Taking a bite out of the Big Apple
The pastrami on rye
'I’ll have what she’s having.’ At Katz’s Delicatessen, it’s almost obligatory to repeat the famous line from Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally – but, in fact, co-star Billy Crystal made the smart menu choice: the pastrami on rye. This is the New York sandwich: heaps of smoked, black-edged slices of pastrami squeezed inside two pieces of rye bread and smothered in yellow mustard, accompanied by pickles. The recipe hasn’t changed since Katz’s opened 125 years ago: the pastrami is cured the same way, using the same secret ingredients and, unlike in most delis, is still cut by hand to order. This allows the meat to stay in the steamer for longer, so it retains its tenderness and ensures the slices are the perfect size. Some 15,000 pounds of pastrami is consumed each week at Katz’s by a clientele that includes four US presidents, numerous celebrities (photos of whom adorn the deli’s wood-panelled walls) and serving US soldiers, who have been receiving their salamis since WWII, when the owners sent food to their sons overseas and coined the slogan ‘Send a salami to your boy in the army’.
Tradition abounds at Katz’s. The deli opened in 1888 when the Lower East Side, now a melting pot of eateries from around the world, was home to a thriving community of Jewish immigrants. Although Katz’s wasn’t the first to produce the pastrami sandwich – it’s thought that a kosher butcher named Sussman Volk got there first – it soon became an institution. The original ambience that made it so remains, including the ’40s storefront sign and the archaic ticketing system: a ticket is given on arrival, food gets charged to it and a fine of $50 is charged if it’s lost. It doesn’t seem to stop anyone having a good time though – at the meat counter, backdropped by a wall of hanging salamis, the cutters banter, and at the formica tables someone, somewhere, will be faking an orgasm.
The New York cheesecake
The Upper East Side, with some of the most expensive zip codes in the US, has long been the preserve of well-coiffed ladies armed with designer bags the size of steam trunks and diamond rings worth more than the average brownstone apartment. And in the rarefied air of uptown, among some of the country’s most extravagant flagship stores, old-world cafés and opulent bars, the Lady M Cake Boutique is their spiritual home.
Opened in 2004, this boutique (not a mere bakery or cake shop) sells delicate, fanciful desserts that are presented like jewels behind glass on a long counter. The interior is narrow, minimal and all white, almost gallery-like, designed so that all attention falls on the beautifully crafted cakes. These include the signature Mille Crêpe – more than 20 crêpes layered with pastry cream – and, of course, the gâteau fromage.
While baked cheesecake has been eaten in Europe since the 1400s, New Yorkers have appropriated history by claiming it as their own. Reputedly invented by German immigrant Arnold Reuben, but immortalised by Lindy’s restaurant in Midtown in the 1920s, the creation featuring cream cheese, heavy cream, a dash of vanilla and a cookie crust became hugely popular in the ’40s.
At Lady M, owner and creator Ken Romaniszyn has combined French techniques and Japanese style to bring a new, lighter take on the baked cheesecake. His gâteau fromage features a thin base of shortbread cookie crust, and a soft, silky and creamy topping with a hint of vanilla. At seven dollars a slice, it’s a unique and luxurious way to grab a bite of the Upper East Side’s good life.