My brother Benny Eggs used to frequent the 2nd Avenue Deli regularly with my old man. This is before pop had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of years ago. Although the old man still indulges in the occasional steak–sometimes it’s not so occasional–his eating habits certainly don’t approach the unbridled excess of the old days. One night Eggs and the old man were sitting in a booth at the 2nd Avenue Deli, waiting to order. My dad was furiously stuffing down the complimentary cole slaw when the waiter arrived, so my brother order two pastrami sammiches. Just then pop started choking on the cole slaw. He slammed down a glass of water and held up a hand for the waiter to stay. Before he could fully recover, let alone draw a breath—his eyes now bloodshot, and tearing, he simply reminded the waiter: “Fatty.”
I was reminded of this story on my train ride home yesterday evening. The Times had a great article on Pastrami on the front page of the Dining In section. Here is a classic New York scene:
I want a pastrami on rye, fatty, not too lean,” said the middle-age man in line at Katz’s, on the Lower East Side, practically wagging his finger at the counterman. “Pastrami shouldn’t be lean. And I want coleslaw on the sandwich, but put it on the side, because I got to drive my truck to Jersey and I don’t want it to get soggy. Put the mustard on the side for the same reason.”
A pause. The counterman gave a world-weary shrug and continued to put together the sandwich, laying the slices of juicy meat onto the bread.
“And don’t give me any of those half-sour pickles,” the customer added. “Give me some really good sour pickles.”
This scene might have taken place in 1946. Or ’67. In 1980, even, it would have starred two Jewish men of a certain age and demeanor. On this recent day, however, the customer was black, and the counterman, Dominican
These kind of stories are dangerous to read with an empty stomach, and I got so worked up that I had to stop by Loeser’s Deli on 231rst street and pick up a couple of dogs and a knish (as well as a couple of half-sour pickels and yes, a container of cole-slaw to boot). Okay, it wasn’t a fat-ass Pastrami sammich, but they are foods that go well with mustard all the same. And it was delish, and terrif. About the only drawback is the awful bellyache I’s got this morning. Hell, it was worth it.