Introduced to New York by 19th century Eastern European immigrants (the same folks who gave us pierogies, knishes, and kishka), pastrami is an easy contender for GMOAT (Greatest Meat Of All Time), and also one of the foodstuffs most synonymous with our fair city. Brined and coated in strong spices including black pepper, mustard seed, coriander, and garlic, beef briskets are smoked and then steamed to create the delicacy’s signature meltingly soft texture. The pastrami sandwich? A local luminary and national treasure. But the deli darling that launched a thousand fake orgasms has also found itself the star of numerous dishes that straight up balk at the Earl of Sandwich’s beloved invention. Here are our 10 favorites, which may just be the best thing to happen to pastrami since sliced rye bread.
10. Pastrami dumplings at Brooklyn Wok Shop, (182 North 10th Street, Brooklyn; 347-889-7992) Chinese-American takeout gets a modernized, sometimes mild-mannered spin at Melissa and Edric Har’s Williamsburg dim sum and noodle shop, where there’s hanger steak in the beef with broccoli, and lump crab in the rangoons. Pastrami dumplings ($7) would better mimic a Reuben if they were fried, but the steamed dough pouches give off a pierogi vibe, covered in sauerkraut and creamy dijonnaise sauce to complement the smoked meat, which the Hars cure themselves. The couple also vends these paunchy treasures at nearby weekend seaside food orgy Smorgasburg.
9. Katz’s egg roll at RedFarm, (529 Hudson Street, 212-792-9700) When Katz’s Deli workers were sending salamis to boys in the army (a WWII-era slogan still plastered on the deli’s back wall), I’m sure they didn’t anticipate that the restaurant’s pastrami would become the catalyst for cultural fusion. At Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng’s duo of upscale nouveau Chinese restaurants, the smoked meat is diced and mixed with shredded cabbage and carrots for an egg roll filling. Battered and fried to a craggy crisp, the meat weeps fat into the vegetables as it cooks. The rolls are served appropriately with mustard sauce for dipping.
8. Pastrami salmon carpaccio at Black Crescent, (76 Clinton Street, 212-477-1771) Chef Dustin Everett has since channeled his New Orleans roots at this boisterous nautical saloon, but one of the few dishes to make the cut from the watering hole’s previous incarnation as a raw bar and small plates operation is this smoked fish presentation ($14). The kitchen cures and smokes the salmon using a proprietary pastrami spice blend, then pairs it with another appetizing favorite, smoked bluefish paté on top of brioche crostini tinged near-black with squid ink. The flavors are as dark and deep, with an eggy richness from the brioche — it’s appetizing 2.0, worth the investment in both time and money.
7. Pastrami tacos at Empellon Taqueria, (230 West 4th Street, 212-367-0999) Alex Stupak, a chef who chose lamb’s blood over ice water as his liquid of choice in support of ALS, also charges $18 for two pastrami tacos at his flagship West Village taqueria. Black pepper, coriander seed, and honey permeate meltingly tender short rib, perked up by piquant mustard seed salsa and a bed of pickled white cabbage that mimics the coleslaw in a Rachel sandwich. Stupak and wife/pastry chef Lauren Resler have taken great lengths to perfect their flour tortilla game, making the rounds both thin and resilient, and the lack of rye allows the filling to shine.
6. Pastrami-spiced steak at American Cut, (363 Greenwich Street, 212-226-4736) Although Marc Forgione’s Atlantic City steakhouse at the doomed Revel Casino is imminently closing, his Tribeca outpost has fared extremely well. He pulls from two of New York’s favorite restaurant archetypes — the deli and the chophouse — for his 20 ounce smoked and pastrami-spiced dry aged rib eye. Laid over spicy brown mustard, the bone-in beauty sports a heavy char, softened by a finishing splash of brown butter infused with caraway seeds, which completes the sandwich homage in the most soigné of ways. The 28 days spent in La Frieda facilities don’t hurt either, lending the meat a subdued funk.
5. Pastrami Reuben tater tots or latkes at Shopsin’s, (120 Essex Street, 212-924-5160) The Shopsin family’s perpetually packed Essex Street Market canteen is as famous for its 1000+ item menu as it is for its gregarious owner — the subject of decade-old documentary “I Like Killing Flies.” Parsing through the offerings, which include outlandish mashups like pine nut and coconut rice pancakes, can be a challenge for even the most decisive of eaters. One sure bet? The kitchen’s tater tots and potato latkes, which are fried dark and — in the case of the pastrami Reuben variety — filled with a mixture of smoked meat and sauerkraut. Served with the traditional latke accompaniments of sour cream and apple sauce, mustard is also available upon request. Whether you prefer to eat the concoction as a flattened disc or a pile of thimble-sized dumplings is up to you.
4. Deli Ramen at Dassara, (271 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 718-643-0781) At this Carroll Gardens ramen shop, Josh Kaplan and co. have made a name for themselves serving a never-ending rotation of ramen riffs like chilled tahini noodles with kimchi pickles and a mazemen made with flakes of hot kippered salmon from Shelsky’s Smoked Fish. Another favorite collaboration is Dassara’s deli ramen ($15), which builds on a base of souped-up chicken broth, adding celery, matzo balls, a medium-boiled egg, and generous slabs of Mile End smoked meat. Now, the Bernamoffs don’t technically dabble in pastrami, and while this bowl may not smack of liquid sandwich, the requisite ingredients harmonize in a familiar way. [
3. Rye pasta at Alder, (157 Second Avenue, 212-539-1900) When Wylie Dufresne opened this modern pub, the followup to his world renowned Lower East Side laboratory wd-50, one of the most talked about dishes was this clever sandwich-cum-pasta anchored by rye noodles as malty as Scandinavian brown bread. Chef Jon Bignelli folds in a mustard sauce, pastrami shavings, and diced green tomatoes before sprinkling the tangle with powdered pastrami jerky. Thanks to the kitchen’s proprietary tricks, the end result tastes like a pastrami sandwich on steroids, or better yet, a pastrami version of The Hulk, only you’ll love him when he’s angry.
2. Meat knish at Pastrami Queen, (1125 Lexington Avenue, 212-734-1500) Before this Queen was slinging serious cured beef on Lexington Avenue, she was a he, and the Pastrami King reigned along Queens Boulevard. On the mainland since 1999, the meat comes piled high into sandwiches for $16 or layered with sauerkraut inside bloated potato knishes for $23. But a slightly smaller, all-meat knish costs just $9.50, and its mixture of coarsely chopped pastrami and corned beef baked inside a dough crust is simply a brilliant idea. Imagine your favorite deli sandwich concentrated into a sort of meatball or hache en croute. Sliced into sections, you might mistake it for French country paté. Split it open and dip the edges into mustard or Russian dressing for an undeniably filling sub-$10 meal.
1. Octopus pastrami at Bâtard, (239 West Broadway, 212-219-2777) Lauded hospitality expert and veteran restaurateur Drew Nieporent tapped Austrian chef Markus Glocker for his newest restaurant, a third-time’s-a-charm European darling plugged into the Tribeca space that formerly held Montrachet and Corton. Glocker’s food doesn’t go for gut punches, but there are plenty of exciting tastes, from tender veal wrapped in brioche to beets paired with red currants. One of the chef’s more playful preparations is his octopus “pastrami” ($27.50 if part of the minimum two-course prix fixe), which finds a block of cephalopod held together by the animal’s natural gelatins. Slice into the nautical mosaic and load your fork with the dish’s remaining elements: potatoes, mustard, shredded ham hock, and croutons soaked in the ham hock braising liquid. It might not be kosher, but we’d love to see it sliced thin and stacked high, like something served at SpongeBob’s local delicatessen.