Monday, May 17, 2010

New York institution: Katz's Deli

Some places become famous and then turn into overpriced tourist traps. Listed in guidebooks, they still pack in the tourists but locals shun them.

Katz's Deli, which has been operating since 1888, is famous and touristy (especially since it was the venue for Meg Ryan's famous scene in When Harry Met Sally - the table where the scene was filmed is marked with a sign) but there's also a large number of locals who visit here too.

When you arrive, you are given a little ticket that you need to hang onto, as you'll need to show it to the cashier when you exit. You can line up at the long cafeteria-style bench, where up to 10 men are kept busy slicing and chopping meat and preparing sandwiches, or you can sit at a table and get wait-service. The room is vast and the decor is minimal: stark white lighting, plain laminated tables and walls adorned with photos of celebrities who have eaten here over the years.

We sat at the wait-service tables and were very quickly served with a complimentary plate of pickled dills and cucumbers. Adam opted for the half-sandwich (pastrami) and soup (split pea), while I chose the Reuben.

The split pea soup arrives quickly. It's a huge bowl - a meal in itself - and is impressively thick and full of flavour. Katz's boasts that its sandwiches are "the largest and best you'll ever try ... we dare you to finish one." It's no idle boast: even a half-serve of the famous pastrami sandwich is almost too much. Two thick slices of fresh rye bread are kept apart by a 10cm stack of thick, juicy pastrami slices. The Reuben is even bigger, piled with corned beef, melted Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.

This is not the world's greatest food but it does not aim to be. It is well-cooked and well-made deli food and it is a New York experience. We enjoyed our meal and it was great fun to eat at a place we felt we knew because of its reputation (and its film cameo). Of course the serving sizes are totally over the top but that is part of the deal and you can always get your leftovers packed into a doggie bag (although I think they taste best when eaten fresh at Katz's). It's definitely worth placing Katz's on your "to do" list.

Katz's Deli
205 East Houston St

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