Sunday, May 2, 2010
The Great Pastrami Debate: Katz's vs. Langer's
I lived in Manhattan for three years in the mid to late '90s. Since then, I've been back only sporadically. When I lived in New York, I occasionally ventured out to Katz's famous deli on Houston, but on a recent trip back to NYC, it occurred to me that I had not been to Katz's since I lived in New York, which means I had not been since before I moved to LA and tried Langer's. Since one of Angelenos' favorite pastimes is telling New Yorkers that Langer's is better than Katz's, I thought I should go back to Katz's with that comparison in mind. So, I headed to Houston Street, took a ticket and ordered the Katz's equivalent of my Langer's order: the straight up pastrami on rye.
Katz's makes a great pastrami sandwich, no doubt about it, but I'm proud to report to all you LA civic pride advocates that Langer's is indeed better. I view Katz's meat as the best of the deli pastrami. It is well spiced, tender and full of spicy, meaty flavor, but it is ultimately a great version of the same pastrami you get at every deli in the City. Langer's, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. It has very little in common with traditional, sliced deli pastramis. It's moist and thick and almost more of a meat entree than a cold cut. Biting into a Katz's sandwich is extremely satisfying, but biting into a Langer's sandwich is a near religious experience.
And then there is the bread. At Katz's, the bread is a throwaway. A mere container for the meat, Katz's bread is limp and flavorless; it's clearly not there to be appreciated, it's there to keep your fingers from getting greasy. At Langer's, in contrast, the soft, crispy crusted bread is as much a part of the sandwich experience as the meat. That is the wonderful gestalt of the Langer's sandwich; the thick and tender, perfectly spiced meat contrasted with the fresh, crusty bread is what makes it superior.
The one place where Katz's clearly wins, though, is the pickles. Langer's pickles are floppy and sad. Katz's gives you both a sour and a half-sour with your sandwich. The half sour is not as good as some I've had, but the Katz's sour pickle is everything you want in a pickle. It's salty, juicy and deeply sour.
So give me a good old Langer's sandwich any day, but I'll take it with a sour pickle from Katz's.