Thursday, 25 July 2013

New York Series - Katz's Deli

As an Australian wandering around New York, there are so many iconic things to do and see that you almost become immune to them.  American culture has dominated our TV and our consciousness for a long time and pretty much everywhere you look, there is something that you have heard about or seen on TV.  One of the most iconic, both for international tourists and American tourists coming to New York, is Katz's Deli.  Most people simply know Katz's deli from that scene in 'When Harry Met Sally' (see it here).  This place is even iconic for New Yorkers!

SC and I first came across Katz's deli by accident when were were wandering around the Lower East Side, just getting a feel for the area by walking around the streets (we also came across WD50 the same way).  We had already eaten lunch on that day, so after taking a few photos we moved on, determined to come back another day to check it out.  One thing that we noticed when we wandered by was the large queue of people waiting to get in, which seems to be almost standard for any well known place of interest in New York.

The Lower East Side is a neighbourhood located in the southeastern part of New York and was traditionally an immigrant, working class neighbourhood that began to go through a rapid gentrification which started in the mid 2000's.  More recently, it has become home to upscale boutiques and hip restaurants, in particular along the well known Clinton Street 'restaurant row'.  The Lower East Side is just across East Houston Street from the East Village and is now considered one of the most dynamic and sought after neighbourhoods in Manhattan.

We planned our visit to Katz's deli with military precision, we first visited the 9/11 memorial, then walked from Downtown to the Lower East Side, which ended up being about a 40 minute walk.  We worked out the timing so we would get to Katz's Deli about 11:30am, which we were sure would beat the lunchtime rush.  Thankfully our plan worked perfectly, we avoided a queue and also were able to get a table (which was great as our feet were a bit sore from the long walk).

I'm not sure what I expected when we were inside the restaurant, but it's actually massive inside, with the deli section taking up one whole wall of the restaurant and then space for heaps of seating.  There are booths around the outside and then tables and chairs crammed in the middle.  The way you are served is interesting also, you are given two blue 'tickets' which must be retained and left on the table, then the tickets are used for paying and exiting the restaurant.  More on that later.

Katz deli has been around for a long time, it was established in 1888 and was originally called the Iceland Brothers, after the name of the two brothers that established the deli.  In 1903 Willie Katz bought into the deli and the name was changed to Iceland and Katz deli.  Willy's cousin Benny joined him and the cousins bought out the Iceland brothers in 1910, and Katz's Delicatessen was born.

The menu at Katz's deli is surprisingly massive, with lots of different options available.  I must admit to only knowing Katz's deli for their reputation for their Pastrami on Rye, but looking over the menu there were many other options to choose from.  I didn't know it at the time of ordering my drink, but I had inadvertently ordered a New York classic when I ordered a vanilla New York Egg Cream.  I was actually after a vanilla milk shake but was pretty happy that I got the Egg Cream instead.  An Egg Cream is pretty much soda water, milk and vanilla and is almost always considered a fountain drink (as in soda fountain).  It was quite different from anything I drunk before, but it was quite delicious.

While we were waiting for our orders, we were given a plate of pickled vegetables, including green tomato, gherkins and cucumber.  I'm not sure what it is, but most of the places and bars we've visited in NYC have pickled vegetables as an option.  I had a little bit of the cucumber and the green tomato, but didn't go for the gherkin (too much like pickles from a burger).

After a short wait my lunch order was presented.  There was only one reason why I wanted to go to Katz's deli and that was to check out their famous pastrami on rye.  I had heard stories of how great these were and how large the servings were but I was not prepared for how thick the sandwich delivered was.  It must have been four inches thick and had half a cow worth of meat!  I have had a bit of pastrami in Australia before and it's always been 'cold cut' meat and not very nice.  The pastrami from Katz's deli was so different it was like having a different meat.  It was very sweet and succulent, but there was none of the bitter from the herbs crusting the meat that I had experienced before.  It was a huge sandwich and I thought I would not eat most of it, but I got through the whole lot, it was that good!

SC made a bit of a tactical error when she ordered her sandwich and went for the salami sandwich on rye.  I am sure you have had a salami sandwich when you were growing up and the few slices of the 'mystery meat' were always enough to be satisfying.  Well the salami on rye at Katz's was just as thick as the pastrami on rye, it was just too much salami.  SC ate as much as she could of it and enjoyed what she ate, but could not even get through half of the sandwich.  I think she would have done better with the corned beef on rye or the brisket sandwiches.

Unfortunately, because the sandwiches were so big, we didn't have room left for dessert, which was a shame, but we knew our limits of eating at one sitting.

We also timed our lunch to perfection.  Within about 15 minutes of being seated, the place started to fill up quickly and by the time we left, there was pretty much no seating left.  The service at Katz's was pretty good and the staff were all pretty friendly (apart from the final staff member taking our cash, who was a bit rude).

There is a heap of memorabilia around the walls of Katz's deli, collected over a hundred years, which included some of the awards and recognition that they have received, but mainly pictures of the stars who had come to Katz's deli and then had their photo taken with one of the Katz family members.  Pretty much every wall is crammed packed with pictures and knick-knacks of interest from the area.

I can understand why Katz's deli is so popular and how it has stood the test of time in a very competitive food market in New York.  The food is quite unique and special and there is plenty of it.  It has that cool and iconic vibe as soon as you step through the doors.  It's also the most unique way of paying for a meal I have encountered.  The wait staff writes the total amount due on the 'blue ticket' which must be given to the cashier (the rude one), otherwise you can't get out!  How weird is that!  Anyway, Katz's deli is a must for anyone visiting New York and the East Village....  It's an experience I am happy we had.


Over the years, so many celebrities have visited, there is no room left on the walls
Heaps of seating available at 11:30am
You can also get take away at Katz's deli.  You just order at the counter and pay on the way out
Two big sandwiches!
After we left, people started streaming into the deli
A lovely piece of street art out the front -  a chalk outline

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon


  1. OMG - how big are those sandwiches?!?!?! Very very cool. I absolutely love pickled veggies, so I would eat the entire plate, even the pickle - YUM! I'm a little envious that you've had the chance to travel to NY and eat at Katz's. It's on my bucket list (along with 50 bijillion other things)!

    1. Yeah, it was pretty cool. I've been able to do a heap of things that were on my bucket list here too. The pastrami was awsm!

    2. Wow - that sandwich is making my taste buds tingle - how delicious does that look!!!

    3. Thanks Tizzie, yeah it was delicious. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would :)


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