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!


Photon Bombs said...

OH MAN I AM GOING TO GO GET PASTRAMI FOR LUNCH RIGHT NOW. I was thinking of reining it in for some cheap lunches this week, but now I'm way to excited.

Peter said...

I want my corned beef sandwich again. SOOOOO HUNGRY! Nice post, Ted!

Ted said...

If you have facebook - check this out!/photo.php?pid=3583669&id=299094803333

April 17th, 2010 was proclaimed Robert's Corned Meat day by Gavin Newsom!

SynergyZine said...

godDAMN i get hungry each time I read this thing! i think we may have a new michael bauer of the pastrami world on our hands here... great writing to boot, really.... yum

Ellen said...

That Toasted #19 from the REFUGE
looks SO good, Teddy!

Great, meaty conversation you had with that GREG DIXON from Roberts
Corned Meats...he really does seem to know his stuff...

You celebrated St. Patrick Day in the proper Teddy way !! making your pastrami / corned beef rounds with Peter...

Good job, yet again !

yausser said...

It's 5:48 a.m. on St. Pat's Day, and your column made my mouth water. I'm getting ready to wear my green checked shirt and green tie and khakis to work, riding in on the bike.
You know, I've started yearning for a Langer's. The cap you wore down here started a daily reminder. I see that cap, and I think of the Russian dressing, the pickles, hand cut pastrami, and the juicy tomatoes on a perfect rye bread, and somehow, someway, let others drink the green beer, and I'll take a celery tonic.

Geoff said...

Ted, let me know when you're fiending for The Refuge. I'll totally go again. Their pastrami sandwich is indescribably bomb diggity.

Pastrami King said...

Next time I go to The Refuge it's a pastrami chopped salad...

Peter said...

ted you better not leave me out on the next refuge run, I've never been!!