When Katz Met Delicatessen

Drew Lederman
Katz Delicatessen is a famous deli on the Lower East Side that was brought over by Jewish immigrants. The menu includes classics like pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup, along with some unconventional options like tongue sandwiches and chopped liver.

Sally Albright of “When Harry Met Sally” demonstrated that women can fake orgasms — and fake them well — as she groaned, gasped and let out a few “oh yeahs.” This orgasmic scene would definitely make your grandma blush and grab her pearls. But none of this could have happened without its perfect location: Katz’s Delicatessen.

The order-up eatery on the Lower East Side represents a timeless deli culture that was brought by Jewish immigrants and became popularized at the turn of the century.

What started in 1888 as a take-out service for Jewish people became a community hang-out, which grew into a city-wide mecca for traditional Jewish deli fare. The deli grew through the years and during World War II, even offered delivery to those serving overseas with the slogan, “Send A Salami To Your Boy In The Army.”

The menu is full of classic Jewish food: pastrami sandwiches, reubens, matzo ball soup, egg cream, latkes, kugel, blintzes and knishes. They also have less-known but still traditional options like tongue sandwiches and chopped liver. The meat is cured slowly — taking up to 30 days to perfect, without any chemical additives.

The food quality draws both locals and tourists. And by looking at the pictures on the wall, it’s clear that its fans include the rich and famous.One of Katz’s managers, Charles de la Cruz, said the restaurant gets around  2,000 visitors on weekdays and 4,000 on weekends. Cruz said that everyone who comes to New York usually ends up visiting the deli.

“Mostly, they come because their parents came, because their grandparents came,” Cruz said. “Sometimes you see three or four generations sitting at the same table, and that’s what’s amazing about this place.”

When you walk into Katz’s you are immediately given a ticket and told not to lose it: it is your way in, your way to order and your way out. You give your ticket to one of the many “cutters” lined up at the counter, who take your order, write it on your ticket and make your food right in front of you.

The ticket system is a 128-year-old tradition that is strictly enforced. It sounds demanding, but if you lose your ticket the staff will work with you to figure out what you what you ordered before you can go on your merry way. But for those who aren’t so merry, you might walk out with a bit more than just food.

“If you lose a ticket and you’re obnoxious, we have charged up to $100,” Cruz said. “People have been arrested.”

There might be tough guys working at Katz, but don’t let that fool you — they are the nicest servers, cooks and busboys you will ever meet. And the deli is open 24 hours on weekends, so you can stop in for a friendly face and a pastrami on rye whenever your heart and stomach may please.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 10 print edition. Email Drew Lederman at [email protected]

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