Saturday, August 21, 2010

Carnegie Deli - NYC

The adventures in New York City continue! I love immersing myself in the cultural traditions of whatever area I visit. Even with all of the various cultural influences in any metropolis, there are some foods that are decidedly New York. One restaurant that I love to visit that serves a classic NYC menu is The Carnegie Deli. This eatery is nearly three-quarters of a century old, but the food is as fresh and tasty as you'll find anywhere in Manhattan. This restaurant is a typical New York-style deli with obvious Jewish influences (matzoh balls and knishes are proudly displayed at the long to-go service counter). They keep the food straightforward (simple is too, well, simplistic) but never compromise on flavor.

After sitting at our table in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a Sunday morning, we perused the menu for a while, trying to find the one thing we would order among the myriad of deletable possibilities. If they ever invent a bottomless stomach, it would make choices like this so much easier. Meanwhile, piles of sliced meats kept passing our table and immense cakes spinning in a cooler case were visible from my seat, a prelude of tastes to come.

Pickle Appetizer

After you order, a huge pile of pickles appears at the table. These Kosher dills are beautifully pickled, not as much as the ones in the store. They are perfectly crisp but packed with garlic acidity. Pickles at 11am does not usually sound like a good idea, but it's hard not to partake. When in Rome...

Hot Pastrami Sandwich

Unlike most restaurants, this deli does not attempt to have all entrees reach the table at the same time. If you order one of their sandwiches, it will be out faster than you can spell "gefilte fish." They slice the hot deli meats to order. I ordered hot pastrami on rye, which was about 5-6 inches tall in the middle of the sandwich. Most of the sandwiches passing by were combinations of hot pastrami and corned beef that were twice as thick as mine, but I decided to get the "lite" version. The meat was sumptuously warmed and just melted in your mouth from the marbled fat throughout. I had to eat half the meat with a fork, but that was not a problem. If you make food tasty enough, it does not matter how you have to eat it. Once the sandwich was manageable, I applied a smidge of deli mustard to the bread and devoured this hand-held wonder in short order.


The other entree we ordered which came out about 10 minutes after the sandwich was a trio of blintzes. This breakfast fare is a little like a sweet burrito. The shell is very thin and a bit crispy. The innards can be a variety of flavors and we selected cheese (a sweetened ricotta-like cheese filling) and strawberry (tasted more fresh than the saccharine berry gel you buy at the store). Both types had an amazing flavor that really is a must if you've never tried them.

Blueberry Cheesecake

As if all that was not enough, I was not going to leave without some dessert. While the Carnegie Deli's sandwiches and entrees are awesome, they have some of my favorite New York-style cheesecake in all of Manhattan. Cheesecakes come in many flavors, but the major difference between them all is texture. Some are more gritty from the incorporation of ricotta. Others are very dense (a la Cheesecake Factory) or crumbly. But in New York, you find the richest, creamiest, dreamiest cheesecake known to mankind. The Carnegie Deli makes cheesecakes in this traditional fashion, even including some fruit on top in case you need some antioxidants. It is hard to describe just how astonishingly creamy this cheesecake is, but it's almost like eating a block of sweetened, flavored cream cheese. The crust is tender enough to add a little different texture to the cake, but it does not distract you from the goods in the center of your slice. The deli sells cheesecakes from 6" to 12" in a few different flavors. They will even ship the cheesecakes overnight to anywhere in the country. The next time I'm in the mood, I might do this instead of going all the way to New York for a slice.

The Carnegie Deli is a wonderful experience that showcases New York's traditional food offerings. Like many institutions on the island, the walls are covered with signed photographs of various celebrities (we had Bret "Hitman" Hart watching over us during our meal). The restaurant is open from 6:30am until 4am and it can get quite busy during peak hours. Try to find an off time to go if you don't want to wait in line. And you can always arrange for a Carnegie Deli package to come to you via Fed-Ex.

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