In New York City, Katz’s Deli has become almost as much of an iconic landmark as the Statue of Liberty. It opened on the Lower East Side in 1888 with a hand-painted sign simply stating, “We are famous for the best sandwich in town.” Katz’s has stuck to its bold claim for over a century, standing as the oldest delicatessen in Manhattan today. Everything outside Katz’s has changed since its humble beginnings, but not much has inside, where the carvers’ old-world attitude towards hearty grub pays homage to its immigrant past.
To revel in Katz’s elaborate ritual, take a ticket at the entrance that has a hefty warning: a $50 lost ticket fee. Once you walk in, you’ll notice a lively, brightly lit, spacious room with vintage neon signs. The visually chaotic walls are filled with old photographs of big names that have frequented Katz’s during its 125-year history, including Bill Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Danny DeVito.
Then there are the hanging signs.One prompts you to “senda salami to your boy in the Army” – something that people actually do, and have done since WWII when this quirky postal service was first established. Another sign reading “When Hally met Sally” notes Katz’s place in American movie history, and inspires weekly re-enactments of that famous scene. Then again, the pastrami’s so good that you won’t need to fake it.
Instead of going for table service, queue up cafeteria-style at the lengthy deli counter – there are several lines for each carver, adding to the chaotic atmosphere. Order what is easily the best item on the menu – pastrami on rye with crisp dill pickles – and watch as your server hand-carves the meat in front of you and (if you tip), lets you taste the juicy thick slices while building your sandwich.
Make sure you try a New York Egg Cream, root beer or Dr. Brown’s cream soda to top off the meal. Once you grab your overstuffed pastrami with a good pound of tender, smoky beef, take a seat and revel in the fact that you’re in a true New York institution.
Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 East Houston Street, New York City, 10002. +1 212-254-2246
Words by Stephanie Cavagnaro.
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