10 Jewish Sammies To Die For

Rating The Top Pastrami, Nova and Corned Beef in the Land

By Molly Yeh

Published March 26, 2012, issue of March 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When Hillel used two pieces of matzo at Passover to form one of the first sandwiches in recorded history, he likely didn’t see it as the predecessor to the towering Jewish sandwiches of today. In addition to the classics — pastrami, corned beef, bagel and lox — creative chefs are churning out wacky variations like a pastrami “nishwich” (which replaces the bread with a cut- open knish) at New York’s Lansky’s Deli and kosher tacos from the Takosher taco truck in Los Angeles.

  • Brooklyn Beauty

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/1SLIDESHOW_BROOKLYN_BEAUTY.jpg

    Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, Brooklyn. (Photo: Molly Yeh)

    Brooklyn Beauty
  • Smoked Meat, Eh?

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/2SLIDESHOW_SMOKED_MEAT.jpg

    Mile End Delicatessen, Brooklyn. (Photo: Courtesy of Mile End)

    Smoked Meat, Eh?
  • Old Faithful

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/3SLIDESHOW_KATZS.jpg

    Katz’s Delicatessen, New York (Photo: Katz’s)

    Old Faithful
  • The Great Bambergwich

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/4SLIDESHOW_BAMBERGWICH.jpg

    Schnitz NYC, New York. (Photo courtesy: Courtesy of Schnitz NYC)

    The Great Bambergwich
  • The Culture Shock

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/5SLIDESHOW_sabich-taim.jpg

    Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar, New York (Photo: Taim)

    The Culture Shock
  • Champagne SuperNova

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/6SLIDESHOW_BAGEL.jpg

    4th Street Deli, Philadelphia (Photo: Emily Cowan)

    Champagne SuperNova
  • The Corned Beef Explosion

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/SLIDESHOW_CORN_BEEF.jpg

    The Bagel Restaurant & Deli, Chicago (Courtesy of the Bagel)

    The Corned Beef Explosion
  • A Hanukkah Bombshell

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/7SLIDESHOW_ZAIDYS_COPYa.jpg

    Zaidy’s Deli, Cherry Creek, Colo. (Photo: Jason Rudofsky)

    A Hanukkah Bombshell
  • The Terrifying Trifecta

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/8SLIDESHOW_DELIBOARD.jpg

    Deli Board, San Francisco (Photo: Deli Board)

    The Terrifying Trifecta
  • ‘Desert Island’ Delight

    /image/1/622/0/assets/images/articles/10SLIDESHOW_PASTRAa.jpg

    Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant, Los Angeles (Photo: Langer’s Deli/ Scrise.com)

    ‘Desert Island’ Delight


Jewish sandwiches got their start in America around the turn of the 20th century. In 1887, Sussman Volk, who had immigrated to New York from Lithuania, reportedly received a recipe for pastrami in exchange for storing a suitcase for a friend. Around the same time, Katz’s Delicatessen opened in New York, serving its pastrami sandwich, which would become one of the essential sandwiches in America.

In the last 125 years, Jewish sandwiches have evolved. Drawing on tradition and inspiration from cultures around the world, the makers of modern-day Jewish sammies are digging deep for flavor.

But, what are the best Jewish sandwiches in America? We asked a panel of food critics and sandwich experts from across the country for their recommendations. Unsurprisingly, a large majority favor some variation on the classic, comforting deli sandwich. But take note: While many of the sandwiches come from kosher-style eateries, most are not kosher.

Here are their delicious picks, from East to West, with a few of our own mixed in.

After a week of voting, scroll down to find out which sandwich won the Readers’ Choice Award.

A Brooklyn Beauty

Sour, salty and smoky flavors converge gracefully in the Brooklyn Transplant at Shelsky’s Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, which stacks kippered salmon with cream cheese, house-made apple horseradish and pickled herring salad between a choice of rye or pumpernickel bread. Cookbook author and food writer Joan Nathan raves about the sandwich, saying it has a “truly memorable” flavor combination. She opts for the chewy and light rye bread.

251 Smith St. Brooklyn, N.Y. 11231
718-855-8817
www.shelskys.com

Smoked Meat, Eh?

Smoked meat, a dry cured Canadian sibling of pastrami, is the raison d’être of 2-year-old Mile End Delicatessen in Brooklyn. Slathered with mustard and placed between slices of house-made dark rye, the smoked meat sandwich (and the restaurant) is a favorite of Jon Chonko, author of the book and blog “Scanwiches.” Cloves, fennel, peppercorns and coriander seeds lend their flavors to the meat, but what makes Mile End’s smoked meat over the top is that it’s smoked on wood — oak, to be exact. According to owner Noah Bernamoff, Montreal regulations forbid this practice, so not even the legendary Schwartz’s has that luxury.

97a Hoyt St. Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
718-852-7510
www.mileendbrooklyn.com

Old Faithful

Katz’s pastrami has withstood the tests of time and tourists. Though Katz’s might not have made the very first pastrami sandwich in America, theirs remains a classic and definitely one of the best. The Manhattan staple’s pastrami on rye is a favorite of author and former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl. “I’m a sucker for the pastrami sandwich at Katz’s,” she says. “I always give the counter guys a tip and ask for the least lean beef, and then I take it to my table and sit savoring the peppery garlic flavor of the tender meat, and the way it melts into the bread.” But Reichl explains that there’s more to Katz’s pastrami than taste and texture: “With each bite, I’m tasting history, and I love that, love being in that great raucous room and remembering that New Yorkers have been doing the same thing, in this same place, for more than a 100 years.”

205 E. Houston St. New York, N.Y. 10002
212-254-2246
katzsdelicatessen.com

The Great Bambergwich

Schnitz NYC’s fresh take on Israeli schnitzel is a mix of many different cuisines tucked into a manageably sized, colorful beauty. The New York City pop-up’s Bamberg Schnitz sandwich — a personal favorite of mine — uses a perfectly fried chicken thigh cutlet that has been breaded with panko and parsley. Relish made with pickled daikon, cucumber, shallots and ginger adds a Banh Mi-esque element and tops the sumptuous schnitzel. Toss in a Tom Cat Bakery pretzel roll that has been smothered in caramelized onion Dijon mustard, and the result is a heavenly blend of flavors, textures and cultures.

Roving Pop-up
http://blog.schnitznyc.com
On twitter @SchnitzNYC

The Culture Shock

At Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar in New York, the sabich is a favorite of Israeli food specialist Naama Shefi. According to Shefi, the combination of fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, hummus and amba — an Iraqi condiment made from mangoes — was first invented by Iraqi Jews as a Shabbat breakfast sandwich (“sabich” means “morning”). Today it is one of the most popular street foods in Israel, and while sabich hasn’t achieved as large a following in America, Taim’s take is truly deliciously authentic.

222 Waverly Place New York, N.Y. 10014
212-691-6101
www.taimfalafel.com

Champagne SuperNova

For the best bagel and nova, you’ll need to head to — brace yourself, New Yorkers — Philly! Forward food editor Devra Ferst swears by the thinly sliced rich nova and “epic-in-size” sandwiches stuffed with cream cheese, tomato and onions at the Famous 4th Street Deli. Dine amongst black-and-white autographed photos of patrons in a nostalgia-land that has been a Philadelphia institution since 1923. And if you’re up to the challenge, save room for the chocolate chip cookies for dessert. (But even if you don’t save room, they’re worth the bellyache, she promises.)

700 South 4th St. Philadelphia, Pa. 19147
215-922-3274
www.famous4thstreetdelicatessen.com

The Corned Beef Explosion

Chicago’s The Bagel Restaurant & Deli has one of the best corned beef sandwiches in town, says Eater Chicago editor Ari Bendersky. That’s no easy feat in a city famous for its beef. The venerable sandwich is stuffed with the highest quality beef from Chicago’s Vienna beef and is served on caraway-seed-heavy rye. Do yourself a favor and request that your corned beef be hand-sliced, and then pace yourself — this is one big sammie.

3107 N. Broadway St. Chicago, Ill. 60657
773-477-0300
www.bagelrestaurant.com

A Hanukkah Bombshell

Thin and crispy potato pancakes replace rye bread in the Latke Reuben at Zaidy’s Deli in Cherry Creek, Colo. Stuffed inside is the diner’s choice of corned beef or pastrami. Top it off with Zaidy’s house-made Russian dressing and Swiss cheese and you have yourself a delicious, albeit sloppy, fork-and-knife sandwich. You might say it’s the Jewish equivalent of the KFC Double Down (though it predated the Double Down by about 10 years). Yes, it’s kitschy, but as Denver Post restaurant critic William Porter said, “It’s worthy on the pure flavor merits.”

121 Adams St. Denver, Colo. 80206
303-333-5336
www.zaidysdeli.com

The Terrifying Trifecta

At Deli Board in San Francisco, a trifecta of meats make up the Gold-n-Berg-n-stein, named for — what else? — three of the most iconic Jewish last names. Corned beef, pastrami and kosher salami are served with Muenster cheese, house-made coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing on a French roll, which keeps all the components neatly together, according to owner Adam Mesnick. Patricia Unterman, food writer for the San Francisco Examiner, says this sandwich sets the bar high: “Soft, salty, buttery, piquant and creamy, this sandwich transcends its components to become a higher food, some kind of manna.”

1058 Folsom St. San Francisco, Calif. 94103
415-552-7687
www.deliboardsf.com/

‘Desert Island’ Delight

Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant in Los Angeles offers a pastrami that is steamed until it reaches a perfect state of tenderness and is then hand-cut — a rarity at delis today — ensuring scrumptious cut-against-the-grain slices. A timeless classic, it’s the “desert island” sandwich of “Save the Deli” book and blog author David Sax. “It’s not so much one thing as the combination of perfect elements: warm, crusty double-baked rye bread, cut thick [with] hand-sliced, tender steamed pastrami, piled evenly across the bread.”

704 S. Alvarado St. Los Angeles, Calif. 90057
213-483-8050
www.langersdeli.com

Molly Yeh is a writer, classical percussionist, blogger at mynameisyeh.com and mustard collector in New York City.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.