On the street that separates New York’s hip East Greenwich Village from urban chic SoHo and the Lower East Side, lays the Holy Land for all things deli. Founded in 1888, by a Russian immigrant family, Katz’s deli, at 205 East Houston Street is truly a New York Landmark. True delicatessens are real and rare, because they continue a tradition of meat preparation and preservation predating refrigeration. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Lower East Side was home to millions of the newly emigrated. This was a time long before smoking, pickling and other curing methods of prolonging the life of food had been perfected.
This is the classic, Jewish, kosher-style, New York deli. While pondering the menu, you may notice words in Yiddish, the only language many European immigrants spoke when they arrived in this country. While arguably the best hot dog in the city, serving 12,000 per week, they also plate up 5,000 pounds of corned beef and 2,000 pounds of salami in that same time frame.
During World War II, Katz’s encouraged parents to “send a salami to your boy in the army” which became one of the deli’s famous catch phrases, along with “Katz’s, that’s all!” which is still painted on the side of the building. The former phrase is referenced in the Tom Lehrer song “So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)”, with the lyric “Remember Mommy, I’m off to get a commie, so send me a salami, and try to smile somehow”.
The deli has served several U.S. presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The walls are lined with pictures of writers, politicians and more who have dined at Katz’s. Additionally, Katz’s was the site of Meg Ryan’s famous “I’ll have what she’s having” fake orgasm scene in the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. The table at which she and Billy Crystal sat is marked with a sign that says “Where Harry met Sally…hope you have what she had!”.
Katz’s menu is simple and straight forward. Whether it’s their Matzo Ball Soup or one of their world famous hot dogs, it is hard to go wrong on this menu. However, as a native New Yorker, I would feel remiss in not strenuously suggesting that you try what is hands down the best pastrami sandwich on the planet.
Katz’s reputation for recreating the flavors of the Old World has created a loyal following for many generations of residents and visitors alike. It is and shall be for many, a link with their heritage, a place to show their children and grandchildren and the best delicatessen in the world.