Sunday, May 6, 2012

NY Deli Dogfight: Katz's vs. Carnegie

A few years ago, on one of my annual pilgrimages to Manhattan, I evaluated the merits of Katz's Deli and found that, while very good, it came up short in comparison to LA's own Langer's. This year, I took the opportunity to do meals at Katz's and its uptown competitor the Carnegie Deli. The verdict: Katz's by a mile.

First let's talk pastrami. A Katz's pastrami sandwich (pictured) may not capture the perfect gestalt of a Langer's, but it's still a pile of excellent pastrami, tender, soft and nicely spiced. Carnegie, on the other hand, has chewy, bland pastrami, unworthy of such a noteworthy institution.

That being said, I grabbed a reuben at both and preferred Carnegie's, even with their pastrami. The funny thing is, I didn't recall Katz's even having a reuben back when I lived in New York. I had thought Katz's was kosher, or at least "kosher style," which would prohibit the mixing of meat and dairy that you have on a reuben. In any case, the Katz's reuben was not grilled, rather the cheese and sauerkraut are microwaved and put on the reuben with a sauce that I can only characterize as odd. It seemed like a sweet tomato relish of some type. As the kids on the internet say, this was an "epic fail" at recreating this great sandwich. Carnegie does an open face reuben, piled high with sauerkraut and swiss cheese and accompanied by the traditional Russian dressing. It wasn't the best reuben I've had, but at least it was a recognizable form of the sandwich.

Sides at both restaurants were good. Chopped liver, pickles and a potato knish at Katz's were exactly what you want. Beer battered onion rings at Carnegie were also quite good. I had an egg cream at both delis and Katz's was better with a good balance; Carnegie's was a bit too sweet for my taste.

Prices are obscenely expensive at both institutions, but that's New York for you. Sandwiches at Katz's run $15 to $18. The reuben at Carnegie was in the $25 range with an additional, totally gratuitous, $3 charge for sharing the monster sandwich.

In the end though, Katz's may not know how to make a reuben, but they serve better food, and that's why they get the win in this deli challenge.

Katz's Deli
205 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 254-2246

Carnegie Deli
854 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 757-2245


AaronWF said...

Neither Katz's nor Carnegie serve kosher meat, whereas Langer's at least tries to be kosher (as far as I can tell...). Sku, you should really make a trip out to Chicago for a S. Loop Binny's get-together. Manny's right across the street has amazing corned beef (though no vestige of kosherness), and if you made the trip, I would be happy to accompany you any points of culinary interest in the area you have already identified, or take you to my own.

sku said...

Aaron, thanks for your generous offer. Next time I'm in Chicago, I will definitely look you up.

And Langer's isn't at all kosher. One of their most popular sandwiches is pastrami with cheese and cole slaw.

David D said...

Next time you are in the Bay Area I will take you to the Refuge. Another mindblowing pastrami experience with the beer and belgian fries to go along with it. Make sure you fast all week before you come.