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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NYC'S HOUSTON STREET--A GUSTATORY TREAT

Katz's deli
 
Where Harry Met SallyI’ve written a number of times about these great delis in NYC: Carnegie, Stage, Ben’s---but the best by far is Katz’s down on Houston Street.  I am usually there WITHOUT my camera so I couldn't share the ambiance, or lack thereof, of this marvelous New York staple where Harry Met Sally and a Katz's patron ordered “what she had.”  This time I had my camera, and the video clip from the movie is down below.



How famous is Katz’s?  Google just the name, and you will see that the world recognizes this as THE Katz’s.  And it has been that way since 1888. 
Katz's deli
This is not a movie set!

Since WWII, Katz’s has been sending dried salamis to the military, and there is a big sign “Send a salami to your boy in the army.”  Michael’s cousins have done it and so have we. Their website has a link for that special APO/FPO package.
send a salami sign

Years ago when Rob first introduced me to Katz’s, I looked up this restaurant in The Underground Gourmet.  It said its cleanliness was “negligible,” if I remember correctly.  I don’t think the place has been updated ever, and that’s part of the charm.  I can’t say if The Underground Gourmet was right, but I wouldn’t hesitate going in there for a moment.

Some things have changed, however.  At one time the waiters (wait service occurs at the tables along the wall while the rest is get-on-line and order) were the surliest old men you can imagine.  Heaven help you if you brought your own sandwich to one of their tables.  Those guys are gone now, but the new crop retains the surliness.  Ah…tradition.

The walls of Katz’s are lined with photos of the rich and famous who can’t resist the most delicious of deli sandwiches. 

Dried salamis hang in the window, and if you come in at lunchtime, the lines are long.
hanging salami   You get on line, wait your turn, order your sandwich, and the deli-guy cuts off a slice for you, plops it on a plate, and you get to savor that first delicious bite!  With your fingers--and then you lick them!  You can order “lean,” but why ruin the sandwich?  On your sandwich plate are sour and half-sour pickles and pickled tomatoes.  No way will you leave hungry.  Want a Doctor Brown’s soda to go with it?  Think you can handle a heap of fries?  Or a knish?

There's a tip jar on the counter, and we make sure we add to it.  The taste and the sandwich are the extra special stuff you just don't get everywhere in the city.  Want some extra pickles?  Another tomato?  Just ask.

tip jar

Those sandwiches aren’t cheap.  A corned beef sandwich last week was $16.25, and a pastrami was $16.75.  Tongue is even more expensive. 

signs in Katz's deli
How's this price for an egg cream, a New York legendary drink or that lovely chili/pickle combo?
Of course there are other things on the menu, but we have our favorites.  Over the years I’ve had french fries piled a mile high, lots of hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut,  knishes, franks to take home, little salamis to take home, and probably some other items, but for me the big choice is between corned beef and pastrami.  Rob and I sometimes split because this is a majorly tough decision.

But Houston Street should not be defined by Katz’s alone.


Houston Street is actually a treasure trove of ethnic food.  Right down the block is Russ and Daughters, one of the best appetizer stores I’ve ever had the gustatory pleasure to frequent.  For four generations, their herrings, white fish, smoked salmon (known as lox to me), halvah, caviar and much more mean putting a cooler in the car and loading up! New York Magazine named it the best place for bagels and lox. 
 
Here’s the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain’s assessment: "Russ & Daughters occupies that rare and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last — but also the best." 
- Anthony Bourdain


  No surprise.

A few stores down from Russ & Daughters is Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery. 

 Yonah Shimmel KnishThe original Yonah Shimmel sold knishes from his pushcart beginning in 1890, and his store has been in its present location since 1910.  NYC politicians love to have their picture taken at this Lower East Side icon, and we knish connoisseurs just like to go there.  We take them back home with our Katz’s sandwich, some appetizing from Russ etc., and we heat them in the oven.  And smile.

If you want to eat in Yonah Shimmel’s be prepared to travel back in time.  There are a few other things on the menu, but you will grab your utensils from a glass on the table and sit at tables that probably date from the 1940s.  It is a treat to be in there where you can think about the regular people coming in for a warm piece of real comfort food.  The only thing is they warm the knishes in a microwave.  It’s much nicer to warm them in an oven.

The store is so important in the annals of New York City History that it has been the subject of many portraits, one of which hangs in the Museum of the City of New York.

This part of Houston Street is really delicious!  It’s a part of New York many people miss.  Don’t be one of them.
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