Friday, March 14, 2008

It's Not Possible To Gentrify Katz's Deli

On Houston and Ludlow Streets there is Katz's Deli which serves some of the best hot pastrami sandwiches in town. It has been there for more than a century ( it opened in 1888) and is unlikely to change. To have a hot pastrami sandwich at Katz's is to know that you are in New York City. There are many stories about Katz's. Here is one of them. One morning in early May 2006 my son Adam had chest pains and was taken to the emergency room where they said he probably had three blocked arteries. When I arrived at the emergency room he said that the only thing he wanted was a hot pastrami sandwich from Katz's. I told him I would bring him one the next day. The following morning I stopped off at Katz's on the way to the hospital , approached the sandwich counter and ordered a lean hot pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard. I told the deli man that it was for my son who was in the hospital with three blocked arteries and that was why I wanted a lean sandwich. The counter man said, "Well, if he doesn't have blocked arteries now, he will after he eats this sandwich. I'm putting extra meat on it." I left him a big tip.

Adam's face was the picture of Joy as he downed the sandwich that morning in the Intensive Care Unit. The day after Adam consumed his hot pastrami sandwich I visited him again at the New York Presbyterian Hospital where he had been transferred. There, at 11 A.M., I found him covered with nirto patches, intertwined with IV's, heart monitor cords and his girlfriend. They were in his hospital bed making out. He even had the nerve to ask the nurse for more nitro pills because he had chest pains. I suppose there is nothing like a Katz's hot
pastrami sandwich to make you think of sex, even if you were are flat on your back in an Intensive Care Unit. The story had a happy ending. Adam had two stents put in and was released from the hospital on May 13th. Hot pastrami sandwiches were one of the top items on the hospital's list of forbidden foods. I fact Abe Lebewohl, the ex owner of the fabulous Second Avenue Deli , at a conference of food writers in the mid-1990's said, , when it was his turn to apeak, " What am I gonna tell you?" He said, " My food will kill you." Although he was not speaking about hot pastrami sandwiches in particular you do not have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that hot pastrami was high on the list of deadly foods. After the speech making was over everyone in the crowded room rushed over to the buffet and, you guessed it, the meat platters were demolished. ( Alex Witchel, " A Counter History", The New York Times Magazine Section , October 21, 2007.p. 64ff)

You can even think about sex while you are at Katz's. After all, Meg Ryan's inspired fake orgasm scene was filmed there. There is a sign to remind you of it. On the other hand Katz's hot pastrami sandwiches have been known to bring out the spiritual, rather than the carnal side of some people. For example , a few years ago while eating a hot pastrami sandwich at Katz's , the photographer Gary Nickard said that the very existence of such a tasty sandwich was proof that not only did God exist but that He loved us. This is an extremely elevated idea to have come from oral contact with a lowly hot pastrami sandwich. God's love hiding in a hot pastrami sandwich is such a radical idea that I don' t think that our most distinguished theologians are prepared to deal with it.


Allan I ludwig AKA Elisha Cook Jr. said...
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