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!
Having only ever lived in Seattle and Utah while in the US, this is a post about a secretly yummy food that I can only dream about eating one day…
But, I did gorge myself on Beijing Duck here in Hong Kong on Friday evening. Devine.
Ah!… Beijing Duck with crispy skin… Yummy… Lucky you! I guess I’m craving certain foods I can’t get hold of these days. I’ll add Beijing Duck to the list as well! 🙂 If you’re ever in NYC, you MUST try Katz’s on the Lower East Side. Hope you’re having a good summer so far!
“moist brisket pilgrimage”…? Is this the food porn that I’ve been hearing so much about, but have never witnessed?
Seattle also leaves something to be desired in the area of bagels and Italian, in my opinion. Good luck in your hot pastrami search.
Thanks for reading, Susan! I’ll be sure to let everyone know where I find a decent hot pastrami in this city. And agree with you, the bagels aren’t that great either. The quest continues…
The place for NYC style bagels in Seattle is bagel oasis on 65th – http://seattlebageloasis.com/ – I never regret going out of my way to get a dozen.
Oooo, yes, Bagel Oasis in Ravenna is quite good!
Wow, I didn’t know that I was missing out on so much. And I’m feeling like we made some poor food choices on our trip to NYC a few years back!
I’m sure you guys did just fine, Nancy! I guess I’m just hankering for a decent hot pastrami! But then again, I did grow up thinking that real pastrami consisted of that super artificial thin slice of Buddig deli meat labelled as “pastrami” on the package, so imagine my surprise when I bit into my first real and authentic hot pastrami. There are just some things we can’t seem to get right here in Seattle, and the hot sandwich is one.
I think our next blogger meetup venue has been decided – it must be somewhere the possibility of a decent NYC style sandwich.
As you astutely point out, when you live somewhere like Seattle that has so few people who know what something is supposed to be like, the bar is very low for anyone from that region. As a former new yorker, it’s pizza, bagels and NYC-style Chinese food (which has little bearing on actual food found in China of course :). Sadly the northwest is the land where people get excited about Jimmy Johns and Quiznos, both of which serve items that do not qualify as sandwiches as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve been to Goldberg’s in Factoria and it’s ok – http://www.goldbergsdeli.com/ – it’s close enough to make me not reget going, but nothing there is in the same class as the local Jewish deli’s I had back in Queens.
Salumi’s is excellent but you won’t find Pastrami there, nor a good rye to put it on.
I’ve had some people tell me to check out http://www.stopskysdelicatessen.com/ on Mercer Island but I haven’t been there yet.
Thanks for all the great recommendations, Scott! I’ve also heard that that Stopsky’s on Mercer Island is good, so I’ll have to check it out as well. Agree that our next blogger’s meet up might include a spot where you can get a good NYC-style hot sandwich!! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
Best Pastrami in Seattle? Tat’s Delicatessen on 2nd and Yessler. Great corned beef, too. They make their own.
Also VERY GOOD, and as authentic as you may get, RainShadowMeat’s corned beef on Rye (Occidental Ave.). Call ahead to be sure they’ve got some on hand.
But for the best BBQ? Yeah, that’s a hard one. I’ve got a few favorites, but the best Brisket, Pulled Pork, and Ribs can only be had from my backyard.
Thank you for stopping by, and for your great tips! Will definitely check out Tat’s and RainShadowMeat. Really appreciate folks in Seattle who know a great spot for sandwiches, and who are willing to share their knowledge. There’s definitely a market here for good brisket, corned beef, and good BBQ don’t you think?
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