Wednesday, 13 February 2008 by kinakoJam
Excellent news! Whether it's as good as the original seems to be down for debate, but maybe that's half the fun.
I have high hopes. The old one, in my opinion, kicked Katz's ass.
The Second Avenue Deli we visited is about half the size of the East Village original, which lasted from 1954 to early 2006, when it was done in by rising rents.
A nephew of the original owner is in charge, and he’s made changes, but not too many.
He’s added smoked fish appetizers. On every table sits a free bowl of gribenes, chicken skin fried in chicken fat. In the past you had to ask for it. Now you just have to atone for it.
The restaurant remains kosher, unlike Katz’s and the Carnegie, and still prides itself on cooking as well as sandwich making, a vanity supported by the meaty kreplach and the chicken soup, brimming with fresh dill, that I had at a later lunch.
But Ed, Nora, Laura and I focused instead on the foods that each of us associated most closely with the Second Avenue Deli.
“It had a great hot dog,” Nora said of its East Village incarnation, “with a major skin thing happening, and a burst of juicy meat inside.”
She had a dreamy look. When the waiter swung by, she asked: “What’s the hot dog situation?”
The waiter said flatly, “We have them.”
She pressed for details.
“It’s not skinless,” he said, “so it gives a nice crackle.”
Her eyes widened. “This is very exciting!” she said. “You’re saying the right words! You’re singing the song!”
After two bites of it, she judged the texture ideal, the seasoning less so. “I’m looking for more garlic,” she said. “I’m looking for more, more, more courage in this hot dog.”
The brisket was a bigger hit, especially with me and even more so with Ed, who homed in on its transcendent virtue.
“I happen to like fatty delicatessen,” he said as he bit into the fatty, messy sandwich, which he washed down with Cel-Ray soda. He had made a bib of his napkin, and wore it over his blue dress shirt and gold-striped tie.
“I will order the fattiest pastrami they make,” he said of his approach to deli food, and I nodded. I saw Nora and Laura nodding too. On this we agreed: life was too short to go any other route.
Our pastrami — on rye — turned out to be plenty fatty. It was borscht red. It glistened.
The machine-carved meat was also stacked very tall, which troubled Nora.
“One of the reasons I like Barney Greengrass so much is that they don’t overload the sandwich like this,” she said. “This is veering into Carnegie country.”
“I grew up poor,” said Ed. “I like overloading.”
“See how many schools of thought there are when it comes to delicatessen?” Nora said. “It’s like a religion, and it has sects.”
Ed, the most deeply rooted New Yorker among us, said that at the Second Avenue Deli, “I feel very much at home.”
“I walk out,” he said, “and I feel warm, no matter how cold it is.”
Second Avenue Deli
162 East 33rd Street.; (212) 689-9000.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Matzo brei, coleslaw, potato salad, chicken soup, blintzes, pastrami on rye, brisket on rye, roast turkey sandwich, kreplach, rugelach.