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Let me be reiterative: I’m an advocate and a strong believer in traveling with a well studied plan.
That said, it was totally predictable that for my first visit to NYC in company of my wife, son and younger daughter, I’ve searched in advance for the best options to taste the iconic pastrami sandwich.
If you have tried any similar search before, you’ll know that almost every site announcing The “number” Best “thing” in “whatever the place” ends giving you a similar list of choices, with only a slightly different order of preference.
I found long time ago that this kind of standardised info is usually not good enough.
So I kept searching for wider, better references
which led me to build a preliminary list with a fistful of places that were -allegedly- the main candidates for the “Best Pastrami” title.
After all this prologue, you may guess
what finally happened? Did their pastrami meet my expectations?
Yet more important: would I recommend it to you?
You’ll soon find the answers for these questions, be patient and let me share before the whole story around how we got to Katz.
The appointed day reached
and started with the usual breakfast at one of the many small “deli’s” around Times Square, where you can get the ubiquitous cups of coffee and cream cheese spreaded bagels –we’ll talk in depth about NYC bagels in a future post, since they are really worth of it-.
After the fast breakfast we headed to the subway station in W42nd St. and 7th Ave., where we took the E line train to World Trade Center / Church Street Station.
The “smart” planned itinerary would begin there
walking around World Trade Center -formerly referred to as “Ground Zero”-, Trinity Church, wandering by Wall Street and the surroundings, and finally taking the subway to the Lower East Side in time to have lunch at the selected “pastrami attraction” of the day.
Everything looked smoothly paced and easy to accomplish.
It happened that the “wise” traveler –meaning I-
was not aware about President Obama’s visit to Ground Zero that same morning –yes, four days after Bin Laden had been finally found and killed by U.S. special forces- to lay a wreath in memory of the victims of 9/11.
So, when we got out from the subway station and reached the street, found literally thousands of people gathered there, waving american flags and waiting for Mr. Obama’s arrival.
Those were major, unexpected difficulties for our planned activities.
So the entire schedule had to be dramatically changed
…but the adaptative traveler never surrenders.
The World Trade Center, Trinity Church, the financial district and the entire Downtown area had to be left for other day.
Instead, I took a look at my map and decided to head to China Town, taking the route of Police Plaza, the Supreme Court and the United States District Court. From there, we’ll walk our way to Katz through Little Italy, NoLIta and the Lower East Side.
Let’s stop at this point for a moment, and take my first advice: never do what we then did.
On a map, you’ll find that all your marked places seem to be quite close to each other. Believe me, they rarely do.
According to “G… Maps” the entire walking distance was just 2.6 miles, about 4.2 kilometers. You are supposed to be able to do that in less than an hour…
Guess what? You won’t.
Not unless you keep walking with no halts or pauses, nor enjoying any views or sites along your path.
Paying the price of ignorance
You might have read more than once that “ignorance is bliss”.
Trust me: it usually isn’t when you are traveling.
Not being marathonists, nor willing to rush anywhere while seeing nothing in the way, our non-planned hike demanded more than two hours, even marching on a steady pace between a few pauses to take some photos.
Meanwhile, the slightly cold morning had turned out into a sunny and not so cold noon. Our jackets, sweatshirts, and even our tiny backpacks turned to be an increasing burden.
While our talk became more and more sporadic with each block we walked, my family had kept giving me a mean, angry look from Little Italy onwards. Their faces didn’t look happier, either.
I only hoped the pastrami would be everything–and if possible, more- I proclaimed in advance.
Eventually, after the long , long walk, we arrived to the restaurant…
At first glance it definitely doesn’t look like a fashion nor trendy place.
Well, at a second glance it doesn’t either: you will find it “old school”, noisy, touristic, and even a bit on the expensive side.
But at that point I felt the need to sell the place to my hungry -and angry- family, so insisted in calling it an “old-timey atmosphere”. Let us keep now that approach too.
Taking a quick look around, the walls seem entirely covered with vintage publicity signs and framed pictures of some of the celebrities that have visited the place through its long life.
In the middle of the big saloon, clearly identified with a white round sign hanging over it, you’ll find the table where Meg Ryan performed one of the most famous and memorable scenes from the movie
“When Harry met Sally” -the one with the faked orgasm-.
In fact, being the movies’ fan I earlier mentioned I am, this –the scene location, not the orgasm– was one of the reasons that made me choose Katz.
OK, I digress a bit; let’s go back to our main subject.
A Miracle: we quickly found a free table
close to that famous one. Instantly, my family literally collapsed around it, with no hesitation.
OK, I got the point…
So -following the weird and quite annoying ticket’s system they still use- restlessly and heroically, I headed to the first counter to place our order.
I’ll explain you how the process works: once you got your sandwiches at that first counter, you have to go the following one to ask for the sides, and finally to a third for your drinks. Luckily, even while the three counters looked really busy -and seemed a bit messy- the orders kept running out fast and relentlessly.
While you are waiting for your order, the guy behind the first counter usually cuts a couple of thin and juicy slices of meat for each waiting customer, so at that point I could get an initial taste.
I did not mention this before, but that was the first time I was going to try pastrami.
At the very moment I chewed those slices my tiredness and any previous troubles lost all trascendence.
Think of an extra thin piece of hand cut meat
that seems to melt in your mouth, increasingly delivering an exquisite flavour. You are just starting to get an idea, but –yet- your imagination will inevitably fall short.
After a few minutes wait, I proudly went back to our table carrying three huge pastrami sandwiches plus a big tuna salad one.
Almost an hour later
we managed to finish our sandwiches.
Let me tell you : at that moment life seemed happier and easier than a couple of hours earlier.
We still stayed there for a while, rearranging the plan for the rest of the day. We then decided that our afternoon will only involve a short walk to Soho, wandering a bit around the area and its designer’s shops, later taking the subway back to our hotel, where we’ll recover forces for night activities. But this story belongs to another post.
The final outcome
We should skip over the non-planned itinerary, the not-that-hard hassles we had to cope with to reach the place and the seemingly endless walk…
I can only -and strongly- suggest you to go to Katz Deli, and give yourself the chance to enjoy their pastrami.
Some people don’t like it due to its constantly crowded lines, the somehow high prices, or the fact that they accept only cash for payment -which is almost unbelievable in the XXI century-.
That’s all true, but It’s not famous simply by chance. It deserve’s both the fame and the fact that visitors from all the world go there every day to taste their food -and to take themselves a photo in the famous “When Harry Met Sally” table, also-.
Their incredible pastrami, Reuben and tuna sandwiches are completely worth the visit, at least once in your life.
Just be advised not to do it the way we did, as I pointed out earlier.
Simply stay by your initial plan, and take any public transportation leaving you close to the restaurant, enjoy your visit and your meal, and then go for a nice walk within a distance you find suitable for your energies.
Don’t look at your watch, don’t rush.
Managing your traveling time must not be running from one place to another, just for being able to see more than a dozen of landmarks or atractions within one day. But it hasn’t to be an aimless, random ramble either.
It should be the best balance between discovering the most a destination has to share with you, while finding your own pace to really enjoy the experience.
Just remember : “Life is about the journey, and not the destination”.