" odd. Everyone liked the cel-ray soda from the start this time around! For appetizers we tried the Cheese blintzes and the Potato Pancakes. The pancakes were out of this world good with sour cream and apple sauce on the side. They were very crispy and had the feel of a human formed pancake. I liked the cheese blintzes, but my guests thought they were a bit too sweet. Perhaps I should have fooled them into eating the derma or kishke without telling them what it is - next guest that comes with me and lets me order for them is in trouble. When my friend Jessica looked at the monstrous menu she noticed they had pastrami French dips. I was looking for this type of sandwich in SF and it was right under my nose - I was always looking away from the French Dip section because it's not really my thing - especially at Miller's. Her pastrami dip was pretty good! When I tried it she reminded me "You have to dip it!" handing the au jus over emphatically. My sandwich was superb as always. The Grilled NY special at Miller's is a true work of art, but I try not to get it for takeout because it tends to fall apart in transit. If you're going to order take out from there - order a regular pastrami sandwich or the Chief (half pastrami, half corned beef) - the bread sticks together better when it hasn't been slathered with coleslaw after being toasted. Jessica ordered her pastrami dip 2 reasons - she loves French dips and she hates rye bread (or at least that's what she said before we sat down). She took the last quarter part of my grilled NY special, the part the had the crispy, grilled Miller's rye bread crust. She was flabbergasted when she tried it "I should have followed your lead." she said after trying the last little corner my sandwich. "So how was that rye bread?" I asked her. She just made a face and said "Well, that was an especially good rye." Robby Morgenstein has told me that he gets his bread from somewhere in New Jersey, so I know there is good rye somewhere on the East Coast. I'll have to ask them specifically where they get their rye bread from next time. I've also read that Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan has legendary Jewish rye bread that you can order online. If you can't make it to LA, you can still get Langer's rye and pastrami overnight. So, if you dislike rye bread, I really urge you to try some of the best before you decide completely against it! I've tried pastrami many ways now, and the best way to have it is with good company, on rye bread, with a Dr. Browns soda of your choice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New York - Veni, Vite, Vici.

Nick and Pastrami King at Katz's Deli

New York - I came, I saw, I conquered. Within a small window of time, I managed to visit Carnegie Deli, Katz's Deli, Mile End, and a RUB (Real Urban BBQ). Other highlights of my trip included the Empire State building, the Natural History Museum, and the Guggenheim - all very cool things I recommend doing in NYC. It was a crazy whirlwind trip - I didn't have one boring moment while I was in the city that never sleeps. Surprisingly, the first and last parts of this blog post being in America's second city - Chicago.

Manny's Midway

Manny's Midway extension - the shining beacon of Concourse A in Midway airport. The first time I saw it was about 2 years ago with my friend Peter on the way to a wedding in Florida. I knew nothing of Manny's before seeing it, but somehow the sign - the whole feel of the place - made me feel like it was the right choice for our lunch. It was a memorable corned beef sandwich and potato pancake - so much so that I insisted that we get it on our way back to the West Coast. I was excited to have a layover at Midway, how many people say that?!? This time I thought I wouldn't have enough time to visit this satellite extension of a Chicago classic - but wouldn't you know it? My flight was delayed an hour and a half - straight Midway style!

Corned Beef on Rye

Potato Pancake

While I was sitting in the dining room, I struck up a nice conversation with a man named Edward enjoying his pastrami sandwich. I went with the corned beef this time, which was excellent, because I know Manny's is famous for their corned beef, but I was looking at Edward's pastrami sandwich excited to try their pastrami the next time around. Edward was originally from New York and told me he liked Katz's over everything and he enjoyed pastrami as often as he could. Turns out he works in LA nowadays and knows the sandwich scene pretty well. "Oh yeah Langer's I been there. Yeah, man I just love places like Manny's and Langer's" Edward confessed to me. I know the feeling.

The plane ride from Midway to LaGuardia seemed longer than the first leg of the journey - I was giddy to get to New York City. For the first night, I had planned to meet up with my buddies Nick and Chris, then we were going to the world famous Carnegie Deli. My friend, Peter, has called the Carnegie the "epitome of all that is deli" and from what I'd seen on the food channel, I knew I was in for a special pastrami sandwich.

Carnegie - Mid-Manhattan January 2010
Nick and I met up with our other friend Chris and my new friend Janinne. Nick was just as excited about the pastrami as I was. "I went here a couple weeks ago for the first time - THE BOMB!" he told me at the same time he proclaimed he didn't even need to look at the menu. Nick, Chris, and I ordered pastrami sandwiches, while Janinne got a monstrous BLT (foolish not to get the pastrami...). When it came time to choose a drink to go with our sandwiches I had everyone surprised/intrigued. "I'll have a cel-ray soda." I said. My buddy Chris asked "What's a cel-ray?" I told him about the celery flavored Dr. Brown's soda and told the waiter that we were all getting cel-rays, four of them please.

As our food was coming out I was busy talking to our neighbors about what part of the beef pastrami is. They were from Russia and when they asked why I knew so much I told them I was the Pastrami King. His response "I bow to you king" Thanks man, who knows I might have a reader or two in Moscow! Our sandwiches came after a short wait, but the soda was the first thing my friends wanted to try. "It tastes like celery" my friend Chris said making a disgusted face "I hate it."

Carnegie Pickles

Carnegie Slaw

They stack BLTs like Pastrami

Carnegie Pastrami Sandwich - The King of New York

That pastrami sandwich above is just as tasty as it is large. The Carnegie pastrami is fatty, spicy and smoky - all the flavors that make pastrami the most sensual of all meats. The bread is a bit lackluster - which I found to be a recurring theme in NYC. Truth be told, I didn't have a decent piece of rye bread the entire time I was in New York. As I was eating my sandwich, pastrami falling out the sides, Chris was reevaluating the cel-ray. "You know with the pastrami....I just don't's kinda refreshing. I think I love it." Haha! He went from hating it to loving it, but I have to agree with him - I don't drink cel-ray all the time, but with pastrami or hot dogs they're complimentary in a strange celery seed extract way. The pastrami was beyond excellent. I have to rate it up there with Langer's and the Refuge for the greatest pastrami in the USA. I left into the Manhattan night a fully satisfied man, although I did think to myself "Langer's has better bread."

Tommy LaSorda knows what's up - Carnegie Deli!

The very next night I reunited with Chris and Nick and joined another friend to the oldest deli in the United States. From my research, the first pastrami on rye was served in NYC sometime around 1885 and Katz's opened in 1888. Throughout the years Katz's has instilled itself not only as a New York institution, but also as a National Monument. From their efforts in WWII (Send a salami to your boy in the army), to the movie When Harry met Sally (I'll have what she's having), and recent Food channel specials (Man Vs Food), just about everyone has heard of Katz's deli.

Katz's Deli on a frigid January Night

1888 - Old School

Where the pastrami lives...

They still send salami to the troops at war today

I walked in and some guy handed us each a weird orange ticket, as I was approaching the bus boy whistled out part of the theme from the Good the Bad and the Ugly. A tumble weed ran through the place....high noon... I'm coming from out west - I'm talking a big game and I have the wood carving from the Mr. Pickle in SF backing me up...but this is the original - a milestone in pastrami blog history. The showdown at Houston and 2nd.

I dare to finish

Matzo ball soup

Split pea soup

Katz's Pastami sandwich

Katz's Mustard is excellent!
Lean and mean pastrami

My pastrami sandwich at Katz's was great, but not the best I've ever had. The pastrami from Katz's comes from empire national and I did a small taste test at Saul's in the East bay for the Save the Deli book signing. I thought the same of it when I tried it there - it's a flavorful cured meat but pretty lean for pastrami, I could see it being very palatable by deli non-regulars. The brine was right on and the mustard was sharp and spicy as well, I just preferred the larger, fattier Carnegie sandwich. We got waiter service, but the next time I think I want to go to the cutter themselves and ask for it juicy like Lucy and tip him well so I get a big fat Katz's pastrami sandwich. The best thing I had there was the pickle, by far the best pickle I ever had was at Katz's deli!

Showdown complete

The next excursion was to the Boreum hill neighborhood, Brooklyn, to try the Mile end deli. The Mile End has been hyped up for the simple fact they are the first deli to serve Canadian smoked meat in the United States. Smoked meat isn't pastrami, it isn't corned beef, it's something different that I've never tried so the excitement was high. I tried calling them around noon on Saturday and the phone just rang to voice mail. I was weary because of what happened in Seattle, but I went on their twitter page and saw the post "Meat will be ready in 10 minutes" at about 11:50 AM. Nick and I jumped on the subway, as we were going there in became increasingly clear that it's impossible to go North/South direction in Brooklyn on the subway - at least it's tough. It took us about 45 minutes to get there and when we showed up the place was packed, it was obvious why they didn't answer the phone - they were swamped!

The Mile End

Packed to the Glass!

Busy Owner

It was about 45 minutes wait for a table so I ordered 3 smoked meat sandwiches and an order of poutine to go.

Smoked Meat Sandwich

Avec poutine

My thoughts on the smoked meat - it was very spicy, almost too spicy - not for the faint of heart. I'm a much bigger pastrami fan as this was a far more spiced and smoked flavor. If you like brisket and corned beef more than pastrami than this one is probably not for you. If you like a deep hearty spicy flavor (almost jerky spicy) then it would be a good one to try out. The poutine was superb, I think I should have ordered two orders of the poutine - so don't skip out. We got our sandwiches around 1:30 and when we checked their status at 3 PM it read "sold out of meat today", so the best way to figure out if they're serving sandwiches is to check their twitter. Considering there was only a three hour window on the Saturday I was there, this is one hot ticket - much hotter than Nets tickets for sure!

RUB BBQ - Chelsea District

My last stop in the Empire State was a small BBQ joint that made their own pastrami. This place was picked out by a big pastrami blog fan - Ellen. We were set to "meat" up there Sunday afternoon around 1 PM to put the pastrami to the test.

Pastrami King meets Pastrami Queen

Ellen is from the Atlantic City area and writes her own reviews for and Chowhound. Many people know her as the pastrami queen. It was truly a pleasure to have lunch with another true pastrami aficionado!

I have to disagree - Pastrami is the true king - Brisket is the baron.

For lunch we ordered two reuben crushers, 1 order of coleslaw, 1 order of burnt ends, and some drinks (Ellen got home made lemonade). I had been trying to adhere to the Jewish style delis rule in New York, avoiding Russian dressing on my pastrami - opting for mustard instead. This time Ellen requested extra Russian dressing on the side and I was happy she did, as this is the true way I like my pastrami!

Small side of Burnt Ends - 4$, great deal!

Reuben Crusher

Small brine, but tasty smoky flavor

The reuben crusher was actually my 2nd favorite sandwich I had in NYC this trip. The flavor of the pastrami was a bit different, but was distinctly different from the BBQ burnt ends which had a traditional BBQ flavor. The Russian dressing and the toasted bread were both very good - I liked the rye bread OK, but nothing was like the double baked rye bread I get in LA. This is a great place for lunch, sorta reminded me of Memphis Minnie's in the Haight of SF, but I liked the reuben at RUB better and they have pastrami everyday, not just Wednesdays (it's OK, Memphis, I still love your BBQ brisket). After the lunch Ellen and I saw the Guggenheim, which I highly recommend, it's short and pleasant (unlike the Met, which is fortress size). Once again thanks for "meating" up with me and keep on commenting on the blog, Ellen!

I left New York on Monday, the 1st of February, after a fun night out till about 3 in the morning. I had a great time while I was in NYC and I would like to return, when it's warmer, so I can check out Central Park. It was just too cold to walk around there this time around! Of course, there is still 2nd Ave Deli, Sarge's Deli, David's brisket house, Ben's Best and a whole bunch of place to try in NYC with legit, quality pastrami. I could only get to a handful this time and I think I did a pretty good job on the East Coast, I wasn't finished yet either. I had a 3 and a half layover in Chicago and I figured to try to swing by the original Manny's by taking the Orange Line from Midway.

Sears Tower from Roosevelt Street bridge

Roosevelt & Michigan
The 2nd coolest thing about midway airport (1st being the Manny's extension) is the train comes straight to the airport. You don't have to take a shuttle bus, like AirBART, you just walk straight to the platform and get on. The Roosevelt stop is about 7 or 8 stops in and it took me just about 30 minutes to get there from Midway, very easy on the public transportation.

Manny's Deli - Chicago

Like I said, it didn't take me very long to get there. From the Roosevelt station I took a bus straight to Jefferson Ave - just down the block from the 1942 Chicago Deli. When I walked in I greeted the old man with the 2 pronged fork who was standing in the register. "Yeah I've seen you in a video before, I write a blog in California. I'm just happy to be here" I told him. He said yeah as he piled on my pastrami on rye bread extra high coupled with their famous potato pancake.

Pile of Pastrami - Manny's

I sat down in the empty, large dining area. There was only one other table full, 2 couples with piled high corned beef sandwiches. I looked at the clock, there was still plenty of time to enjoy my visit to Manny's.

Thinner pastrami, large fatty brine.

Manny's pastrami on rye - Chicago


I liked the pastrami at Manny's a whole lot - more thank I liked the lean Katz's pastrami. You can see from the picture it was thinner, but the edges were laced with a fatty brine. The Chicago classic Manny's up there with all the heavy hitters, even President Barack Obama has visited the corned beef palace just off Roosevelt! As I walked off into the chilly Chicago day I waved at the man behind the counter at Manny's, he was a true deli man.

Barack eats corned beef

I got back to Midway with plenty of time to spare. My flight was delayed 45 minutes - Midway style - but I was happy to read and watch my Ipod movies after the last great lunch of my vacation.

Back to the Bay Area

I came back to the Bay Area and I meant to try Handy's deli on Irving and 19th as I read somewhere on the internet they have a good pastrami sandwich. I walked in and saw Columbus meats in a vacuum pack and looked at the sandwich board - pastrami sandwich 3.99$. I just couldn't do it to myself after coming back from NYC. I walked downed to 9th street and had a burrito instead that day. The only pastrami I've had since then was just last night at the Chick n' coop and that was just to get power for writing the blog entry. The meat cutter at Chick n' Coop knows me pretty well now. He makes me a large pastrami sandwich every time I order it, great guy. Lots of people tell me "You're making me hungry." when I talk to them about pastrami. I do find it hard, nearly impossible to write about the subject matter on an empty stomach.

Quincy's - Market Street SF - Closed

I featured Quincy's market a couple of weeks back. The hole in the wall shop on Market Street that sold quality sandwiches with a surly attitude has Closed with a capital C. I honestly only had two sandwiches there because it was a further walk from Ted's Market from my work, so it kept me from revisiting the place. Apparently the rent went up in the area as I believe the fried chicken place next door closed as well. So the egotistical, blog writer question is do I leave Quincy's on my Yelp list of California pastrami sandwiches or do I remove it because it no longer serves pastrami. Comments please.

I'm visiting my dad in LA this weekend on the account of President's day. I'm not sure if I'll get to any delis while I'm down there. There are still many stones to uncover in the Southland, so I might squeeze one in, will keep you guys posted. As always thank you to everyone who read the blog and please leave comments or e-mail me at