With yesterday’s innocuous New York Times review of Katz’s Deli and the news last week that the 2nd Avenue Deli will be "recreated" in Murray Hill, it seems that forces of pastrami have won some kind of cosmic victory over the over the forces of real estate; forces that threaten to destroy old-fashioned New York dining institutions.
The outer boroughs are home to a scattering of delicatessens where the pastrami sandwiches rival, and at times possibly surpass, those found at Katz’s and Carnegie Deli; Mill Basin Deli on Avenue T in Brooklyn even owns the pastrami.net domain. In the Riverdale Section of the Bronx, Liebman’s Kosher Restaurant serves a pastrami burger ($10.95); a regular hamburger topped with a few slices of the brined, spiced and smoked meat, the works pushed over to the side so as not to fuss anything up. People order pastrami burgers in the Bronx. It’s no big thing. Sitting in the wall-to-wall mirrored dining area at the back of Liebman’s, we asked our waitress what the deal was with the pastrami burger. “Do you like burgers?” She asked, and we nodded. “Do you like pastrami?” We nodded again. “Some people like them together,” she offered finally, and sighed. We ordered the old-fashioned pastrami sandwich ($11.95) with a Dr. Brown’s celery soda.
The meat came piled very high between two flimsy pieces of decent rye bread like it does at Katz’s, but the bread isn’t really the most important part of any pastrami sandwich. The pastrami itself was lean and thinly sliced. It didn’t quite have the melting brisket-like quality or subtle spice of Katz’s, but with a dosing of mustard, the whole thing turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The side plate of half-sour pickles were salty, a decent complement to the sandwich. Matzoh ball soup ($3.25) was brothy and good, with a giant dumpling, some noodles in the bottom, and a perfunctory diamond-shaped piece of carrot at the top of the cup.
Liebman’s has old-school charm. It will turn 55 next year, and while the back booths have been reupholstered in standard mauve diner vinyl, the R and T in Restaurant on the sign out front have gone permanently missing. Much of the mood and clanking plates inside; the side orders of noodle pudding and chopped liver, have also seemingly missed out on a half-century of so-called food innovation. Liebman’s, and the city in general, is all the more better for it.
Liebman’s Kosher Restaurant
552 West 235th Street
photo: pastrami sandwich at Liebman's