153. The Pickled Meats of New York City

The Pickled Meats of New York City: There are so many authentic Jewish delis in New York that descriptors like “institution” and “perfection” are applied almost too generously, albeit always with fierce loyalty. Shortly after we arrived in New York, local news outlets began running a story on the relocation of Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue Deli, from its old location in the East Village to a cheaper, name-defying outlet at 33rd and 3rd. If you’re asking directions, that’s pronounced toity toid and toid.

Stories of the 2nd Avenue Deli’s grand reopening heaped on words like “institution,” “famous,” and “cholesterol,” leaving little doubt that we would visit this place. Applying small town logic, we tried to avoid the afternoon rush by going for lunch at 2:30 and were rewarded with a chilly forty five minute wait for a table. The 2nd Avenue Deli is a “famous “”institution” of “cholesterol” that is open twenty four hours a day in a city that is awake and hungry for twenty four hours a day. There’s always a line.

And for good reason. Here is the American version of those bustling little noodle shops we loved and left in Asia, a place that bulges with warmth, frenzy, tables crowded with strangers, hanging meats, new smells, anticipation. Regulars complain that the new location is only half the size of the original, but everyone falls into silent ecstasy when the waitress arrives with piles of latkes, kugel and house-cured pastrami. As promised, it’s the pastrami and corned beef that carry the day, with a flavor and texture that cannot possibly be improved upon, an experience which finds you easily parting with the outrageous sum of $14 per sandwich. And like all places that serve the best pickled beef, it’s an honest kosher joint, the kind that will deny you the Gentile’s delight of melted cheese on meat but will immediately make amends by handing out free bowls of grievenes (crispy fried chicken skin and onions), three kinds of house pickles, fresh cole slaw and even a surprisingly fantastic pickled green tomato.

City people like to moan that delis like this are the last of a dying breed, but it’s hard to imagine it when you’re staring down a pile of corned beef like this, elbow to elbow, flanked by a take-out counter line that’s longer than all of the beef sausage in the window. Still, New Yorkers adore an unjust catastrophe, so someone writes that there aren’t many real Jewish delis left, that unlike Chinese and Mexican restaurants, there’s no swelling new immigrant pool to rely on. “You can’t just call up Poland and say, ‘Send us six Jews,’” they say. If that’s true, if customer draw and retention is the problem, maybe it’s time to remove the “Instant Heart Attack Sandwich” from the menu, a $21 pile of meat that’s bracketed with fried potato latkes instead of bread and would probably render most people unconscious.

More on New York Jewish delis.


  1. artur says:

    :) great idea to leave everything behind and waiting for a lot of adventures ahead. good luck!