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New York City's best pastrami sandwiches

Stashed in: New York, Sandwich!, Meat!

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The state of the art in pastrami, from the home city of great pastrami. Seems like there's a little bit of a generation gap developing between old-school lovers of juicy pastrami ("I never say fatty") and the young chefs whose offerings seem a bit too lean and stiff and possibly served with mayo and ketchup.

Sweet stash!

Did you realize Katz's is in its fifth generation?

Hugely overstuffed with rolled bundles or crisscross layerings of garnet-red fat-laced beef encrusted with peppercorns, the pastrami sandwich represents food porn at its most lascivious. It affords sensuous pleasure, first with its tantalizing smoky, pungent aroma, then with its contrasting textures as it is gnawed, bitten, and chewed through: the moist, slightly tangy sour rye bread with its fresh-air scent of caraway contrasting with the tender, yielding beef accented by yellow or brown deli mustard. Dijon need not apply. Magically most finish this monumental creation, while the more abstemious share or take a half home. “Not only do most eat the entire sandwich,” reports Jake Dell, the fifth-generation owner of Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St.;, “but real New Yorkers—not tourists—usually have a hot dog on the side, often while waiting for the sandwich to be made at the self-service counter.”

For an inspiring pastrami or corned beef sandwich, every element has to be perfect. First, of course, is the meat. Both should be served hot and are usually available in three or four varying degrees of fattiness. Those who order extra lean or lean are kidding themselves, as the meat lacks the supple melting quality that releases flavor. In the words of the late Leo Steiner, one of the guiding hands behind the Carnegie Deli: “If you want lean, order turkey.” The best cuts are classified as regular or fatty, and I usually order a combination of those two. “But don’t say ‘fatty!’” admonishes Dell. “Say ‘juicy!’ ” (Alright, juicy.) For the most-rewarding mouthfuls, the meat should be hand-sliced as machines tend to smooth out the texture, and the slick result lacks the proper, slightly uneven bite. Katz’s hand-slices, as does Langer’s, while Pastrami Queen and Carnegie will do so if requested—so request it.

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