Review by ThePlazaQueen, Susu, MaceVindaloo, Rosie, SteakGrrl, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt
The Carnegie Deli is famous for it's over-stuffed sandwiches. It's extolled in movies and song, even in advertising -- New York City's campaign for the 2012 Summer Olympic games points out that a gold medal and a Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich both weigh 1.25 lbs. "The signs are everywhere," they claim.
And it seems that everyone from out of town knows about Carnegie Deli. Even high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver will risk gastronomic distress by imbibing in a huge signature sandwich on camera (during his first Christmas special as The Naked Chef) -- 1.25 pounds of sliced meat! It's just too large to imagine fitting between two slices of rye, no matter how sturdy.
In fact, the walls of this somewhat seedy looking deli -- with long tables where strangers are often seated together to fit everyone in -- is filled with autographed photos of stars and wannabes who have come to the deli and imbibed. There are also plenty of photos of things... like Barney the Dinosaur. (What kind of company is that to keep?) The seats are filled with tourists from out-of-town. How did we know they were tourists? They all wore clothing that they bought thinking it would make them cool ... maybe it does at "home," but here, it just made them look like out-of-town frat boys.
Another way we knew: movie stars and such like to live in a town like New York not only because it has everything they want, but the locals know to leave them alone. They gawk and point sometimes, but they don't press them for autographs or ask them to pose with their kids. Tourists, however, go ga-ga at the mere whiff of a celebrity, no matter how minor. An example -- while we were waiting for our food, a waiter decided to harass the cook, who was sitting incognito with friends and the owners at a table, just chewing the fat, as it were. The waiter loudly declared, "This is the man who made the strawberry cheesecake! Respect him and order a piece!" This was followed by some comments like, "Bernie, I'll pay ya outside for that plug!" Okay, so some people probably ordered the strawberry cheesecake ... but here's the dorky tourist part. First, these two young girls came up to him and begged him to sign their t-shirts, "You're the first star I've seen in New York! I've only been here since last night! It was the best cheesecake, ever!" I swear, one of them was ready to take off her shirt and get down on her knees ... There were soon followed by many other people, who blocked the way of the waiters trying to get us our food, and probably prolonged the cook's lunch hour so tomorrow's cheesecakes were delayed ... at least maybe he got some thrills, cheap and otherwise, out of it.
Okay, we'll talk about the food now ...
They make a HUGE pastrami sandwich, and they make their own pastrami, too. They won't tell you how, and because of health regulations and size limitations, they now make it in a factory in New Jersey. Better for security anyway. A good Jewish pastrami is brined, then rubbed, then slow roasted, then chilled, then steamed before serving. Don't dare ask for mayonnaise, or for "lean meat only." This place is where they take great joy in being rude and snide and humiliating your lack of culture and knowledge and respect for everything decent. And do NOT ask for butter or bacon on that pastrami. Though the Carnegie Deli is not kosher, they are a Jewish Deli. That would be treyf!
Okay, so a few in our group who were not familiar with the kosher laws did commit some touristy treyf acts. One ordered cheese WITH bacon, double treyf! Bacon is pork, eh? And to eat meat WITH dairy?? AND it cost more than a pastrami sandwich, which runs $11 for the big pile of meat. TRIPLE treyf, oy! What a tourist!
Okay, the natives have calmed down a bit ...
As we'd promised at the start of this trip at Junior's Deli, we tried the pickles, pastrami, and the matzoah ball soup. The soup was the best we'd had on this trip -- homemade broth, a fluffy but not too airy matzoah ball, with a big, non-livery kreplach not quite floating in the bowl. (I don't know if anything that large could qualify as "floating" unless it was in a significantly larger body of liquid.) It was everything you'd expect grandma's chicken soup to be, actually, including the salty twang. It's good for you, for crying out loud!
As mentioned before, the pastrami sandwich was huge, to the point that the word "sandwich" lost it's descriptive usefulness. Advice: ask for more bread (the waiter will probably cranky about this one) or decide to bag it up and take it home, but you will need to remove some of the meat, or you will not get that sandwich into your mouth.
The triple treyf sandwich mentioned previously was really good. (Yeah, if it's a Jewish deli, why offer bacon? We told you already, to nail the tourists!) But don't get the hotdog. The sausage part is good enough, but Hebrew National is better ... and the bun is not the soft American style bun you get at the pushcarts on the street. It's rather hard. Was weird, and the kid who ordered it couldn't manage more than a bite.
The waiter brings these old-fashioned take out bags with two sheets of wax paper (who uses wax paper anymore??) so we could wrap up our leftovers to make another two or three sandwiches out of the not-eaten pastrami later. The eater's general policy in such a place is to finish the stuff that won't transport (soup), and to pack up everything else you can't eat. Don't waste the food, or you'll be guilty of QUADRUPLE treyf. We mean it.
By the way, the cheesecake was so good that we annihilated all our slices before a photo could be taken ...
Overall, it was a great New York tourist event, but with much better food! The Carnegie Deli can do, and they cater to those who want or think they can do ... and they provide a great spectacle for everyone else. Quintessential, in it's unique way. Now sing along with the star of stars! "I love you ... you love me ..."
NYC Olympic Committee poster from www.nyc2012.org
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