854 7th Ave
New York, NY
While we can’t deny there a lot of good eats in Vancouver, we do not have one thing: an iconic restaurant – that one place we people would fly here and should/have to try (whether the food is actually good or bad, that is a different story). This is despite author Jennifer 8. Lee considered Zen Chinese Cuisine to have the best Chinese food outside of China. But, then again, with restaurants almost semi-constantly changing ownership/management/head chefs (best example being that of Lumiere and Rob Feenie), not to mention closing down – including the before mentioned Zen, when it fails the test of time, well, you simply can’t create those roots for the restaurant to grasp and grow. Then again, Vancouver is a relatively young city so we can give it a bit of leeway. That is not necessarily the case for New York City, where it has developed landmark restaurants, where locals still go in masses and tourists are curious about, which is my third criteria in my culinary adventure in New York City: a visit to a semi-iconic restaurant. And the “chosen” one was Carnegie Deli.
Finding it wasn’t a big problem: If you are in Time Square, just keep on walking north (OK, north east) on 7th Avenue until you find a line similar to the one above. Yup, that was the queue I had to deal with! I am sure impatient people *cough*Sherman*cough* will say “no way” and go somewhere else. However, after travelling this far, I won’t be denied and queued up just like everybody else under an annoying drizzle… (did I mention a Nor’Easter????).
Would saying “it was packed” be an understatement?
Now, as all of you know, when I visit a restaurant, I usually go by myself. This has its problems, i.e., you can only eat that much, hence, order that much. But, on this trip, it also showed a big plus when you are on your own: I managed to skip the whole line. What happen is that, to create a fast turnaround of tables, if a two seater opens, they look for single diners. In my case, I was paired with a business traveller (who also happened to be working in New Jersey!) and given a really tight table. And you thought only Chinese restaurants did that! However, we both were up for it; specially because that meant I will be able to take picture of more food. Feel free to call it a new low!
Since Carnegie Deli is close to Time Square and its share of Broadway theatres, it is a pretty safe assumption the actors and actresses might drop by for an after hours bite. Since I am sure the owners will ask for autographs, what better way to display these that plaster the walls with the autographed pictures! As for myself, I did not really care about that, because… I was there for the food! And what type of food? How about this???
Now, I spanned this one on my way out. When the cooks noticed I was snapping pictures of their counters, they suggested me snap of picture of this. I guess they are used to people like me bringing out their cameras…
After being seated (and knowing we were different covers), we were brought these. In general, I am not a fan of pickles. Sure, I will have them if served; just that I am not those who have a jar of pickles in the fridge whenever I am craving them. Still, I tried both (hey, I am doing it for this post purposes!) and out of the two, I preferred the greener ones as it wasn’t as brined and less acidic.
Before going to what I ordered, let’s take a quick look at what the table next to mine ordered. Of course, they were giving me funny looks until I explained to them I was from Vancouver (and that was when I found out my other dining companion was from New Zealand!). But, back to their orders: to the bottom left, partially covered is a matzah ball soup; in the middle right, pickled tomatoes (WT???) and then there is a chicken sandwich (?). The one that drew odd reactions was the pickled tomatoes, mainly due to its unappetizing colour.
My unexpected companion had this sandwich. I don’t recall the exact name and her thought was quite good. However, she barely managed to eat half of it. I wonder if she would have me a dent to this…
Yes, if you have heard of deli sandwiches stacked high, here is such sandwich. In the case of Carnegie Deli, this mammoth sandwich is known as the Woody Allen, name after the actor/director after this deli was used as location for a movie. While I did not have a ruler to measure its height, I used my iPhone for reference purposes… Hint, the iPhone is ~115 mm (~4.5 inches) high.
At first I wasn’t sure what I should do with this. I mean, there was no way in hell I would be able to bite into this sandwich “as is”! Instead, I took it apart by grabbing some of the corned beef/pastrami, dip it into a bit of mustard and eat it, almost as if it was a steak. The a bit of the rye bread, another bite of the pickle; then repeat. By the time I finished half the sandwich, I would have thrown the towel. But, then there was that something that wanted me to continue. When my neighbour notice that, he was encouraging me to continue; which is odd because he ordered the exact same sandwich and hasn’t even eaten half of it when he gave up…
I must mention that I enjoyed the first quarter of the sandwich, as the meats were quite good. It was warm and still juicy (of course, not dripping juicy). The mustard was able to impart its unique pungent taste to contrast the meats. I had a bit of problem transitioning to the pastrami (which was the bottom layer) from the corned beef (the top layer) though. Partially due to fatigue of my tastebuds, I did not “detect” any hint of smokiness associated to this meat. Had you made it all corned beef, I would have noticed…
Since it was lunch and did not want to doggie bag the left over, I tried to tackle the second half. Above, the aftermath… Reality is, I could have finished it; however, I did not want to over-exert myself in this crazy attempt, specially when it was starting to become a hassle rather than something I would enjoy… If they had added something else to contrast the flavours…
In the end, I had to ask myself: Was it worth it? At $18 (an additional $3 per diner if you order it to share), it looks like a really good deal, specially if you choose to share it. Of course, it was partially foolish for me to try to finish it but that is, again, another story… However, after trying it, I can’t help to wonder: was it THAT good? The truth is while enjoyable, it wasn’t that good. To me it ended up being one of those “been there done that” type experience. Had I been a local, the answer would have been on the same lines. After all, they are not the only deli in town and there are others that could easily challenge them in terms of taste, not to mention the need of queue up for the food. To best paraphrase it, when I was in the line, a woman (yet another tourist) looked at the long line and asked if we were nuts for waiting outside with such weather for a sandwich. I think I agree with that statement. Come once to try it; after that… Well, just go when you don’t have to queue up.