As a Jew born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, I feel confident describing myself as an expert on quality pastrami. Now, pastrami differs from, say... bagels, in that inferior pastrami can still make a nice sandwich. Inferior bagels? They're just dinner rolls with holes and I won't eat them. So I've given up on bagels since moving away from New Jersey, but you'll occasionally find me noshing a pastrami sandwich. Usually with a disappointed look on my face.
Last weekend, the wife and I went to Portland, land of the cool, home of the hip. They should add Place of the Pastrami to what they tout as the city's claims to fame, because I had one (actually two) good sandwiches there.
the actual sandwich in question
This house brined and dried and seasoned to perfection sandwich at Kenny & Zuke's was the best I've had since I left home 20 years ago. It was sliced perfectly thick, so that it had bite and texture. Thin sliced pastrami is for weinies, if you ask me.
And it was peppery and garlicky and clovey, but not so much that any one flavor overwhelmed the other, or the meat. My only complaint? Not enough meat on the sandwich. Maybe it's just in my memory that pastrami sandwiches are piled three or four inches high?
Now, let's talk about their knish. If I closed my eyes and went by flavor alone, I would have thought I was eating a perfect specimen from my youth, done just slightly more upscale. The pastry on the outside was definitely better than a typical knish, flakier and butterier. But the potato was chunky, and while it was nice, it was jarring to my munch down knish-memory lane. But the real problem with it was aesthetic. See it up there, next to the sandwich? It's topless! Didn't look like any knish I'd ever seen before. It was darn good though, so my complaint is actually pretty petty.
Kenny & Zuke's pickles were really good too, and their rye bread was better than most I've had on the West Coast. They even have the two name thing going -- when I was a kid every deli in the suburbs was a two-guy name: Jerry and Harvey's (our family's favorite), Jesse and Davids... okay, maybe there were just two.
I love trying new restaurants, but the pastrami was so good at K & Z's that on our 24 hour trip to P-land, Mrs. Food Guy and I ate there twice. After our awesome lunch, I couldn't resist a breakfast sandwich of egg, pastrami, swiss cheese (hey, I didn't say it, or I, was kosher...) with a side of latkes. The latkes were tasty, though nothing to write home about.
But the pastrami? The pastrami... Consider this a letter to New Jersey.