Katz Deli offers the oldest time deli-delights with a side of history, the New York attitude is complementary of course.
Okay so, anybody who actually lives in New York City is going to be mad at Katz’s Deli because they are going to say it is too touristy, expensive, and overexposed. However true all that is I dare you to find me a New Yorker who is going to argue with the utter supremacy of their Reuben sandwiches. Pastrami, corned beef or – my favorite – the turkey, are all worth the trip to the lower east side, the battle with the tourists for a table, and the price.
First we do need to pay reverence to the history of the place. 1888 was the year this place opened and it was one of a kazillion Jewish delis in the area. Today it is pretty much the only one left. The website actually does a nice job of explaining the history of the joint and you can only imagine the general weirdness of eating at a place that served the girls of the triangle shirtwaist factory before their gruesome deaths. In more recent years the deli has been high lighted on one of the very best Candid Camera episodes of the 1960s (you can watch it on the internet, it is actually pretty funny and involves the bathrooms) as well as in the film “When Harry Met Sally”. The fake orgasm scene was filmed in here and there is a nice sign that alerts you to the place where Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, and Billy’s Mom did the whole “I’ll have what she’s having” bit.
Now, when you get into the place you will notice the fantastically kitschy décor and the frenetic crowds of people. As for the surroundings it is worth the time to check out all the pictures of weird celebrities on the wall enjoying some pickles and such. The neon signs are pretty genius as well, lots of old time crap beer signs that are probably from the 70s adorn the walls about the celeb shots. The custom made neons by the kitchen advertise the popular “send a salami” program that the deli has done for years so that you can get some meat sent to yourself at home or even your son in the army in whatever far flung place he/she happens to be fighting. The bathrooms are also a dream come true, I mean saw dust on the floor, honestly real saw dust on the floor oh and yeah I know you think that bathroom is a one hole from the size of the door on the outside, but just go in and you will see this to not be true.
Ok so, the food. All weird old time deli treats like tongue and kishka and what not are available but I suggest the Turkey Reuben because it is my favorite. Alright so the ordering situation is a little wild and there are things you should know if you wanna make it easy on yourself. Option 1 for avoiding the mess is to ask for “service seating” which are the tables all the way on the left hand side of the place and they come with a waiter. Otherwise if you want the real experience then go to one of the stations and order your food. There are three kinds of stations, all the way by the front door you can get knishes and hotdogs and cheese steaks I believe at the first station. I’m not sure on all the offerings because I usually just get the potato knish at this spot. The other two stations are “cutters” who are in the middle of the line and the French fries area all the way back towards the restrooms and free water. So if you want a sandwich bring your Katz ticket that you received at the front door and go to the cutter all the way down by the restrooms. You will be cutting like 50 tourists who will all be standing in line like idiots waiting for cutter #1. When you get up to the cutter remember two things: one, tip the cutter and two, make sure you know what you want before you open your mouth otherwise you will get yelled at.
They will give you a cut of meat to sample and if you like it tell them to go ahead and make the sandwich with that, otherwise order a leaner cut I guess. You should also order your soda from the cutter if you want a soda. Take your sandwich and go find a table without service and get happy with fat and salt and free pickles. You eat before you pay so don’t freak out about it. When you are full go on up to the cashier on your way out the door, hand them your ticket, and pay your bill. Don’t lose your ticket or they will charge you 50 bucks which will make you sad, and after an experience like Katz, you really shouldn’t leave sad.
Check out the history and the menu: