New York City has always been a food mecca for me. I’m like a kid in the candy store when it comes to food in the city because there are more varieties of food and cuisines than I can count. As a kid it was always a treat when my family would go to the
Carnegie Deli (just across the street from Carnegie Concert Hall). The ubiquitous tin bucket of pickles, both sour and fresh, sitting on the stark table tops always prepped my taste buds for the humongous meal that was about to pass through my lips. The meal was usually pastrami on rye with massive amounts of dark mustard or my all time favorite a Reuben with piles of corned beef, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and Swiss cheese all on pumpernickel bread. When our sky high sandwiches would arrive my mom would immediately take at least ¾ of the meat from all of our sandwiches and place it in a takeout container along with the pickles…that would be our lunch meat for the week! I think she was afraid we would eat all of the meat and not save any for lunches.
Not much has changed at the deli. The tables haven’t changed and still have stark Formica tops with vinyl chairs. Sharing tables is common when the deli gets crowded. The pickles no longer sit out in a bucket on the table, probably due to health concerns, but they now arrive in bowl as soon as you sit at the table. Perhaps there are more celebrity pictures on the wall than before. I wonder how they decide where to put the pictures…and which ones to remove as new ones come in. The food hasn’t changed either, gargantuan portions of good quality East Coast deli food.
The deli is a destination restaurant for many tourists and is easily accessible to Broadway theatre goers. My family stays at the Park Central Hotel right next to the restaurant…generally because we get good rates and is very conveniently located…but sometimes I wonder if we stay there because it is easy to run over to the deli and pick up a quick meal or dessert.
I’m not sure how or when the deli became a favorite of my vegetarian daughter. …maybe it was the cheesecake or potato pancakes, or the potato knishes (we don’t want to know what type of grease they use in the fryer…because that could ruin it for a vegetarian). All I know is every time she is in NYC the first stop is “The Carnegie”. She was very disappointed when her high school drama group went to the city and she couldn’t get anyone to go to the deli with her. The kids all wanted to eat at the chain restaurants such as Bubba Gumps but not Allison (we brought her up right…don’t eat at chain restaurants!) So Allison had to venture out on her own to get her deli fix.
Now that I think about it the cheesecake is what keeps Allison going back. The rich, creamy, dense, and slightly sweet with cookie crust that almost as tall as a fork. It is a classic New York style cheesecake. Several restaurants in NYC promote their cheesecake as the original. I don’t which one is correct but the Carnegie’s can’t be beat…and they even publish the recipe for their cheesecake.
On our recent trip to the city, to celebrate Allison’s 21st birthday, the first stop after we dropped our bags off at the hotel was the deli. Instead of eating the large sandwiches I had grown up with I now opt for saner portions and quite often get a bowl of the homemade chicken broth soup either with matzah balls or kreplach (triangle pasta filled with ground meat). The soup comes with a side of bread and the pickles…making it a very full meal for only $7.95.
Allison used to get the plate of potato pancakes, 3 large (about 8 inches in diameter) potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream. While the pancakes are gut busters she would only eat one and take the rest back to the hotel to eat later. But on this day the waiter asked if she wanted just one pancake, a great idea. So for $4.95 Allison had her 1 pancake with sour cream and applesauce, bread and pickles…then dessert…the sky high cheesecake ($9.95). The kid was a happy camper!
During the five days we were in the city we went to the deli 3 more times….one time to pick up dessert to eat in our hotel room. The classic black and white cookie for me and, you guessed it, cheesecake for Allison. Then on the morning we were leaving we had breakfast there…an omelet and bagel for Allison and great homemade corned beef hash (made with the pits and pieces of homemade corned beef) and eggs for me.
The final trip to the deli was just as we were hailing the taxi to take us to the airport. Allison had planned for months to buy a cheesecake for her good friend, Katelyn’s birthday. Katelyn accompanied us on a trip to NYC 2 years ago and also fell in love with the deli and the cheesecake. I was stunned at how Katelyn, as thin and in shape as she was, could eat a whole piece of cheesecake! The deli quickly became a favorite stop for Katelyn on that trip and Allison knew Katelyn would love to have another bite of that sumptuous cheesecake…and share some with her friends and relatives. Allison made sure to save room in her carry-on bag for the whole cheesecake … a delicious birthday treat for her friend.
What I like most about sharing the deli with Allison is all of the good childhood memories it brings back to me of sharing the deli with my family. Now I’m passing the fun, good food, and memories.