Friday, 1 July 2011

NY Must Eat: Deli Sandwich

Carnegie Deli is a New York institution known for its giant sandwiches

Let's face it -- there aren't any good places for deli sandwiches in Hong Kong. If there are please tell me as I miss eating decent sandwiches -- not the ones with massive slices of tasteless bread with two slices of deli meat which people seem to think are sandwiches.

So to help me solve my craving, my good friend took me to a New York institution -- Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue at 55th Street. It was founded in 1937 and Carnegie smokes and cures its own meats.

The walls are covered with framed celebrity photos
The restaurant has its own system of getting diners from the street to the table. When you first arrive, the hostess isn't interested in hearing how many people are in your party -- she wants you to wait in line outside, along the eatery's walls. It's only when you're in the front of the line does she want to know. Then you're allowed into the restaurant, one group at a time. That's because there's a line for take-out and she doesn't want to create more congestion than necessary. We first wait near the door, then we're allowed to move up to the front of the dining area.

We stood near a guy in his late 50s wearing a black Carnegie polo shirt, sitting on his own, eating a salad. My friend inquired about it and he said it was a special salad made just for him. Why? Because he's MBD -- married to the boss's daughter.

The dining room looked so small I wondered where the waitress was going to seat us when she took a right turn into an inner sanctum that was just as filled with framed autographed photographs of celebrities and entertainers, some well known or not as familiar.

Two kinds of pickles to munch on, sour and very sour
Above was a TV screen with a continuous loop of the deli's appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

We had to sit along a long row of tables that were not separated because they packed in more people with us -- it was communal eating. The menu had a slew of sandwiches to choose from but we pretty much knew what we wanted to eat. The menu also warns that sharing a sandwich means an extra $3 which is miserly considering we did order other dishes than the sandwiches themselves.

The waiter shamed us into admitting we were sharing when he noted there were three of us and yet we only ordered two sandwiches, one pastrami and one corned beef. Did I mention the waiters on the whole are surly?

While we waited for our food to arrive we were given four pickles, two very green as they had not been soaked in brine long, and two that were bona fide pickles. I started sampling the green one and like the fresh crispness of them, while the latter elicited a sour grimace -- very good.

Matzo ball soup in chicken broth sprinkled with parsley
Then the matzo ball soup in chicken broth arrived with two giant balls that were only wading in the shallow soup bowl. I copied my friend by cutting them up into smaller chunks with my spoon before eating them with the broth. While the matzo ball didn't have much taste, it was good with the chicken broth, which had an intense yellow colour.

Both of us couldn't finish the soup completely as our towering sandwiches arrived. It's just as well my friend and I shared the pastrami sandwich -- there's no way we could have finished a whole one each. The slices of smoked meat were piled high between two relatively flimsy slices of bread. She tried to take a bite out of the sandwich and as my mouth wasn't very big I decided to eat a deconstructed sandwich instead -- eating the meat layer by layer and in the end managed to finish everything between the bread.

Half of a pastrami sandwich waiting to be eaten
We also had a side order of fries that were ribbed and not salted which we appreciated.

After all that we were too full for any dessert even though Carnegie Deli is also well known for its cheesecake.

In the end the bill came to around $73 for three, not including tip. Now I can cross of Carnegie Deli off my to-do list.

Carnegie Deli
854 7th Avenue at 55th Street
New York, NY
212 757 2245

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