Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side of New York City might well have been the first real restaurant my parents took me to when I was kid. Walking in now, little has actually changed. There's still the same floor, tables, even the ticket machine that gives you a little piece of paper that the counter people punch the price of your sandwich on as you check for the cashier.
Photos of celebrities adorn the walls — some of the same ones that have been hanging for more than 70 years — and more recent ones, including TODAY's own Al Roker smiling after his bite of a Katz's meal. Most Americans know the place from the scene in “When Harry Met Sally...” when Billy Crystal looked on as Meg Ryan ... well ... enjoyed the “ultimate” sandwich.
I have to be honest, as a kid Katz's was all about corned beef (on rye, of course) and hot dogs — not pastrami. But both my parents loved the pastrami and as hard as they tried, I would never change my menu selections.
Fast-forward to last week, when Dan Barbossa (my producer) and I stopped in to see if our viewer's nomination would make the final cut. Dan (born and bred in Jersey) had NEVER had a pastrami sandwich in his life! And me? As I hate to admit, I never had a Katz's pastrami sandwich either!
We spoke to a number of Katz's regulars — even the late comedian Buddy Hackett's sister — and there was little doubt that they all felt the best pastrami was indeed Katz's. I also met three teenage girls, one a regular customer, the other two there for the first time, and none of them had the pastrami before. Guess what? Again raves for this sandwich.
So what makes Katz's pastrami so special? Not to be trite, but it does actually melt in your mouth; you barely have to chew. It's satisfying, it's delicious and, oh yeah ... like many of our Best Sandwich in America nominees, the sandwich is huge!
Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .