Culinary delights of the Lower East Side: Katz’s

The most famous culinary landmark of New York’s Lower East Side is Katz’s Delicatessen.  No doubt their estimable pastrami contributes to this, but the biggest factor was the deli’s appearance in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” (see below).

Katz’s, at 205 E. Houston Street, opened in 1888—it may be New York’s oldest restaurant.  While the Lower East Side is now only marginally Jewish, with most of my kinsmen having fled to Scarsdale or “uptown,” it retains several of the establishments that made it a culinary Mecca for all New Yorkers.  My nephew, Steven, just moved to New York to study film at Columbia. On my recent swing through the east coast, I decided to give the lad a taste of his heritage.  We had only one day, and several establishments to visit.  This made for a real pig-out, but all of those places are within a few blocks.

No trip to the Lower East is complete without a sandwich at Katz’s.  It’s unprepossessing from the outside:

But what gustatory treats lie within! You get a ticket at the door and present it at the counter.  To get a sandwich (pastrami is de rigeur) you go one-on-one with a counterman—the guy who slices the brisket.  You should leave a buck in the cup for a better sandwich, and by all means get it on rye bread, with the meat fatty. (You can ask for “lean” if you’re either watching the fat or you’re one of those misguided folks who regard food as medicine, but I wouldn’t recommend it.)  If you ask nicely they’ll give you a sample before making your sandwich.

Note the prices: they are HIGH (click twice to make the photos huge).  I actually prefer the pastrami at the Carnegie Deli uptown (their sandwiches are larger, too), but the old-time atmosphere at Katz’s is unmatchable:

Sadly, my nephew is a neophyte and insisted on getting corned beef (which is also good, but not as stratospheric as the pastrami); and since we were on an all-day nosh, we split a sandwich so I had to have that too.

My nephew nomming half a sandwich.  Can you spot his second culinary mistake? He’s having a beer.  All the cognoscenti know that there is only one thing suitable for drinking with pastrami or corned beef: Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic (you can see my own can at lower right).  It’s a celery-flavored soda whose sweetness and vegetal flavor perfectly complement the salted meat.  For some reason Steven thought the elixir ghastly, and too sweet.  (I still have hopes for him, though.)

Here’s a photo that Katz’s used for advertising during World War II.  Lucky was the Jewish soldier who got a salami in the foxhole!  (No pun intended.)  I love this photo because it really tweaks the strings of my DNA.  How much more Jewish can you get?

But, as I said above, what really made Katz’s famous among the goyim was its appearance in a crucial scene of “When Harry Met Sally,” for the deli is where the shiksa Sally (played by Meg Ryan) demonstrated to Harry (played by Billy Crystal) how a woman can fake an orgasm.  Although the movie wasn’t great, this scene certainly is.  Be sure to watch all the way to the end.  The appearance of Katz’s here is surely no accident: both the director, Rob Reiner, and the screenwriter, Nora Ephron, are landsmen.

Note that the shiksa is having turkey—and disassembles her sandwich—while Harry has corned beef.

For more on Katz’s, and some mouth-watering photos, read the Roadfood review.

46 Comments

  1. Wowbagger
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Of course it’s also mentioned in the Cubs song (made more famous by the They Might Be Giants cover version) New York City, where the singer lists off the great places/things in NYC:
    Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, Co-op City, Katz’s and Tiffany’s;
    Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, The Empire State where Dylan lived;
    Coney Island and Times Square; Rockefeller Centre, wish I was there.

  2. Sigmund
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I’ll have what he’s having!
    Hmmmm, corned beef sandwiches and beer!
    (Celery juice soda?)

  3. Dominic
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Boys & beer eh? Plus you get less beer in the US than over here (Over There to you!).

    Send a salami – I love that picture – looks like they were using them as shells!

    • Dominic
      Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      I mean less in your ‘pint’!
      0.83267384

  4. Kingasaurus
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    What a coincidence, Jerry! I haven’t been to NYC in ten years, but I was in Manhattan Saturday and made my first trip to Katz’s.

    Weird that you blog about it within 24 hours.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I’d go for a plate of brisket.

  6. Hamilton Jacobi
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Lucky was the Jewish soldier who got a salami in the foxhole!

    No wonder there are no atheists in foxholes, if that’s what it means. I guess I have a lot to learn about Yiddish slang.

  7. Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    What?! “When Harry Met Sally” was a GREAT movie! You take that back! (But frankly, I consider that scene overrated.)

  8. Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Now for the competition: http://tangbro1.blogspot.com/2008/12/carnegie-deli-12192008.html

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      You call that a sandwich?

      Now THIS is a sandwich!

      (from Harold’s, in Edison NJ)

      • Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Oy!

      • scribe999
        Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        Geez, you seem to be going on and on about sandwiches from places I’ve lived around (2 blocks from Katz’s, and recently 15 minutes from Harold’s…depending on traffic). Stop it! I’m starving this morning!

  9. JBlilie
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    You are so mean putting this up! I am dying for that pastrami now!!! (Great bit though and what an uncle you are! Lucky young man is Steven!)

  10. JBlilie
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Jerry: Next time you are in Seattle, try Salumi. Wonderful sandwiches with their own cured meats. The line up starts before opening at 11am.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I’d definitely order a celery soda if I had a chance. A snow cone made with the syrup could be interesting, too.

    In my years in exile in Jersey, there was a Puerto Rican place in New Brunswick that had fantastic chicken with beans, rice & fried (green!) plantain, and with it the drink to get was a soda that tasted like bubble gum. Anyone know the name of such soda?

  12. Max
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Peter Luger Steak House is older than Katz’s. It’s in Brooklyn though, right across the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s expensive, cash-only, and reservations can be hard to get, but it’s the best steak you’ll ever have. (Johnny Carson called it the best meal he’s ever eaten, or something like that.) And some of the waiters there seem like they’ve been there since it opened.

    http://www.peterluger.com/

  13. Dan McPeek
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Salami in the foxhole: That’s hilarious.
    I’m going to be thinking that line all day, and laughing every time. I might pass on any “visualization, tho (okay, maybe not).

  14. Sven DiMilo
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Hey, I thought Katz was in Nashville.

    You forgot one important instruction on placing your order: do not ask them to add cheese.

    • Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Who would do such a thing?!

      • Kevin
        Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Goyim from the midwest, of course.

        Until I moved to the East Coast, religious prohibitions such as not mixing meat with milk were absent from my cultural vocabulary.

        I suspect that the vast majority of tourists who wander into Katz’s would be stunned to learn just how many dietary rules are broken by the bacon cheeseburger.

        • Dominic
          Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          god hates bacon?

  15. Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    One day I’d like to follow Jerry around on his gastronomical educational tours.

    But then, I’d probably weigh at least 300 lbs soon afterwards. (I love food!)

    • Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      “All the cognoscenti know that there is only one thing suitable for drinking with pastrami or corned beef: Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic (you can see my own can at lower right).”

      Er, maybe you should let me pick the drinks. I would have gone with the amber ale, too.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Most interesting – seems the stuff hasn’t been officially been called a tonic in many decades, at least, and it’s also sometimes called Jewish champagne:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cel-Ray

  16. Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t help noticing Steven’s T-shirt from the Ava Gardner museum in NC.
    That’s about the only thing worth visiting in Smithfield.

    I, too, take issue with your characterization of the movie.
    It’s neat to see the real place shown in the movie.

  17. Kirth Gersen
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Whenever I’m in the Montrose district in Houston, I make it a point to eat at Katz’s Deli there (owned/operated by a grandson of the New York Katzes). In my opinion, it’s the closest thing in Texas to a real Jewish delicatessin — WAY better than Kenny & Ziggy’s.

    • Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      59 Diner FTW!

      (or any of the Pappasito’s)

  18. Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “Send a salami to your boy in the army” is a neat little rhyme, of course, if you say it in Noo Yawk.

    Send a salami
    to ya boy in the ami

    • Dominic
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      …only Sal’ Army has a slightly sinister religio/militaristic emphasis!

  19. JBlilie
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Did Steven go to the Ava Gardner museum or was that another gift from his excellent uncle?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      He was there, of course. And he regards Ava (and I can’t disagree here) as the most beautiful movie star of all time.

      • Dominic
        Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        You’ve a gardener?

  20. spurge
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    If anyone is ever in Connecticut Rein’s New York Style Deli is wonderful.

    It is just of I-84 in Vernon Rockville.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Been to Rein’s several times, I was there Sunday, on the way back from Princeton. Rein’s is very good but not great. The liverwurst and chopped liver are wonderful. I had a whole whitefish (minus the head).

      • spurge
        Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        I guess I really need to get to Katz’s next time I am in the city.

  21. stvs
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Best deli name: S&S (Inman Sq)
    Worst film shiksa: Speilberg’s wife in Raiders 2

  22. Posted October 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    My weird brain already confuses you with Anthony Bourdain, and this does not help.

  23. Andrew
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I always thought ‘shiksa’ was a pejorative and racist term.

  24. Bernard J. Ortcutt
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m a goy, but I have to say that Cel-Ray is delicious and it is the perfect drink for pastrami or corned beef. Hmm…corned beef….drool…..

  25. MosesZD
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    $16 for a Ruben? I get the feeling this is like Canter’s Deli in LA. Way over-priced and cruising on its reputation more than its product. Although Canter’s isn’t nearly as over-priced as Katz’s, it’s merely just vastly over-rated.

    • Max
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      I’ve been to Canters and I’ve been to Katz’s, Carnegie, etc. There’s no comparison. Canters is about as close as I found in LA, and I do enjoy it, but if the NY delis are a 10, Canters is about a 6 or 7 (depending on what you get).

  26. Dave
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Sorry but, pastrami?? You have got to be kidding! Get your sorry a** up to Montreal and go to Schwartz’s for a smoked meat sandwich! Now we’re talkin’. (My Canadian pride showing itself.)

  27. bad Jim
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Forgive this left coaster, but the salami I commonly encounter is typically Italian.

    Half my heritage is Scandinavian, and I’m old enough to remember the tradition of making sausages (korv) at home and mailing them to distant family members. The recipes tended to favor pork and include potatoes as filler — in other words, poor peoples’ food, Swedish soul food, insanely salty — and are probably now nowhere available.

    This is just a roundabout way of explaining why, whenever I read of some gathering with an excess of male participation described as a “sausage fest”, I find myself salivating.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      This is starting to sound like an episode of “‘allo ‘allo”!

  28. cnocspeireag
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Look at that corned beef! The corned beef I’ve been offered in the UK was processed and almost certainly from a can. We’re so used to it that I doubt anyone would try to sell a quality product here using the name.
    We tend to get ripped off badly over here,so the Katz prices don’t look too bad at all by comparison.
    Btw, ‘army’ and ‘salami’ rhyme quite well in standard UK English.

  29. oldfuzz
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Right on! I hope this publicity doesn’t damage them as did the hype on the Stage Deli in the sixties.


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