- It’s been over 30 years since Meg Ryan’s iconic scene in “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed in Katz’s Deli.
- Katz’sDelicatessen has been a New York City institution since 1888.
- The old-school Jewish deli is famous for its hand-sliced, monster-sized pastrami on rye.
- We sat down with current owner, Jake Dell, to learn about Katz’s unique history as the best Jewish deli in NYC.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Spencer: There’s nothing more New York than a pastrami on rye, and no one does it better than Katz’s.Customer: I’ve tried to eat deli all over the world, but the only place to have it is New York City. I have to have it at Katz’s.There’s nothing more New York than a pastrami on rye, and no one does it better than Katz’s.
Spencer: Hey, guys, it’s Spencer, and I’m outside Katz’s Delicatessen. This is one of the most legendary places in New York City. It’s been here since 1888. So I’m gonna go try their famous pastrami on rye and see if it lives up to the hype. Katz’s Delicatessen has been a New York institution for over 130 years. The old-school deli is like a living museum. Not only is it the oldest Jewish deli in New York, but it’s one of the only delis of its kind still in operation at all. Jake: Coming to Katz’s is a throwback. It’s a snapshot in time. It’s being connected to your parents, to your grandparents, to your great-grandparents, to your great-great-grandparents ’cause they all came here. We do not believe in changing pretty much anything from the walls, to the neons, to the pictures, to the staff, to the food, to the recipes. We don’t really believe in changing it. You come here because you want that nostalgia and that tradition and that food that you know and love. Spencer: Jewish-deli food dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when waves of Eastern European Jews immigrated to New York’s Lower East Side, bringing traditional Eastern European foods like cured meats and pickled vegetables along with them. Delis became a meeting ground where tradition blended with new American culture. At one time, kosher-style delis like Katz’s were a dime a dozen, but thanks to things like gentrification and changing food trends, Katz’s is the only one that’s been able to survive the ages. Part of its success is due to exposure. Over the years, Katz’s nostalgic setting has been the backdrop for countless movies and TV shows, the most famous of which is Meg Ryan’s iconic scene in “When Harry met Sally.”
Customer: The scene with Meg Ryan, it’s one of my favourite scenes in all the movies we’ve ever seen.
Spencer: You can you reenact it now, right?
Customer: Oh, not right now, thank you.
Meg Ryan [movie scene]: Yes, yes, yes. I’ll have what she’s having.Spencer: Hollywood fame aside, Katz’s success is also thanks to the fact that their food is really just that good. The menu has all the classics you’d expect from a Jewish deli, but most people show up for their legendary pastrami and corned beef. Can you describe what their pastrami tastes like to me?
Customer: It’s the only place in the world to get a pastrami sandwich. I mean, I wouldn’t have it anyplace else.
Jake, owner: It’s about treating the piece of meat like you would a child and knowing what to do with it and how to take care of it from start to finish that makes it so special. We cook it longer than anyone else. We cook it so long that it would fall apart if you try and put it in a slicer. So it’s so juicy, so tender, that you have to carve it by hand. Spencer: Their hand-sliced approach means each sandwich is expertly carved to order. To keep the crowds moving, Katz’s is set up with multiple carvers at multiple counters. And let’s just say, you better be prepared to order when you get in line.
Jake: When you walk in, you’re gonna get a ticket. That’s our system, we’ve been doing it the same way for 131 years.
Spencer: Feed me.
Jake: Be prepared because if you get all the way to the front of the line and don’t know what you want, you’re gonna get yelled at.
Spencer: I would like pastrami on rye.
Jake: But you already know what you want. You want a pastrami. You want some latkes. You want some matzo ball soup. You’re good, no problem, don’t worry about it.
Spencer: So that was the easy part. Finding a seat is the hard part. I don’t know. I might have to eat it standing up, which I would.
Spencer: All right, so we have here the pastrami. It’s just classic, juicy, perfect, fantas… You can’t go wrong.
Spencer: Do you have any tips for digging into this monster of a sandwich?
Jake: Just do it, just embrace it.
Spencer: Just go for it.
Jake: Yeah. Cheers.
Spencer: Cheers. All right. Oh, my God!
Jake: Go for it, don’t let me stop you. All right, I’m gonna take another bite.
Spencer: That is unreal.
Jake: It’s really good.
Spencer: Oh, man, hand me one of those napkins. I gotta fix my face. So this is the juiciest pastrami I’ve ever had.
Jake: Thank you.
Spencer: How is that possible?
Jake: One-hundred thirty-one years of practice, that’s how it’s possible.
Spencer: All right, there you go. Eating that sandwich was a religious experience. I’m talking mouth-watering perfection. Even still, it almost took a back seat to the actual experience of just being in that noisy, chaotic room, literally surrounded by Katz’s history. Photos from everyone who’s come before and signs from a near-forgotten era, all of it a reminder that Katz’s will always be here for you, just as it always has. Timeless in a city barreling toward the future.
Jake: There’s nothing like nostalgia. I mean, there’s nothing more powerful than those traditions. I can’t believe that this is my life and this is what we get to do for a living, is to preserve a tradition and make people happy, hopefully. It’s humbling, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful place to be.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on May 3, 2019.
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