Yes, I finally made my first trip to the legendary Katz’s Deli.
My grandpa and I had been talking about doing this for awhile. Back in the day, his father owned a dairy restaurant around the corner (on Stanton and Ludlow) called Max’s Luncheonette. Grandpa would tell us stories about working at the store–it’s where he met my grandmother, who worked nearby and was a lunchtime regular.
I thought it would be fun for grandpa to meet me and my cousins in the city, head down to the Lower East Side, have a nice fat sandwich from 125-year-old Katz’s and walk around the old neighborhood.
Well in the months since the idea first came about, word spread throughout the family and by last week 13 of us were on board. Not wanting to worry about parking in the congested Lower East Side, my grandpa ordered a van that began its journey in Central Jersey, picked up my family in North Jersey, made a pit stop at my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and finally dropped us off on Ludlow Street.
Yes, we took a limo to Katz’s, and it was fabulous.
The scene inside was nothing short of madness. Staff at the door handed each one of us blue tickets and made sure we knew to hold on to them–there’s a $50 fee if you lose it. (Your ticket is your check. Each time you order a dish your ticket is marked and you pay on your way out.)
From there we tried to figure out seating. Katz’s doesn’t take reservations so we immediately put in our name for table service, but were told they couldn’t seat our large party for at least another hour. So a few of us went to the back to stalk tables as parties finished up, eventually pouncing on a long table near the soda station.
From there more confusion ensued. Which line is for sandwiches and which is for drinks? Where can we get extra napkins? Are we even in a line right now or just stuck in a giant mass of tourists?
My brother and I split off from the group and ordered a pastrami sandwich to split, fries and pickles. It was amazing watching our server expertly slice the meat, spread on mustard and slice the sandwich in a matter of seconds. Katz’s is one of the few delis left in New York where they still carve their meat by hand, and they move FAST. According to a Daily News article, Katz’s serves 15,000 pounds of pastrami, 8,000 pounds of corned beef and 4,000 hot dogs each week.
That’s a whole lot of meat.
But while the deli is known for its heaping sandwiches, its other “noshes” are top notch too. Egg and tuna salads. Potato knishes. Matzo ball soup. Split pea soup. Egg creams. Every Jewish deli staple you can think of can be found at Katz’s, each serving large enough to feed a family.
Everything I tried was amazing. Even my grandpa, who hadn’t eaten red meat in years, tasted a little slice of pastrami (although it took some coaxing, as the picture displays).
As we finished up my grandpa gathered all the tickets, stuffed them in his shirt pocket, walked up to the front of the restaurant and treated us to lunch. He’s the best.
The rest of us followed and noticed this sign as we headed out the door. Sadly, the girl sitting in the “When Harry Met Sally” chair right below wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about her food as Sally was.
Despite the crowds and initial confusion, we all had a wonderful afternoon at Katz’s Deli. I loved just being together, something we don’t do as often as we should. I hear my grandpa is already brainstorming our next New York City outing.
I’ve passed Katz’s many times during nights out at the bars on Stanton or trips downtown for brunch, and it’s definitely been on my bucket list to try. But sharing the experience with my grandpa, for me, was a peek into history. I tried to imagine the Lower East Side as Grandpa described it, crowded with shoppers and street peddlers, much noisier and grittier than it is today.
I imagine that as noon came around, many of those shoppers momentarily pondered whether to stop in for a midday sandwich at Katz’s or go just around the corner for eggs and toast at Max’s Luncheonette.
Read more about the history of Katz’s here.