Time is cyclical. It is a pendulum with an unceasing swing, a snake eating its tail. Young men become old men who teach young men to be old men. Nothing changes. All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
And thank goodness, because that means that Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day gets to happen over and over again!
After being #blessed by Katz's juicy meats last year, we branched out to another of New York's classic Jewish delis this year, 2nd Avenue Delicatessen. Ilya and I pulled together a team of 8 brave adventurers (here's your shout out, Michelle) to go out into the New York cold and glean meat from its harsh conditions.
And what a meaty harvest we did glean. After a brief walk up Lexington to 33rd (fun fact: 2nd Ave Deli is actually on 33rd between 2nd and Lexington), we filed into the cozy deli/diner mashup and took a seat at the back. A note on this place's interior: my initial reaction was that this felt more like a diner than a deli, mostly because in my mind delis don't have tables and waiters.
But 2nd Ave Deli's square footage was half table service, and I realized just how accustomed to bodegas, not "delis", I've become in New York. This was a proper deli, not a place where you can buy 7 eggs, a Spader-Man toy, and a lotto ticket on one receipt. Perhaps diners have borrowed from this old-school, no-bullshit aesthetic, or perhaps bodegas simply stripped all the nonessentials away in favor of efficiency.
Whatever the reason, I appreciated the Old New York charm of the place. Long and narrow, more like a wide hallway than a Midtown lunch spot, 2nd Ave's walls and ceilings drip with gilded history. I can imagine a pre-syndication Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David writing jokes over hot matzo ball soup and cold ginger ale here.
As we were seated, we were served a heaping plate of crunchy pickles and a small cole slaw dish to whet our appetites. We didn't need long with our menus — this was, after all, Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day — and put in orders for pastrami and matzo balls quickly. The pickles were delicious, though the cole slaw was a bit... eh. Not bad, just eh. (Don't worry, there's more, better cole slaw later!) But I didn't have much time to mull over the cole slaw, as our pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soups, and fries came out startlingly quickly.
The pastrami was delicious, thin cut, and a good kind of dry, and the rye bread stood up to the pastrami well without falling apart. I went in expecting an absurdly large amount of pastrami for one person (something my previous experience at NY Jewish delis primed me for), but I actually found the serving size very appropriate. The mustard was excellent — nothing mind-blowing, but it did one thing and it did it extremely well. I ordered a side of cole slaw without realizing it was actually a mile-high tower of cole slaw fit to feed a family of 11 barbarians, but it was a great slaw! And you guys know how I feel about cole slaw. It leaned more into the mayonnaise than the vinegar, but was still only mildly creamy. With the crunchy cabbage and carrots, it came together nicely.
While this pastrami was excellent, I have to say I personally prefer Katz's thicker, juicier cut. However, 2nd Ave's rye bread handled the meat much better than its downtown rival's. If you're looking for a thinner cut of pastrami on a neater, cleaner sandwich, 2nd Ave is the way to go. The service is excellent and it is FAR less touristy than its rival downtown — though similarly overpriced (literally $20 for a sandwich).
While I can't justify $20 for any sandwich outside of a special occasion, hot pastrami sandwiches are a fun treat once a year and 2nd Ave's pastrami game is on point. Good pickles, great cole slaw, and fantastic service help bring this classic New York deli to an 8.5 out of 10. Wouldn't recommend it as a daily lunch spot (unless you're Warren Buffet), but a delightful yearly treat.