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.
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 now....my 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$). I was skeptical when I bought it, but I have to give it a thumbs up. The pastrami wasn't the best...but it was acceptable (slightly iridescent though, like it had been packed for awhile), but the pickles, the Russian dressing, and the rye flavored pita wrap seemed to capture the essence of a deli sandwich. I was surprised and I recommend picking one up next time you're in Trader Joe's....try it out and comment on how you liked it. I'm curious to know if other people thought it was a fair representation of a pastrami sandwich in "wrap" form.
Back to the Bay
The Sentinel in San Francisco's FiDi is infamous for their corned beef and gruyere sandwich. It's so indulgent and decadent that it made the top 100 things to eat in SF before you die - several years in a row (#74 in 2010). It also featured in the San Francisco Magazine's opinionated guide to sandwiches - in which Jan Newberry, editor of San Francisco Magazine, describes her love of the classic Reuben sandwich (not the corned beef with gruyere). I tried the corned beef on ciabatta with gruyere so I could mark that one off my list in SF - although next time I think I'm getting the Reuben.
That is definitely unlike any other corned beef sandwich I've had in my life. The corned beef on ciabatta was very good. It was Robert's corned beef with a light coleslaw with an amazing Gruyere cheese on some pretty awesome, fluffy bread. I thought the gruyere cheese overpowered the corned beef taste a bit, which is why I will be trying a Reuben next time.
I saved my favorite of the new bunch for last. The Deli Board in SoMa San Francisco was brought to my attention by yelp some months ago. The ordering rules are a bit strange as you have to be in biking distance from 7th and Harrison in San Francisco between the hours of 11-2 Monday through Friday and the order has to be at least 20$ - 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!
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 like....here 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 YelpRead 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.