Pastrami is one of those foods that inspires rabid debate – should it be lean or fatty? Sliced thick or thin? Served with cheese or without? Boiled after smoking, steamed, or both, like pastrami mecca Katz's Delicatessen does it?
First, let's define it. Traditionally pastrami is a tough cut of beef (usually brisket or navel) cured, rubbed with a spice blend and smoked. In the classic deli preparation, the meat is then steamed to finish the cook and moisten it up, then sliced onto rye bread. As a staple of Jewish delis, the traditional sandwich is served without cheese as it's not kosher to mix meat and dairy, but of course, the rules of kashrut get bent all the time in the name of deliciousness.
But you can pastrami-cure anything: different cuts of beef, or pork, or salmon, whatever; and there are the above- mentioned debates about slicing, steaming, etc. – everyone thinks their way is the best way. So if you're just going for a damn-that's-delicious moment and you're willing to throw tradition to the wind, the house-made pastrami sandwich at Artisan's Table, a new addition to their ever-evolving lunch menu, is the local way to go.
First and most rule-breaking: It's not sliced; it's pulled, like barbecue. And it's not juicy, like the usual delicatessen pastrami is expected to be – again like barbecue, it's a mix of charred-crisp bark and chewy, moist shreds of meat. The smoke is light enough that the flavor of the meat comes through, instead of the usual drowned-in-brining-spices pastrami experience. And instead of soft slices of rye bread, the pastrami is piled on a crisp, light rye roll and topped with Dijon mustard and melted Swiss cheese; instead of a pickle spear on your plate, thin floppy slices of delicate house-cured dill pickle tile the bun. All in all, it's a chewy, salty, meaty indulgence – not light, but just right. – Jessica Bryce Young