The New York delicatessen is as much a part of the Big Apple as the Yankees or the Garden, Central Park or the Statue of Liberty. Everyone has their neighborhood favorite and will protect their turf as fervently as Fort McHenry did against the British and as honorably as Clarence Darrow defended John Scopes.
These restaurants are not casual eateries; they are institutions. They are familiar, therefore comfortable, and their pulling effects attract locals and tourists alike to their counters like iron filings to a magnet.
Sports venues are also recognizing the pull that “comfort” food can have on its fans and its per caps. While in New York, I ventured through “Taste of the City”, a food court area located behind center field at Citi Field that features local favorites of New Yorkers, such as Blue Smoke and my personal favorite Shake Shack. In my opinion, Shake Shack rivals In-N-Out Burger; blasphemous maybe, but don’t knock it until you try it. But I digress.
At Madison Square Garden, as part of its $1 billion Transformation project, local food offerings were a significant focal point for upgrading the food and beverage (and overall) experience. Restaurant products from some of New York’s greatest chefs, such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, are now featured at MSG, as are popular traditions, such as the world-famous Carnegie Deli.
So in New York, knowing the legend of the local delicatessen, I hopped on the subway down to Houston Street (pronounced “House-ton”; who knew?) on the Lower East Side to Katz’s Delicatessen, where Harry met Sally and I met matzo ball soup.
I’d never been to Katz’s before, but I felt comfortable. I “knew” this place, much like I imagine Knicks and Rangers fans feel at the Garden. Both kindle the same hospitality magic. Also similar to MSG and its new Garden 366 exhibition, Katz’s Delicatessen celebrates its history with the museum on its walls. A photo gallery showcases a who’s who of entertainment and cultural icons who have dined in the deli, including sports stars, movie stars, entertainers, foreign dignitaries, and the four U.S. Presidents who have enjoyed a large bite to eat (there are no small bites at Katz’s).
Katz’s is probably most famous for the scene in When Harry Met Sally, where the title characters argue over a man’s ability to decipher when a woman fakes an orgasm. To prove her point that a man cannot, Sally belts out a convincing performance. I’ll have what she’s having.
So I ordered the orgasmic pastrami and matzo ball soup. Any why not? Pastrami was the new black in 2013. The Big Hot Pastrami Melt even found its way onto Subway’s menu last year. But to be clear, I can think of no greater insult than comparing Katz’s to the Subway across the street. The similarities end with the zip code they share. At Katz’s, the pastrami is cured for 30 days, and Katz’s is the only place in New York City that still carves all of its pastrami (and corned beef) by hand.
Let me just say that I can’t even be sure that this pastrami was actually pastrami, because it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before, certainly far exceeding any pastrami I’d ever put in my mouth previously. It seemed to melt in my mouth like butter. I will defend it against all enemies.
As part of this journal, I want to share my experiences in and out of the sports venues I visit. I want to help you taste the clam chowder in New England, the pastrami on rye in New York, the cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and the crab cakes in Maryland. Good food is such a vital part of successful travel.
And now it seems food experiences in and out of a sports venue are one in the same.
Next Stop: Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls
Last Stop: TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins and Celtics
Jared's Journal Archives