On Sunday, I had split off from my wife and her parents so that I could go to church with my dad. He was announcing his retirement from being a pastor. I wasn’t planning on being there on the day of this announcement, but after a last minute schedule change, I was able to go.
When I circled back with the group, I had found that, when my wife was the tour guide for the day, she and her parents did not eat breakfast, did not eat lunch, and had only a back of chips to hold them over until dinner. For this to happen in a city with this much culinary possibility, I thought, was a travesty. Thus, after a tour of the NBC Studio and after taking in the view from the Top of the Rockefeller building, I took my wife and in-laws to the Carnegie Deli.
In all the times I had been to Manhattan, I had somehow managed to never eat at this historic place. So, when I went in, I thought it would be like Manny’s Deli in Chicago. After all, each is a traditional deli, each serves food by the shovelful, each is steeped in history, and they each serve similar food. But instead of going down the line, cafeteria-style, like at Manny’s, you get seated at the Carnegie Deli. And when you sit down, you get a plate of pickels – half sweet, half dill.
Given that the place is known for its sandwiches, I was astonished to see how long the menu was. It was like looking through a menu at the Cheesecake Factory. There were pages upon pages of traditional deli/diner staples. But I was there for a sandwich. And again, knowing that I was going to put the four of us through a food marathon, I suggested that my in-laws split a sandwich and my wife and I split a sandwich. A normal corned beef sandwich comes with about a pound of meat. My in-laws opted for the Woody Allen, which was corned beef plus pastrami. It was massive and came tipping over. Even between the two of them, my in-laws couldn’t finish the sandwich.
Sarah and I split a rueben. Because we both love ruebens. And when ours came out, it, too, was enormous. Unlike the Woody Allen, which comes split into two pieces and more naturally lends itself to sharing, the rueben required a little bit of dissection to split onto a second plate. I gingerly began lifting up the thick layer of swiss cheese that was melted on top of the immense mound of meat. I was able to see that this open face rueben was laid upon three slices of bread.
Not seeing any easy way to split apart the sandwich, I just began cutting. Gingerly, I then made the transfer to a second plate. And, like some sort of manna from heaven, the half that I slid onto my plate seemed just as big as the original rueben. It was the sandwich with no end. I mean, the picture of me with the sandwich is only half the sandwich.
Eating here was enjoyable, but rather than a dining experience, it was more of a thrown gauntlet. And one that I was more than willing to take up. The meat was wonderfully prepared. I even sampled some of the pastrami leftovers of my father-in-law’s sandwich. That, too, was good. Really, really good. I think I spent about ten minutes marvelling with Sarah and her parents that the same cut of an animal could produce two such mystifyingly distinct meats. At which point Sarah asked me to stop, because she doesn’t like it when I talk about the specific parts of an animal that a meat comes from.