Entries in Katz's Delicatessen (3)


Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz’s Delicatessen is one of the seminal NYC restaurants that everyone is supposed to try. Then again, many New Yorkers haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty either, and it has been here longer than Katz’s—just barely.

Over the Christmas holiday, we finally rectified that omission. Deciding what to order wasn’t a challenge. The menu sprawls a bit—perhaps more than it should—but the pastrami sandwich is the signature item. In a one-star review for the Times in 2007, Frank Bruni reported that the pastrami out-sells the corned beef two-to-one; they make 1,000 of them a day.

The setting is bare-bones, and the cavernous space is far from charming. As you enter, you’re handed a little blue ticket. We aren’t sure what it is for, but a sign warns that if you lose it, you’ll pay an extra $50.

You can get in line for counter service, or get table service. Fans will probably tell me that if you haven’t been to the counter, you haven’t been to Katz’s. We chose table service anyway.

Bruni warned that table service is “not that efficient,” and he was right. A waitress plopped down a plate of pickles soon after we arrived, but we sat quite a while before she took our order, and quite a while longer for our drinks to arrive. I warned my son, “Drink your root beer slowly, because we might not be able to get another one.”

When the food finally came, the staff never seemed to know who had ordered what, or even which table to serve.

That pastrami sandwich almost makes up for it. At $14.95, they’re not giving them away, but you get an ample portion of thickly cut, fatty, smoky beef. There is really nothing more to it than that. A side of fries is extra ($4.50), though they do them very well. A Reuben ($15.75) wasn’t quite as impressive: the bread needed to be toasted, or at least warmer.

Although Katz’s is a Jewish deli, we didn’t notice any employees who appeared to be Jewish. The décor consists of many photos of famous customers, and signs that have been around since before most of those employees were born. One of these (mentioning that Katz’s caters parties) still carries a telephone number that pre-dates all-digit dialing.

We were fortunate to visit when there was no line, and were seated immediately. Good thing, too. This is not the most pleasant place to consume an expensive pastrami sandwich, but at least it is a good sandwich. I will be in no rush for the next one.

Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston Street at Ludlow Street, Lower East Side)


The Payoff: Katz's Delicatessen

Today, Frank Bruni awards one star to Katz’s Delicatessen. This is Frank at his best, reviewing the casual, fatty-greasy food he likes:

Let’s do something we don’t do often enough. Let’s take the occasion of the most recent rumors, which swirled just a few weeks ago, to pause and appreciate Katz’s. To take its measure in a format that grants it the kind of recognition typically reserved for restaurants more proper but no more deserving.

To revel in its pastrami sandwich, one of the best in the land, with an eye-popping stack of brined beef that’s juicy, smoky, rapturous. To glory in the intricate ritual of the place: the taking of a ticket at the door; the lining-up in front of one of the servers who carves that beef by hand; the tasting of the thick, ridged slices the server gives us as the sandwich is being built; the nodding when we’re asked if we want pickles, because of course we want pickles.

There’s part of us that says Katz’s deserves its place in the pantheon of starred restaurants, and Frank was exactly the guy to do it. Another part of us wonders why Frank is so bored with the high-end restaurants he’s supposed to be reviewing. Today makes 3 out of the last 5 Bruni reviews that really should have been “$25 & Under” restaurants. But if Frank is going to slum it, Katz’s was at least a worthy subject.

We were nervous about disagreeing with Eater once again, given that we’ve been hammered the last three times we did it. But this week, virtue was rewarded. We win $4 on our imaginary $1 bet at 4–1 odds. Eater, who had predicted zero stars for Katz’s, loses $1.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $35.00   $31.67
Gain/Loss –$1.00   +$4.00
Total $34.00   $35.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 13–3   12–4

Rolling the Dice: Katz's Delicatessen

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews a New York institution, Katz’s Delicatessen. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 2-1 √√
One Star:
Two Stars: 8-1
Three Stars: 75-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: I guess Frank is formally auditioning for the $25-and-under beat. For the second week in a row, he’s reviewing a place that probably doesn’t even belong in the fine dining critic’s territory. Eater thinks Bruni will award zero stars, which would be a harsh verdict indeed. What are we to make of this?

In the first place, zero-star reviews are fairly uncommon—as they should be—and we’re only four weeks removed from Frank’s last bagel, Max Brenner.

In the second place, this is clearly not a review that’s demanding to get written. Katz’s was founded in 1888, and as far as I know, has never been given a rated review. Frank normally doesn’t pick review targets out of nowhere, only to trash them. Actually, when Frank chooses the review target—as he clearly has done here—it is usually a rave. (Max Brenner was the exception to that rule.)

In the third place, Frank is a confirmed carnivore, and he clearly prefers casual food to formality and luxury. When Frank is reviewing one of his favored cuisines, a positive review is usually the outcome.

And lastly, does Frank Bruni really have the balls to give the goose-egg to a revered institution like Katz’s?

The Bet: Lately, we’ve been getting clobbered whenever we bet against the oddsmakers. Nevertheless, we once again think Eater’s got this one wrong. We predict that Frank Bruni will award one star to Katz’s Deli.