Saturday, October 01, 2011

Katz's Delicatessen (New York, NY)

Katz's Deli
205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
Sat 10/01/2011, 11:10a-11:55a

Katz's Deli Exterior

The deli may be the quintessential New York eatery, and Katz's the quintessential deli. After visiting the more "touristy" Carnegie Delicatessen on my last trip out here, I made it a point to sample the locals' favorite.

Unfortunately, the exact history of the kosher-style deli is hazy, and may be lost to time. Everyone agrees that Katz's was founded in 1888 at the corner of Houston and Ludlow streets in Manhattan's Lower East Side, but by whom? Some accounts point toward a Russian-Jewish immigrant family, while others say the founders were German. Most references seem to indicate that the restaurant was started by the Eisland brothers, who may have been German or Russian depending on your source. There may have also been another set of founders, the Pragev family, involved. Or, Katz's may have been established by the Lustig family, who sold it to the German-born Eisland brothers in 1902. At this point, there is some agreement that the eatery was sold in 1916 to Benny (or Willy) and Harry Katz, who were either German or Belarusian (however, some accounts state that the Eislands sold out after only a year of business). They changed the named to Katz's, and moved the restaurant across Ludlow street to its current location (they would also double the size of the space in 1950 or 1952).

In the early 1920's, the Tarowsky family (ostensibly from Minsk, the capital of Belarus) bought in to the partnership and the two families would own Katz's for nearly seven decades. In the intervening period, the restaurant firmly established itself as a beacon for preserving the flavors of the Old World, and became the go-to place for millions of immigrants in New York. Toward the 1980's, the Katz's and the Tarowsky's were looking to sell, and in 1988, 100 years after the deli's founding, Lower East Side native Fred Austin, his wife Juli, and her brother Alan Dell bought the place (though Harry's youngest brother David Tarowsky would continue to work there after the sale, even serving Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin). Joined by Executive Chef and partner Kenneth Kohn, they've been running Katz's ever since.

Katz's Deli Interior
Things are rather cavernous inside Katz's 355-seater space. The ordering system here is a bit peculiar: As you enter the restaurant, you'll be handed a ticket by a door attendant. Take this ticket to the various stations along the wall (e.g. one for hot dogs, one for sandwiches, one for drinks, etc.) and place your orders; the person making the food will then mark the cost of the item(s) on the ticket. Then, find a seat and chow down, though take note that certain tables are reserved for waiter service (an alternative to the aforementioned rigmarole). Once you're done, see the cashier on the way out and pay your bill (cash only, annoyingly). If multiple people's orders are on a single ticket, the blank ones are still collected and serve as your pass out of the restaurant. Recently, Katz's has instituted a lost ticket fee; if you decide to misplace your ticket, there's an additional $50 fee--so watch out.

Katz's Pastrami
Katz's Pastrami [$15.75]
Katz's best selling item is the pastrami on rye, so the sandwich was naturally a must-order. The restaurant prides itself on its traditional curing process, in which the meat spends a whole month in corning solution and brine before being spiced, smoked, steamed, and hand-carved à la minute. The end result of all this was pretty spectacular, with the pastrami itself showing off a lusher, more luxurious character than what I'm used to. It was positively delicious, with a delightful bovine relish perfectly countered by the incorporation of smoke and spice. The meat easily stood alone, but it went beautifully with the tart, tangy, custom-made mustard as well.

Katz's Deli Pickles
Along with the pastrami sammie came two varieties of Katz's housemade pickles. I preferred the smaller ones, called half-sours, which had a fresher, cucumber-y tang to them (versus the more traditional tartness of the others) due to a shorter brining period.

Frankfurter [$3.35]
Gourmet magazine once deemed Katz's all-beef hot dog the best in all of New York. Perhaps it is, though I found it roughly on par with the franks that I tasted at Papaya King and Gray's Papaya. That being said, it was still quite tasty, with a lovely snap to the casing and great piquant counterpoints to the meat in the form of mustard and sauerkraut.

New York Egg Cream
New York Egg Cream [$3.75]
To drink, I couldn't have anything but an egg cream, which interestingly enough, contains neither egg nor cream. A uniquely New York invention from the 1890's, what is does have going for it is vanilla (or chocolate) syrup, milk, and seltzer. This all made for an effervescent, surprisingly refreshing drink, with a subtle lactic tang and a nice bit of vanilla sweetness.

Reuben [$16.55]
We ended our meal with Katz's Reuben sandwich, a hot mess of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing all served on rye. Note how much more beef there is vis-à-vis the pastrami; I suspect that may have been because I tipped the counter guy $1 when ordering it--just a tip. In any case, the sandwich was all that you'd expect: savory, falling-apart tender meat and cheese, all moderated by the tangy 'kraut and Russian. Classic flavors, expertly executed--yum.

I came in to Katz's expecting the quintessential deli experience, and that's basically what I got. The food was pretty much spot on, and the pastrami probably the best that I've had. If you haven't been, you really do need to try this place out at least once. Now I just need to get my ass out to Stage!


Blogger JG said...

Katz's is a close #2 for me compared to Langers in downtown LA. Have you been? I searched and didn't see an entry.

Sunday, October 16, 2011 9:05:00 PM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

hey kevin, i used to frequent that place when i used to live in ny.

but since i've come back home, i found that langer's on alvardo, at least to me, makes a better pastrami sandie. have u been?

Monday, October 17, 2011 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger JustinM said...

I love Katz's and stop by almost every time I'm in NYC... but I'll take Langer's over it any day.

Monday, October 17, 2011 9:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Joanna P said...

I <3 Langer's! But definitely have to try Katz's when I'm in NYC to compare.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 12:42:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

JG: Search and you shall not find, as I haven't made it out there yet.

Daniel: See response above. Sounds like I need to try it though!

Justin: That seems to be the consensus around these parts, though Langer's is a different style isn't it (with the slaw and whatnot)?

Joanne: Everybody seems to *heart* Langer's. Katz's is one of those iconic places that you should try if you're ever in New York.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 2:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Max said...

I love that a bunch of non jewish people are making pronouncements about pastrami.

Langers is ok. I lived in NYC about half my life, now in LA. General consensus amongst the people in my life is Katz's is the best, however the way they cut their meat is an acquired taste. Yes you did gather correctly that if you tip the counter men they give you more meat on your sandwich.

Lastly how does one go to Katz and not order a salami? Their motto forever has been "Send a Salami To Your Boy in The Army" (said with appropiate NYC Jewish Lower East Side accent). Tisk Tisk.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Lieberman said...

I don't see how the poster above knows whether anyone is Jewish from an anonymous comment on a blog. (OK, so Daniel S. Kim is probably NOT a M.O.T., but still...)

Langer's scratches my pastrami itch without my having to fly back East and take the F train. I don't put cole slaw on my pastrami sandwich—takeh averah! And no, I don't usually get salami at Katz's either, just pastrami or maybe chopped liver.

Next time you're in New York, Kevin, you need to go to Guss's Pickles, walking distance from Katz's, and have a half-sour straight out of the barrel... maybe after a stop at Russ and Daughters where you can begin to identify with those of us who grew up with access to real appetizing and now don't really have an option other than mail order.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 2:42:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Max, Dave, seems like you guys are very passionate about your pastrami! So when I make it up to Langer's, I guess I should get a straight pastrami on rye then, with none of that coleslaw or Russian dressing business.

Thanks for the rec for Russ & Daughters, but it looks like Guss' Pickles has left the LES and moved to Brooklyn.

And about that salami, I was tempted, but I didn't really have a place for it in my luggage. I figured I could just order it online from the Katz's web site. ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an FYI... The Eisland brothers were Polish.

(And family is still lovin the deli)

Saturday, July 19, 2014 2:09:00 PM  

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