Save the Deli

East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown on DigLounge

So you might recall that a few weeks back there was a story in the LA Jewish Journal about my declaration, in the book, that LA could be America’s premier deli town.

I also responded to it on Save the Deli:

Take that New York? Not quite. LA deli is great, and New York (not to mention other cities) can learn a lot from it, but Iím never one for one upsmanship and ďbestsĒ. Itís different. In some ways much better. In other ways, not as much. But worth eating at, and checking out, and giving a fair shake. LA has a wealth of deli goodness, from the pastrami at Langerís, to the kishke at Brentís, to the corned beef at Nate ní Alís, to the hush puppy at Pico Kosher. If you live in LA, are going to LA, or have some air miles lying around, get out there and eat. Then write in and tell me what a putz I am.

Well, this is the story that just keeps on giving.

If you want to read the reaction, check out the comments at Serious Eats. They range from: “I may not be throwing a pickle at the screen, but having eaten at many of the delis in both cities, I have to say that most of the delis in LA besides Langer’s are pretty mediocre. On the other hand, New York’s delis are woefully inconsistent.” to “Feh! Take it from this east coast (now west coast) gal who has spent many years pining for the delis in NYC. Los Angeles is mediocre. New York, at its best, is grand. And San Francisco – where I now am – sigh…the less said the better.” to “I live in NY, and Langers is as good as anything in NY and certainly cheaper. So many of NY delis the are culinary equivilent of “I heart NY” t-shirts anyway, which is to say overpriced and uncomfortably stuffed with tourists. Langers on the otherhand doesn’t suffer from too much walk in foot traffic…”

Anyway, now the DigLounge has weighed in, with a long article titled East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown
. It basically pits Langer’s vs. Katz’s.

As the author says:

While I havenít exactly traveled the country, or the expanses of both New Yorkís and LAís deli scene, I have been to both premier pastrami kings on the left and right coast. So for this battle Iíve pitted New Yorkís venerable Katzís Delicatessen against LAís own long standing Langerís Delicatessen and a clear winner has emerged.

I’ll let you read the comparison itself, because it’s quite entertaining, but here’s some points I disagree with.

On Location: Katzís is located in the trendy lower east side neighborhood. You feel fairly confident and secure walking around in the neighborhood, too and from the F train. Yes, these days you can feel fairly confident, compared to Langer’s location, but I assure you, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Up until a decade ago, the area was crawling with addicts, hustlers, and ne’r do wells.

On the Bread: Iím not a fan of rye bread, so we order sourdough. What the shit? Are you seriously comparing these delis and not eating the pastrami on rye? Sorry, that’s like substituting mustard for mayo. He does the same at Langer’s too. For shame!

On Langer’s Pastrami: Their pastrami is also house cured, smoked then steamed. They donít hand slice their pastrami here, so you get a thinner, more uniform cut Actually, both Langer’s and Katz’s get their pastrami cured and smoked by outside purveyors. At Katz’s it was once smoked in-house, but not for years. At Langer’s, they’ve always used RC provisions. And Langer’s is most often hand cut. They just slice the meat slower and more deliberately.

Which does he say is the best? Go find out for yourself.

14 Responses to “East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown on DigLounge”

  1. Matt Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I have corrected my story and in the meantime I stand by my rye bread comments…

    Looking forward to reading your book!

  2. Steve Says:

    Pastrami on a sourdough roll? Give me a break. This guy has no credibility.Does he put ketchup on a hot dog? Thumbs down. Hand cut thicker sliced pastrami,brisket&corned beef wins all the time IMO.

  3. Bob Says:

    I’ve been to both many times and recently revisited Langers.
    While Langers is the best in LA it is not Katz’s. Katz’s wins hands down for quality and ambience.Katz’s is the quintessential Deli in a Deli City. Regarding the choice of bread, Sourdough is not acceptable. Neither is yellow mustard or dill pickles.

  4. Steve Says:

    I was once behind a tourista on line at Hershel’s in the Reading Terminal Market in Philly when he ordered a corned beef on wheat with lettuce,tomato & mayo. The counterman asked if he was sure about that. Unfortunately, he was. Hershel’s, by the way, is very good. They hand cut their meats.

  5. Daniel Says:

    I have a few point of contention with this Pastrami Showdown article on Dig Lounge.

    The first is with inaccuracies in the review. The writer compares the quality of the skin on the pastrami from one restaurant to another. This doesn’t even make any sense. In all my beef eating life I have never seen beef with skin on it. That is because this ain’t no frickin’ chicken, and a cow’s skin is what we people call hide or leather. It doesn’t make it to the table, or the restaurant, but to a clothing store instead. So unless his jacket fell on his plate, I think the author is attempting to describe the outer part of the brisket with it’s glorious layer of fat.

    The second issue I have is with the choice of breads. Quite frankly rye bread is the only respectable choice to be made at delis. Sure there have been exceptions to the rule of an onion bun for an octogenarian or a challah roll for a preschooler but seriously get with the program. What kind of self respecting food reviewer are you? You’re not doing anyone a favour with your special orders and pedestrian palate. I don’t want to know how Daniel Bolud’s burger tastes when served without the foie gras on two crisp pieces of iceberg because you’re on the atkins diet and don’t want to eat it the normal way. Your entire job as a food reviewer is to shut up and eat, at which point you are allowed to talk as much as you want. This is particularly true of the deli world. Looking at the pictures of your sandwiches, not only was it not appetizing, nor authentic, but the look of that sourdough bread almost kicked in my gag reflex. You had turned great pillars of the pastrami world into the next Subway special of the month. Either review the meat in sandwich form on rye or without bread next time. What you have done is blasphemy.

    I am reminded of a time when I was a young boy (no more than 8) eating at Wilensky’s in Montreal. Wilensky’s is famous for their “special”, a glorious combination of salami and bologna hot pressed between a bun with mustard. As a kid I detested mustard, and the thought of it made me sick. I kindly asked the gentleman behind the counter if he would make me a special without mustard. “Without mustard?” he replied. “Son put your hands up on the counter he said”. So I put my hands on the counter, at which point he picked up a chefs knife and said to me: “If you ever ask for no mustard again I will cut your hands off”. Needless to say I would never attempt to augment my order there again, and I still go back to this day. My point is, I was a child and you are a man. Man up and do it the proper way…

  6. dave Says:

    I lived in both L.A. and N.Y. and ate pastrami in both cities many times. Forget location, ambience, service, etc. – I go for the quality of the pastrami sandwich. Katz is excellent and certainly worth repeat visits but Langer’s is far better. I’ve seen them get busy and use the machine to cut the pastrami – that was 20 years ago, but I always ask for hand cut when ordering, just in case. And the rye bread is unique and outstanding, adding to the greatness of the pastrami sandwich. I’m just saying……

  7. Ken Wiener Says:

    Thanks to Daniel for his hilarious comment. Makes the Soup Nazi look friendly.

  8. Matt "God of Pastrami" Levin Says:

    Everyone always knew for years that Los Angeles had better pastrami than the East. I’ll go one step further: the REFUGE, in the Bay Area, is the best pastrami in the U.S. Mr. Sax has not yet tried it, but he will. When he does he will still be correct with respect to the West Coast, but he’ll have to make an amendment. There are lots of dry odds and ends that which would never be served in a REFUGE pastrami sandwich. We make rillettes out of it. Katz’s will serve it, and any dry piece, as long as they can mix it all up so as to “balance out” the sandwich. A good example of the dry pieces can be seen on the cover of the ‘Save the Deli’ book (unfortunately. Maybe you can get it changed and get REFUGE pastrami on there). No offense, it’s just an illustration of our point of reference. If the REFUGE opened up across the street from Katz’s, within one year, Katz’s would go under. No offense intended. Katz’s is still good, just not challenged. I’m still trying trying to get Mr. Sax to have a book signing at the REFUGE. All the zealots will be there in full support of what he’s done.

    As ever,

    Matt

  9. Daniel Says:

    Matt,

    Firstly having myself eaten the book I can attest to the juicyness of the meat on the cover. Secondly I fail to see the logic in your argument that Katz’s is unchallenged. Katz’s is in the city with arguably the most competitive food scene in the world. A city with deli’s a plenty offering competition. At the same time you are the Bay Area where delis are modest in number(?). Then we could get into a debate on Jewish demographics and a statistical analysis, but that’s clearly too much time to be investing in this rant. Just saying…. Thanks for your enthusiasm!

    Daniel

  10. Sy Ginsberg Says:

    I love reading the back-and-forth about pastrami.We need that to keep our delis alive. Keep it up folks. Ditto on brother Daniel’s comments. You are definitely one of the coolest Canadians I know.

  11. Mike Says:

    Matt “God of Pastrami” Levin is indeed in the pantheon of pastrami. He may very well make good on his threat to open up REFUGE east across the street from Katz’s. And not a moment too soon in my view. At least he’ll get a steady supply of real NY rye bread then.

  12. Daniel Young Says:

    The only pretext I can see for skipping rye bread would be to make this a fairer comparison between two great pastramis. Coming out of the gate, Langer’s exceptional rye, from Bea’s Bakery, gives its sandwich a three-length lead over Katz’s. And even on the best of days, no deli can close that big a gap on a pastrami like Langer’s.

  13. Jonathan Says:

    I’ve had pastrami on rye at both, and the meat was exceptional and comprable. Langer’s however wins my heart on this one because of the #19.

    They take that exceptional pastrami layer it on rye cut at an angle, so as to maximize the crustiness, top it with cole slaw, russian dressing, and a slice of swiss. I don’t even like cole slaw or russian dressing. It doesn’t matter.

    Langer’s pickles, however, are often dissapointingly new.

  14. Wszebor Says:

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