The plane rises, Durham falters away and slowly becomes forests that flow into cities. On the plane a short girl with a large cross necklace dangling from her neck asked me what I was doing this summer in the city. Having promised my friend to “try and make airplane friends.” I told her about NYU and all the fun that entails. Slowly I made my way over to a slightly more exciting thing that I’d be doing. “I’m going to be going to as many delis I can this summer and write about them on a blog.”
“Oh,” she replied slightly confused. “Why would you want to do that?” She mustered out after what felt like an exceptionally long pause.
“Umm, I don’t know... it just seemed like a fun idea.”
“Well what is there to say about delis?” She asked, awkward laughing quickly following the equally awkward question.
“Well I guess I’ll find out,” I said returning the awkward laughter till we both returned to our books declaring the conversation a defeat.
Slowly the plane descended to Laguardia and hovered terrifying close to the water till it rolled onto the tarmac as the old Welcome to New York sign with its rusted big apple lying in the grass. As I entered New York in the bouncy taxi I felt this familiar terror of entering a new place for a long time. It's that familiar excitement coupled with that stark feeling of, “what are you getting yourself into?” I’m leaving friends and familiarity for a very different place. I'm going to a place where I know essentially no one. Slowly the darkness of the Midtown Tunnel dissipated into searing light and heat traveled through the cab windows onto me. As soon as I arrived I began my journey to the first deli.
The first deli that begins it all is Sarges Deli at 548 3rd Avenue. Founded in 1964 this 24 hour jewish deli is one of the most iconic delis in New York City. It's not easy to overlook this famous restaurant. A big red sign stands over the sidewalk while a white 24 HOURS sign sits on the sidewalk reminding you that matzah ball soup is always an option at anytime of the day.
As you enter the atmosphere is lively. Behind the counter big bearded men slice away at chunks of fish. Young waitresses quickly take you to your seat without a lot of chatting. Autographs from Bill Russell and Joe Namath and other athletes from long ago sit, dust cast over their ancient signatures. The images are all outdated as if they haven’t been touched since the 1970’s. Huge posters of the New York skyline with the two towers as the foremost image are all around you. That's part of the magic of this place though. In one way it's incredibly lively and vibrant and in another way it feel as though it's still 1964 and you're checking out this new deli that just opened down the street.
I was starving so I ordered a bagel with lox as well as corned beef hash. This isn’t the most jewish combination I could have gotten I must admit. I could've had the tall stacks of corned beef that they call a reuben, the bright pickles or even the celery flavored soda I saw an old man drinking.
In this room as a young angry looking man attacked his reuben while a thin tired looking intern wearing her scrubs nibbled on a bagel and two children fought over a piece of corned beef. And this was only noon, try imagine the kinda crowd they get at one AM.
The bagel came and I was a bit surprised it had cream cheese on it. Don’t get me wrong, cream cheese and lox on a bagel is the perfect combination but it isn’t kosher. I’m used to a measly substitute and having a real slab of cream cheese was an utterly thrilling experience . Having non-kosher food at a Jewish deli may seem a bit antithetical but in the end if it improves the bagel experience then I approve of it. The corned beef hash was crisp and just a bit crunchy around the edges. The problem with judging any jewish food is you don’t know if it's purposeful. Maybe those burned edges were passed down in the family since they escaped from Egypt.
Thanks for reading my second post. You can expect for the next 6 weeks 2-3 posts per week. If you have any suggestions for delis you’d like me to check out please contact me! Thanks again!