As an East Coast boy who studied at many of the famous NJ/NY delis (to include the AMAZING former Route 58 deli in Virginia Beach – RIP Jeff Goldberg ) I often take exception to what was revered as good ‘Strami in other places I traveled.
And by study, I mean stuffed my face with more delicious koshered meats, fish and baked goods than is probably customary for someone of my young years.
Never one to complain about what the location I’m in lacks, I ventured out and tried the versions accessible to me. Some were good. Some were ok. Some were bad. But none were “it”.
In the good versions I would go “they almost have it but they just need to add a little bit of *insert game changer*!” But who are they to listen to me when their clientele most of whom have never experienced the beautiful chaos of navigating Grand Central Station were perfectly happy with what they exclaimed was “just as good as Katz’s!”
I shipped deli from the famous places. It was good. But it just doesn’t hit the same as sitting at the counter fresh. (Point taken from many of you on the recent conversation about considering our BBQ for shipping.)
Whenever one voices the frustration with this conundrum of isolation from their nostalgic cuisine choices, arguments usually appear from both sides of the coin:
On the one, “this place sucks! They don’t have Patagonian Unicorn Croquettes like the ones I grew up with!
And the flip side:
“If you love New Jupiter so much why don’t you catch a space shuttle back there!”
In fact one of the San Diego food discussion groups that I’m a part of has this argument on no less than a weekly basis, with equally powerful sass bombs being launched from both sides.
Well we all know there’s two sides to every story and then there is what I think is the truth, which lands somewhere in the middle:
Both things can be true.
>A place like San Diego can have amazing Mexican and Asian food. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.<
>And a transplant like myself can have powerful and nostalgic cravings that drive him to researching the ins and outs of the delicious deli he craves and learning how to replicate it himself.<
Pastrami can technically be smoked brisket? Check.
It needs to be cured for several days to weeks before hand? Check.
It’s essentially corned beef that’s been smoked and then steamed to finish? Check.
Bought a pre made corned beef like pictured below and smoked it and it turned out absolutely terrible? Check.
Went back to square one, learning the process of curing, smoking and finishing your own pastrami? Check.
Bought a meat slicer to make paper thin shaved pastrami for day after sandwiches and other deli meats to experiment with (here’s looking at you cheesesteaks, Bmore pit beef and Philly roast pork ) Check.
Is it a little much? Maybe.
Is it a little obsessive? Absolutely.
But for anyone who doesn’t know how powerful a craving can be, I invite you to volunteer for a Navy shipboard deployment.
Or at the very least imagine the scene: it’s month 4 and you are on the 4th rotation of the same menu that repeats itself every 28 days. But this time you’ve caught a break. Due to some galley equipment failures, the crew is in for a rare treat meal: grilled cheese and tomato soup. You pony up to the chow line and take your portion of crispy buttery sandwich bread and gooey melty cheese. You dunk it into your piping hot tomato soup… all is well… for now. Because what you don’t know is as cherished as this meal may be in the moment. Your attitude will be 180 degrees different in 4 days when the said equipment is still broken and you are going back through the line for more grilled cheese and soup. Yes. 4 days straight.
That will change any person’s outlook on food and cravings. To this day, grilled cheese has failed to recover it’s S-tier status in my book.
So crave away you do and you hatch a plan to ensure access to all the things you will never again be denied access to. Upon receiving orders to an overseas location devoid of your favorite food, BBQ, you hatch a plan. You pack a small smoker and supply of wood chunks into your allowed household goods shipment. Never again will I be denied. By my own hand I shall be fed smoky meat
You become one of two designated appointees for providing smoked baby back ribs at house parties and kickbacks.
All that leads you to where you are today:
Down a rabbit hole of how to replicate pastrami in an absolutely oasis of a city but a desert when it comes to the delicatessen you grew up loving.
You try. You fail. You succeed.
In your excitement you replicate the famous 1 lb plus sandwiches of your memory. A few others are excited. A few more are repulsed.
You remember that San Diego is a more health conscious city.
You learn. You pull back. You make more.
And more. And more.
You completely run out of space in your work fridge.
Did I mention this was a 7 day endeavor for every bite of pastrami? You burn out.
You remove it from the menu. You miss it.
You crave. You announce it’s back open for orders in limited amounts for this Saturday, February 17th.