Our deli best

In a weekend of art fairs and Oscars, I sing praises to the art of the old-fashioned New York deli.

Robert Klein, 1996

We began our love affair at breakfast: two eggs, ham, and cheddar cheese on a roll. Two slices, enough to slide out the sides.

Need to break the habit? Switch from a roll to wheat toast, drop the cheese.

Two fried eggs and a slice of tomato. Two fried eggs, a slice of tomato, and hot peppers. Two fried eggs, bacon, salt, and pepper. Two eggs scrambled, sausage. Salt and pepper.

You’d think they’d always salt and pepper, but it helps to ask, which also yields the simple pleasure of hearing the the counter guy call out: “And hold it down!”

Two fried eggs, over medium, corned beef, yellow mustard on rye toast. With a slice of tomato.

Pumpernickel bagel. Lox spread — no, scallion. Slice of tomato. 

Rye bagel, quarter pound of Nova Scotia lox, cream cheese, tomato, capers, onion, salt and pepper. And a squeeze of lemon.

mmm. capers.

Lunchtime. Old school. Reuben, extra kraut. Spicy mustard.

Ham, American, tomato, mayo on a roll. Pickles.

Egg salad and anchovies on a roll.

Remembering the calories: The one up there on the board — the V2 vegetarian — but add turkey and swiss. Spicy mustard, not honey. Arugula, not spinach.

Turkey Reuben, extra kraut. Full sour pickle on the side.

Turkey, swiss, avocado, spicy mustard.

Pastrami on rye. Spicy mustard. (Food porn courtesy of the incomparable Robyn.)

food porn courtesy of roboppy.net

Roast beef, lettuce, and tomato on rye, a little blue cheese dressing. 

Tuna salad, lettuce, tomato on wheat. 

Veggie tuna on multigrain, a little mayo.

Tuna salad on wheat toast. With hot peppers.

New school, post-gentrification, internationalization of the deli: Roasted eggplant and red peppers on a wheat wrap with a slice of fresh mozzarella, heated, with hummus and hot peppers. Hot sauce? Hot sauce.

More simple pleasures: 1) Listening to a skilled order for something you’ve never thought of. 2) Ordering it tomorrow.

Quick way to ruin lunch for everyone behind you in line? Think out loud while you order.

Spit it out. Say it clearly. Listen while he rattles it back. If you change your mind, keep it local. Hold the mayo.

Ordering’s an art. They are happy to serve you.

Excuse me, I’m kind of hungry.

What’re you having?

24 responses to “Our deli best”

  1. Scotty says:

    Thanks Bry,

    My best job ever was at a deli in Jersey. I found a love for making sandwiches that I didn’t know I had. I took my role in my customers’ day very seriously – this was their break to get away form their offices, factories, or auto mechanic shops. I felt honored that they entrusted me with such an important aspect of their lives.

    Not to brag, but as time went on, my line became longer and my coworkers’ lines became shorter. My customers honored me by not minding the wait; they just wanted a sandwich made with a little extra love. This relationship, between my customers and me, was one of the best I’ve ever had. Truly, I felt love for most of them (especially the people that worked at the ball bearing factory across the road – many of them had a really dark sense of humor).

    Anyway Bry, sounds like you found a real special place over there. Let your favorite deli person know that you think he/she is special. Without the love, a good sandwich is not possible. They are showing it to you every time you go in there. If you haven’t already done so, a little reciprocation is in order.

  2. Marleyfan says:

    This would have been a perfect opportunity to throw a little merriment Stella’s way, but, with my newfound freedom I’ll gladly pass. I’m hungry too.

    Loved the line “Hot Sauce? Hot Sauce.”

  3. Tim Wager says:

    Mmmm, sammiches . . . I haven’t even had first breakfast yet and I’m already hungry for second lunch!

  4. MF says:

    Bryan, you’re brilliant. You have captured one of the great pleasure of NY living.

  5. Miller says:

    i’ve never been to ny, but the “spit it out. say it clearly” way that you wrote this post is how i envision all of ny to be: fast-paced, decisive, no explanations. none of these terms could ever be used to explain my personality, so i see all of ny as a bit intimidating, let alone the delis. thankfully, you’ve given me a little peak into the art of ny deli ordering, so when i make it out that way i’ll know exactly how to order my new school, post-gentrification sandwiches.

    i love this post, bryan. perhaps for the use of “food porn” alone. (i’m still giggling.)

  6. Shelley says:

    There are no deli’s here. We have a Plaid Pantry down the street. It’s raining today.

  7. bryan says:

    wow, it wasn’t my plan to drag shelley out of her northwestern hiding place with all these tempting sandwich details, but i’m glad it worked. i’m dying to know how life is out there. here it’s been slushy with snow after a mostly snowless winter.

    miller: all that fast talking is just to keep things running efficiently. it shouldn’t be misconstrued as a lack of friendliness!

    thanks others for sammich love. i had the eggplant and peppers wrap today. what about the rest of y’all? i expected to hear about some favorite sandwiches.

    oh, and i wish i’d said “watercress” instead of lettuce for that roast beef and blue cheese thing. watercress would certainly be the better choice.

  8. Miller says:

    oh, i don’t see that ny mentality as unfriendly at all! just a bit alien to me, and intimidating in that one may get swept up in all that efficiency (coming from an indecisive procrastinator who has been known to linger in daydream-filled states from time to time). but your post did show me that there’s an art to it all.

    and i also forget to thank you guys for the warm welcome. so thanks. :)

  9. ah, but the secret is you can have efficiency (much of the time) *and* unlimited options (most of the time). that’s a big selling point for this city as far as I’m concerned.

  10. PB says:

    egg salad with cucumbers. on wheat. extra mayo. pickles on the side.
    I love NY. Thanks Bryan, great post.

  11. Robyn says:

    Uh oh, I’ve rarely ordered a sandwich at a deli! [hangs head in shame] Maybe once or twice aside from Katz’s, which isn’t really your typical deli. (Glad you liked that photo! That sandwich was soooo damn tasty.) After hearing about sandwich ordering etiquette, I think I’m too indecisive to do it correctly. Maybe that’s why I have a tendency to eat plain bread…

    There’s this great documentary about American sandwiches. I’ve only rented it on netflix, but it’s worth buying. After I watched it I wanted to go on a roadtrip across America…for sandwiches. As though you could want anything else. Okay, maybe ice cream and sandwiches.

    Also, this kitty wants a sammich.

  12. Tim Wager says:

    Bryan and anyone interested,

    Next time you’re in LA, you have to go to Philippe’s. They claim to be the originators of the French Dip. I don’t care if the story’s bunk; the sandwiches are just sooo good. My favorite is the lamb and blue cheese, double dipped. It’s a great old LA establishment, about a block from Union Station and very near the courthouse. Sawdust on the floor, and the staff are pros who’ve been there for years. The coffee (which is actually pretty good), is 9 cents. Not a typo: 9 cents. If you get potato or macaroni salad, they scoop it out of tubs with an ice cream scoop and plop it on a paper plate. It’s the perfect pre-Dodger game meal. I want it right now. . . .

  13. mmm. lamb and blue cheese.

    and i’m going to be in LA not once but twice this spring, it seems …

    and pb: that egg salad and cukes sounds delicious. i must try it. tomorrow.

  14. Jeremy Zitter says:

    I’ve watched that documentary that Robyn recommended–it’s very entertaining. Definitely worth checking out… Also, if I remember correctly, they visit Phillipe’s in that film… Delicious post, Bry…

  15. Scotty says:

    yep, that documentaruy is fab! but not as fab as your post, full of juicy, bite-sized morsels! What a great rhythm!

  16. stephanie Wells says:

    oops, that was steph not scotty. But let me add for the record that scotty’s dream is his very own shop called Sandwich of Love. He is always scoping out potential sites and dreaming of giving up academia for lovingly crafted lunches to make people’s days. PLus, I bought him that coffee cup you linked to on the site for his birthday last year.

  17. Lisa Tremain says:

    bry, hang on, i’m finding out if you’ll be here x2 sometime tomorrow. let’s hope the university will splurge for your flight. if not, shoudl we take up a collection?

  18. Mark says:

    I always wanted to open a sandwich shop in an old bank (has to have a drive-thru). I’d use the pneumatic tubes, so you’d only be able to get items that can travel through the tubes. Maybe cans of soda, chips and sandwiches. I haven’t thought of a snazzy name yet.

  19. Rachel says:

    I loved a place around the corner from NYU where I’d get Black Forest ham, brie, and sliced Granny Smith apples on a baguette. Mmm.

  20. bryan says:

    that would be grey dog cafe. i love that sandwich.

  21. Scotty says:

    Bryan, your post and post-post string made me jointly wistful and satisfied…strangely like I just took the last bite (often the best) of a really well constructed sandi.

  22. Rachel says:

    Scott, I have to second what you say about the satisfaction of Feeding The People. I worked in a bagel shop in college and experienced the same pleasure of getting into a sandwich-making groove.

    My masterpiece:
    sliced turkey
    lettuce & tomato
    on a warm sunflower seed bagel, with cranberry juice on the side.
    Damn, I miss those sunflower bagels.

    P.S. Mark, the pneumatic tube idea is genius.

  23. rachel — i have so many good memories of you bringing leftover bagels to our house when ssw and i were first together. and then we’d watch the oscars! what a weird confluence of past associations.

  24. ssw says:

    those were good sandwiches–we were so lucky to get those bagels. my favorite sandwich then was to take a bagel, toast it, and add salami, cheese, cucumber and mustard. can you believe that was 15 years ago? that seems to intertwine a bit with lisa’s post today. ah, aging.