Katz’s Delicatessen

205 E Houston St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-2246 katzsdelicatessen.com

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Before this place became famous for Meg Ryan’s jubilant fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, people were having real orgasms over their infinitely more famous Pastrami on Rye (pictured), causing an awful lot of people to ask, “I’ll have what she’s having,” years ahead of the screenplay. But as shockingly good as the elephantine sandwiches are at this kosher deli, what many will find even more shocking is that there is nothing kosher about it. Katz’s is Romanian. Not kosher. Granted they do a damn fine job of copy-cat cuisine. So fine, in fact, that they best most of the places that call themselves the real deal. And the fact that Katz’s has been around so long (since 1888), makes its old school vibe all that more authentic, a lot like 2nd Avenue Deli used to be before they lost their lease and had to move. But that’s the charm of the place. I know some people call it touristy, but trust me, this place isn’t dressed like a movie set or some cheesy theme joint. It’s still wearing the same dusty clothes it’s been donning for over a century. And I, for one, love it for all its crustiness and crotchetiness.

Sure there are sexy newcomers hitting the scene like Mile End and Russ and Daughters, but there’s something you have to appreciate about a place that’s been around before friggin’ cars and still packing ’em in! We’re talking Gangs of New York guys were swinging by here after a morning brawl to grab a bite. That’s so fucking cool that you can keep your caviar cream cheese and your chocolate babka french toast, because I want a bite of history, piled high with more meat than any one human being should probably consume in a week, dipped in some spicy-ass deli mustard and served up on a blissful, pillowy rye. Then, wash that down with some corned beef, pickles and matzoh ball soup and I’m good to hibernate until Spring.

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Russ & Daughters Cafe

127 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002(212) 475-4881russanddaughterscafe.com

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The kosher deli is like the tiger of restaurants, loved, but rapidly nearing extinction. As cited by the documentary Deli Man (an obscure Netflix gem), kosher delis in New York alone, have gone from over 1500 in number back in 1931, to today’s very depressing stat of just 21 establishments left. So, call it my Jewish guilt or moral obligation, but I felt the need to help turn the tides by turning my kids onto the glory that I lovingly call “Jew Food.” A cuisine unlike any other, that I have adored since childhood. But sadly, like many other bad Jews (apparently), I haven’t been back in years. Which is a shame, because there’s really no good reason. It’s not like going to Synagogue or anything. It’s actually quite enjoyable. And downright sinful.

Well, also turning the tides is a modern-day twist on the kosher deli, paying faithful homage to its diner roots, while also feeling contemporary somehow at the same time. That’s Russ and Daughters, a beacon of hope for the “chosen” cuisine.

Speaking of chosen things, our first choice was the Pastrami Russ, a small but crazy good sandwich made with their unique salmon pastrami, cucumber, coleslaw and deli mustard all on a cigar-sized pretzel roll, served next to a mountain of homemade waffle potato chips and a half sour pickle that also rocks. Mad mazels on this one.

But as good as the Pastrami Russ was, the Latkas stole the show. Easily the best I’ve ever had, done up at least a half inch thick with a hard, crusty outer layer and moist, fuffy innards. It’s Ultimate Latka perfection. Also, we had ‘em both ways, the new fangled crème fraiche and salmon roe way, as well as the ole tried and true apple sauce way. Both are good, but the kid in me still leans toward the classic A-sauce.

And while we’re on the topic of classics, the Classic Board with Nova, tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese and an everything bagel was also very good. Not quite as inventive as some of the other twists, but as solid as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, Essa included. Granted the Nova is very lightly cured though, so nowhere near as salty as you might be used to.

Lox, eggs and onions were good, but not great. Partly due to the less salty lox, which is what makes this dish normally shine, ya know, cuz salt and eggs and all. That said, the rye bread that comes with it is another Ultimate. So flavorful and packed with texture. In fact, we loved it so much we walked up the street after breakfast to the Russ & Daughters store on Houston to buy a loaf. And my god is that thing dense. One loaf probably ways as much as a Mini Cooper.

We ended the meal on a duo of dishes from the “Sweet” column, the first being the Chocolate Babka French toast. Yes Challah, you just got trumped. Topped with fresh strawberries and sidled up next to a ramekin of sweet cream- no need for syrup on this thing. It’s richer than Daddy Warbucks.

Yet as wonderific as the Babka French Toast was, the kosher purist in me still found the Noodle Kugel to be the shiznet. It’s like muscle memory for your taste buds, bringing you back to that sweet noodle lovin’ fro your childhood that you just can’t deny. And wow did that sound way more child molesty than intended.

All in, Russ is tops in my book. Even if Gweneth Paltrow likes it too. From the incredibly fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices to both Ultimates I mentioned above to their caviar cream cheese that needs to make its way from store to café (hint-hint Russ).

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The Ultimate Mustard (packaged)

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Of all the condiments out there, no other add-on completes me like mustard. I mean, first of all, just think about how diverse it is by comparison to other condiments. You’ve got your spicy, your deli, your yellow, your Asian, your textured, your sweet, your alcoholic- It’s enough to give ketchup and mayonnaise a complex. But perhaps my favorite thing about mustard is that it’s one of the only things in the edible universe that I sincerely love, and isn’t highly caloric and fattening. In short, mustard is the Ultimate condiment. And within that Ultimate, here are a few Ultimates:

Cape Cod Cranberry Mustard

South of New England, this mustard can be a little hard to find. But it’s not like you need to go to any fancy store to buy it. Stop & Shops seem to be the best bet (perhaps because they are a New England based chain). If there’s no Stop & Shop close to you, it’s worth the road trip (or odering online). I say buy a half dozen jars because you will be plowing through them like Walking Dead plows through zombie extras. It’s spicy and sweet and tart all at the same time, turning every sandwich it touches into an event.

Maille

If you’re a texture lover like me- preferring crunchy peanut butter over smooth and lots of pulp OJ over no pulp than Maille is your mustard. A 260 year old seeded mustard, born in the old country (France), and packed with so much flavor it can do just about everything apart from folding the laundry. It’s awesome for grilling. For baked fish, for salad dressing, for making dips, on sandwiches, on burgers, on Donner and Blitzin! In fact, the only mustard that’s even close to as versatile as Maille, is Grey Poupon, which brings me to mustard number 3.

Grey Poupon

Pardon me, but if you don’t have any Grey Poupon you should take a glove and slap yourself across the face. It’s so easy to come by and so friggin’ good you almost wonder why any other mustard exists. And like Maille it’s incredibly versatile. Maybe even more so. If a mustard could win the Noble Peace Prize I feel like Grey Poupon would have a very strong case. But just one caveat, there is the smooth original and a seeded version more like Maille. Both are excellent, but head to head on the seeded side, I go Maille, whereas Maille also makes a smooth kind and head to head with Grey Poupon, I give it to the Grey.

Moutarde De Meaux, Pommery

This last one is MUCH harder to come by unless you live in France or New England where mustard is basically a substitute for religion. Fortunately you can always order it online from Amazon.com for those not favorably in geographic proximity. Double fortunately, Maille is VERY similar and much easier to find if you don’t feel like ordering online, booking a flight or driving to the Northeast. The only difference for me is that Pommery is a touch stronger and the seeds are a teeny bit smaller, making the texture slightly smoother. The packaging is also the best of the bunch, served in an old fashioned earthenware crock with a red wax seal (apparently unchanged, as is the recipe, since 1632).