Despite the myriad bean burgers, seitan stir-fries, and three-cheese pizzas offered within the five boroughs, being the sole vegetarian at the table often means getting overruled when choosing a restaurant. For any meatless eater living in New York, ending up at a steakhouse, sushi bar, or sausage cart is a simple inevitability. And of course, in this city, where there’s always a meat counter around the corner, the savvy vegetarians amongst us know that learning how to face the deli challenge can mean the difference between enjoying your lunch and ruining everyone else’s.
To help guide you through this vexing obstacle, we went to the famous Katz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston Street, 212-254-2246) where deli meat isn’t just breakfast, lunch, and dinner; it’s an institution. But even if you’re not going to join your friends, coworkers, or out-of-town guests in the heaping corned beef sandwiches they’ve insisted upon, you can get order a satisfying meal of your own here. Maybe you’ll even enjoy it so much, you’ll forget to complain about being forced into a deli in the first place.
While your friends race to Katz’s ever-stretching sandwich line, hang back and hit the knish counter. Generally considered a starter or a side, a knish can actually serve as the main portion of your meal, especially at Katz’s, where they tend to be large and in charge. Go with potato if you’re feeling traditional; otherwise, try the broccoli, which is fluffier and tastier than the potato, or the kasha, an Eastern European grain.
For those looking for a sandwich to rival their carnivorous companions’, the options are slim, but they exist. I’d recommend keeping it simple with the grilled cheese. (Bonus: Order it with your knishes, and skip the long sandwich line entirely!) It’s a basic take on the standard recipe — white bread, American cheese, plenty of butter — but if it ain’t broke, why fix it? The celery-flush egg salad on rye is fine, too, though a bit of salt and pepper make a big difference.
Anyone on a carb-free diet will be happy to know they can have their protein in the form of Katz’s slightly sweetened baked beans, which come as a side but can easily be moved front and center on the vegetarian’s tray. And make sure you get some vegetables with your meal, whether it’s in the form of coleslaw or pickles. The excellent cabbage slaw boasts a spicy kick, and the garlic pickles live up to the deli’s reputation. (The half-sours, meanwhile, are disappointingly bland, so skip ’em.)
Let’s be clear: Katz’s Deli is no vegetarian paradise. But it’s not a desolate wasteland, either. And the points you’ll get for being a good sport? Pocket them for when you want your omnivorous friends to try a new vegan joint.
More:Vegetarian and Vegan