One question that I hear over and over again from people planning to visit NY is “where should I go eat for a real NY experience?” The first answer that comes to mind is “Katz’s Deli“. If you live in NY and haven’t been yet, I’m not sure you’re a NY-er. There’s only one valid excuse from not going to Katz’s, and that would be that you’re a vegetarian – ’cause it ain’t much vegetable there other than french fries and pickles.
It opened in 1888 and I doubt it changed much. They still throw sawdust on the old floors when it’s wet outside. They still have fluorescent lights, an old water fountain at the back of the main room, the “send a salami to your boy in the army” program. I suspect that some of the plates are original, too. (kidding, they look like they’re from the 60’s or so).
There are many tempting things on the old menu, and all of them good to excellent, but do yourself a favor and get the pastrami. At least for your first visit. You might think you like corned beef or tongue or liver better – you’re wrong. You like pastrami. It’s still the best in the city, no matter what you hear about a couple of other famous places. And it still has the NY attitude – not nasty at all, they’re actually funny and nice if you’re a nice guy or gal yourself, but a sort of gruffness that’s only natural when they serve thousands of people a day, every day. Anyway, remember at all times that you’re there for the pastrami, and nothing else matters.
Make your visit as pleasant as possible and remember a couple of things.
1 – Upon entry you’ll pass a security guard that will hand you a small ticket that you’re supposed to give the guy at the counter after you got your grub. He’ll hand it back to you with the amount you owe written on it. Don’t loose that ticket or you’ll pay your meal a flat $50. If you didn’t misplaced it, you’ll hand it to the cashier by the exit and pay what it says.
2 – At the counter, ask one of the guys for “pastrami, fatty, on rye”. It’s not fatty at all (see pictures), just juicier. With mustard, and pickles of your choice, sour or half-sour.
The fries are unremarkable, but if you can’t do without – passable.
There is a row of tables along the wall that have waiter service, but I find that part of the experience is interacting with the guys at the counter. They cut your order on the spot, there are no back kitchen elves that sliced the pastrami 2 hours ago. They might give you a taste of the piece they’re cutting from if they like you. And if you like them, tip a buck or two per sandwich. There’s no other tip to leave in the establishment (unless you’ll sit at the waiter tables, of course).
As you probably noticed, it’s a fairly large sandwich. It’s also about $15. If you’re a light eater, share one or take home a doggie bag. Slim chances you’ll have leftovers but I’ve seen it happen.
Oh, and remember the famous orgasm scene from When Harry met Sally? Right, it happened at Katz’s. There’s even a sign above their table if you want to not only have what she was having, but also sit in her chair (which I doubt has changed since, either).