Because this has come up a lot in my posts lately: Does eating somewhere because it has started to appear all over Instagram mean I’m falling prey to the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)? Or that I’m caught up in hype? Or just that I’m excited to try somewhere new? A combination? I ask because I am self-conscious about being that blogger who must try a new, buzzy place out immediately to snap a photo and brag that I’ve been. I don’t think I can remove myself entirely from being that person. But given that most of the people who read this blog are friends who do not live in New York, I can remove myself a little. [I live a quiet life so can easily be consumed with what my 12 blog readers think about my choice of topic.] I’m not a pioneer, though. So it took some photo coverage and proper stories for me to make my way to Avenue A to try a sandwich at Harry & Ida’s Meat and Supply Co. And wouldn’t you know it, Robert Sietsema also filed his thoughts today.
Everyone is talking about the “Pop’s Pastrami” sandwich, so I definitely would get that. But Roberta’s turned me on to the pleasures of a cured meat sandwich, and as a fan of the spreadable Italian sausage known as ‘nduja, I wanted the “Cured Meats” as well. Would they do half and half? I got a stern-faced, no, they don’t, but they would this once. Maybe because it was quiet, maybe because my good Canadian manners shone through. Either way, I won.
The “Pop’s Pastrami” was amazing. The thick, hand-cut pieces were incredibly tender, and the dark pink meat was rich with smoke and spice. Rich with fat, too. But unlike Katz’s, the fat was all marbled. There was no large pieces dangling that, however delicious, I can find slightly off-putting. As always, the mustard (I didn’t detect the anchovy) was critical for cutting through the richness of the meat. The cucumbers played a similar role, but the buttermilk ensured the contrast was not too great. I was in no way going to forget that I was eating a decadent sandwich. The dill added a taste of the garden that was unnecessary but so appreciated. Unfortunately, like with Katz’s abysmal rye, the sub roll leaves much to be desired. It does a fine job of keeping all of the elements together, but it doesn’t have much flavour.
The second half of my lunch paled in comparison to the first. I half wondered if they didn’t put as much love into this half as they didn’t really want to be making it for me. All I really tasted was the ham and mozzarella, even with that large dollop of antipasto-like pickled fennel. If my eyes were closed, I wouldn’t have known that the butter was smoked, that there was any ‘nduja, or that there were chilies. The quality of what was there was fine, but it left me wishing I had just ordered a full pastrami. Knowledge for next time.
While I still find the smoke and fat of pastrami qualities that will keep me from craving it often, when I want it, I will return to Harry & Ida’s before Katz’s. Yes, there is the classic atmosphere of the Lower East Side deli with its history, ordering rituals, and crowds that is beyond endearing, but I think Harry & Ida’s is the superior sandwich. I know I just finished telling you how much atmosphere can mean, but sometimes taste will win out. Plus, it’s cheaper. The downside is that there is nowhere to sit. I ate standing up against the one ledge that will only accommodate about two diners. The upside of which might be that the crowds will stay away, enabling us to order and eat our pastrami in peace.
And I don’t know what white birch soda is, but it was the perfect accompaniment.