the spot: Harry and Ida’s 189 Avenue A New York NY 10009
the eats: “The Pops” 1/2lb Pastrami Sandwich
the bucks: $17.50(!)
the full nelson: New School Pastrami joint aiming to be a contender for best in NYC
Founded in 2015, I suppose one could call Harry and Ida’s a new school pastrami joint, though their methods are very much connected to the days of old. Pastrami makes up only one of their sandwich offerings, and with items like Roasted Squash and Smoked Eel on the menu, I wouldn’t call Harry and Ida’s a classic Jewish delicatessen. Still there is a personal connection to Jewish Deli history: the owner’s grandparents, Harry and Ida, ran a delicatessen in NYC about 100 years ago. And these guys know how to make legit pastrami. The million dollar question is of course whether this pastrami sandwich is worth the almost $18 dollar price tag. Well, you’re gonna have to keep reading to find out!
Walking into Harry and Ida’s Meat & Supply Co ain’t exactly like walking into Katz Delicatessen. There’s no seating, in fact there is just enough room for a decent line to form. Eater NY’s Robert Sietsema describes the interior of Harry and Ida’s as “a country store in a tourist town in the Catskills” and though I’ve never made it up there, I imagine it to be similar. The no seating thing is a bit of a buzzkill when all you want to do is tear into what could potentially be the best pastrami sandwich ever. Thankfully there is a counter where one can stand and eat.
The first thing that indicates that Harry and Ida’s is going for a different pastrami sandwich experience is the bread. Rather than a traditional rye, whose caraway seeds pair so well with pastrami, Harry and Ida’s serves their smoked beef on a hero roll. One might consider the use of a hero roll to be unusual but Los Angelenos are familiar with this bread by way of celebrated pastrami havens like Johnnie’s and The Hat. But don’t even think about making comparisons; neither of those establishments serve pastrami of this caliber nor could conceive of put toppings on like this:
Fresh dill, I mean super fresh dill, plus pickles made with buttermilk, anchovy mustard, caraway seed and cracked rye berry, all get placed on Harry and Ida’s hand carved, house smoked pastrami. Far and away these toppings made for a interestingly lighter and more subtle pastrami experience. I even thought the brine was light on the salt because after a meal at Katz I tend to look for the largest bottle of water I can find. And I like salt. And I love Katz.
I suppose the most important element in the pastrami sandwich experience is indeed, the pastrami. On my sandwich, I was getting gloriously tender chunks of brined and smoked brisket. Now this could be the Austin in me, but unlike Gothamist and Eater, I found the smoke to somewhat restrained. Overall, I found this pastrami sandwich to be “lite” even though I happily saved the second half for a glorious second lunch. I suppose three years of eating brisket in the heart of Central Texas have diminished my ability to taste all but the heaviest smoked beef. But the pastrami was not the only element, the toppings were also part of the “lite” experience as well. The mustard was not too sharp, the pickles not as sour as one might expect, plus there is an herbaceous lift from the dill fronds. Honestly, this was a pastrami experience that caught me by surprise.
The last time I walked away from a meal scratching my head was one of the first visits I took to Father’s Office for their venerable Office burger. The sensation of tasting the complex flavors of two cheeses, caramelized onions and arugula on a dry aged chopped sirloin took me multiple visits to register. Father’s Office also happens to be one of my favorite burgers. I believe the same holds true here at Harry and Ida’s: its gonna take me a few more visits to fully appreciate the unique experience being delivered here. And until I hit pastrami Nirvana, I’m gonna opt for the 1/4lb version(Ida) and let my wallet catch up with my brain and palate.
So what’s the call at Harry and Ida’s if you are looking for some Bang for your Pastrami Buck? I’d go with a pal and split the 1/2lb Pops pastrami sandwich. Each half is a meal that I would gladly pay $9 for. Will it knock off Katz as my go to pastrami sandwich in NYC? I think I’m going to have to give Harry and Ida’s two more visits. As with many things . . . time will tell.