Mediocrity and the Seattle Deli
Fellow Seattleites, are you suffering from the sandwich blues?
I’m not actually talking about the typical Seattle variations of health-conscious “turkey or chicken breast on whole wheat with avocado” variety, or even banh mi, which we do a pretty good job of here. And of course, there is Paseo, which does a delicious interpretation of the Cuban sandwich.
No no no. I’m talking about the one and only New York-style hot deli sandwich.
Is anyone else out there dreaming about an authentic hot and juicy pastrami sandwich with a green pickle? I had a dream about it last night, and now I’m drooling and my stomach is growling just thinking about the pure deliciousness that is Katz’s pastrami sandwich. Those of you who’ve been to Mecca know what I’m talking about. For those of you who haven’t made the moist brisket pilgrimage, Meg Ryan’s character in the famous clip below pretty much sums up what you feel like after your first bite into a Katz’s pastrami sandwich (though it doesn’t look like her character is having one herself.) And if you’ve ever been to Katz’s, you’ll probably recognize the background in this famous scene from When Harry Met Sally!
And while it’s no Katz’s, even a touristy place like the Brooklyn Diner near Carnegie Hall has some pretty decent hot sandwiches, as well as a mind-blowing homemade chicken soup. Who would have thought? The NY diner concept is one that is foreign to us out here in the Pacific NW. When we think of “diner,” we think of Denny’s or IHOP, or we think brunch. But a real New York diner offers so much more than mediocre eggs, pancakes, or a Grand Slam Breakfast. A real NY diner knows how to serve up a proper hot sandwich.
It’s an East Coast thing, but when done right, the hot sandwich is a delicious meal that’s hard to beat. Like a hot Reuben. Has anyone had a decent Reuben in Seattle? The hot sandwich concept is lost to us here, unless you order a grilled cheese, or a hot panini or something. And trust me, I’ve tried many sandwiches here. Most Seattle sandwich makers have no clue because when they ask if you want your sandwich toasted, it means they will assemble the whole sandwich and put the ENTIRE THING into the panini press, mustard, mayo, lettuce and all, which results in a disgusting mess of hot mayonnaise and wilted lettuce over lukewarm turkey. This is why I never ask for my sandwich to be toasted in Seattle, EVER.
I think back to my grad school days in New Haven, and I’m reminded of the many pizza places that also sold hot sandwiches. The hot sandwiches were (for whatever reason) called “grinders” while the cold sandwiches were “subs.” Now, coming from the West Coast, a “grinder” means something altogether different and unpleasant, but the most delicious chicken parm grinder I’ve ever eaten might have been in New Haven. It wasn’t mediocre by any means since I still remember what it tastes like, and it’s been 14 years.
I’m sad to say that the same rule of mediocrity for hot sandwiches here probably goes for BBQ in Seattle. I don’t think most of us from the Pacific NW have ever tasted anything other than mediocre BBQ. But I’m talking about real, authentic Central Texas-style BBQ, with the SAUCE ON THE SIDE. A smoked BBQ brisket should be good enough to stand on it’s own, sauce OPTIONAL! Now THAT’S what I call good BBQ because there’s nothing to hide the inherent quality of the meat. But what do I know… Other than almost being born and growing up Texan, I really don’t know anything about authentic, Central Texas-style BBQ, save for what people who’ve actually tasted the real deal have told me, and from what I’ve read.
But for those of us poor souls who live here, we might still be able to get our fixing of Texas-style smoked brisket here. I mean SBX is legit enough that the BBQ food critic at Texas Monthly launched his new BBQ book with this smoking in the background.
I guess I’m saying that I bet that most Seattle folks (who don’t travel that often to different parts of the country) haven’t really tasted a delicious NY deli-style pastrami sandwich, or really good Texas BBQ. We’ve all generally settled for mediocre because we don’t know any better. It’s like how my generation grew up eating “salads” consisting of iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing, and beets were the gross sour canned variety in the all-you-can-eat salad bar. How was I supposed to know that a real roasted beet salad with blue cheese on top of arugula could be nutritious and actually taste good?
In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to check out these places for some of the best that Seattle has to offer.
If anyone has any good tips on where to get a great hot pastrami sandwich, please let me know!