Note From New York: Harry & Ida's for Outstanding Pastrami

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Harry and Ida pastrami

NEW YORK — “Who wants to try some pastrami?”

The young woman asked the question to no one in particular, but since there were only four of us present in the small shop, we all figured she was talking to us. And yes, we all wanted to try some.

We were in Harry & Ida’s, a small market and deli on Avenue A in New York’s East Village. We’d been drawn there looking for anchovies that New York magazine had described as “prosciutto of the sea” in its recent food issue. The call to taste the pastrami came while we were looking over the shelves of canned fish.

When I saw the large chunks of pastrami, I thought that the young woman wasn’t too clever to give away more than a morsel, but she knew exactly what she was doing. She knew that once we took a bite, we’d be hooked. I gladly plopped down the money for a whole sandwich.

Harry and IdaI’ve had many pastrami sandwiches in many New York delicatessens, including the legendary Katz’s, just a few blocks from here, and the now-gone Stage Deli on 7th Avenue in Midtown. This one beat them all. The meat was remarkably succulent but not in a fatty sort of way, most likely from the steam finish. It had a wonderful smoky note, and the peppery seasonings on the crust were excellent. I had only expected to eat a couple of bites and save the rest for a late night, after-theater snack, but I devoured the entire sandwich while standing at the counter in the front window. (There is no seating — for a comparison to the size and setup of the place, think the original Black Bean Deli in Winter Park.)

Next time — and there will certainly be a next time — I’ll request a bit less dill on the topping, but everything else, including the fresh roll, made this a great sandwich. And the low-key friendliness of the young staff (words seldom used to described the other delis in town) made it all the more pleasant.

Haven’t tried the anchovies I bought yet. I’ll get back to you.

Harry & Ida’s is at 189 Avenue A, New York. The phone number is 646-864-0967.