The classic cuisine of the city that never stops eating has been imitated, parodied and occasionally overlooked – even by locals – for fusion fads or lunchtime flavors of the week. But the classic New York deli has unending appeal. Knowing a good tradition when they see one, with the demand for GMO-free and organic products, upstarts are moving in on deli territory with deli/market/ready-to-eat options.
Of course, like everything in this city of endless options, there are countless variations on the theme. An Italian-American salumeria will be happy to cater your cousin's birthday party but may not have a place to consume that hero. Just like your corner bodega, a 24-hour mainstay for anyone who has ever needed gum, laundry detergent or coconut water in the middle of the night, has little in common with a sit-down sandwich shop where they cure the pastrami in-house.
Whether you're in the mood for the mountains of meat served on grainy rye from Katz's Deli, or Sarge's knishes so good you'll want to call your mother from Russ & Daughters, or prosciutto-heavy heroes at Dave and Tony’s of Astoria, or fresh fiddlehead ferns from Forager’s in DUMBO, there is no shortage of deli variety. Step right up to the counter, grab a number, friend, you've come to the right place.
Affectionately known as "The Sturgeon King," Barney Greengrass is the place where fish want to be smoked. Housed in its current location on the Upper West Side since 1929, the faded wallpaper and worn linoleum scream old-school Jewish eatery, even as the crowds change, and elderly regulars are joined by carefully cultivated blondes pushing thousand-dollar strollers. Pay them no mind, and get ready for an old-fashioned, fishy feast. Try the Nova Scotia Salmon, lox or the famed Sturgeon with rich cream cheese on a bagel. Want to diversify? Consider a modest morning break with classic matzoh brie, or move on to the overstuffed pastrami sandwich, filled with peppery punch, or the hearty corned beef on rye. 541 Amsterdam Ave., & 86th St.; (212) 724-4707 TRAINS 2/86th St. & Bway (212-724-4707)
Located next to Brooklyn Bridge Park DUMBO, Foragers Market calls itself a craft grocery store with a farm-to-table deli, and grab-and-go element. The 'deli' component includes made-to-order sandwiches with the same farmstead meats seen in their butcher case along with produce from area farms and bread from Bien Cuit Bakery. Additionally, Foragers offers a hot lunch entree section (everything from chicken curry to soup) and a salad bar featuring items like kimchi and quinoa along with traditional selections, varying the offerings by season. Each morning, a breakfast bar of hot cereal is available for purchase. Foragers also has a home in Chelsea on W. 22nd St. & Eighth Ave. or, in DUMBO, 56 Adams St., Brooklyn; 718-801-8400 TRAINS F/York St., A, C/High Street (718-801-8400)
D & F Italian Deli
Astoria has always been a stalwart community of immigrants who stayed and did not stray to the suburbs. Recently, a younger crowd driven out of Manhattan on a quest for affordable rents. Fortunately they appreciate what really makes Astoria – the Mediterranean, Latin and South Asian immigrants who have been here all along. Side by side wtih storefronts now housing trendy wine bars and organic dry cleaners. Fortunately, Astoria's beloved D & Fs remains. Inexpensive sandwiches are joined by crowd-pleasing Italian-American fare like marinated olives, prosciutto, mortadella and all manner of salumi. At D & Fs, the fresh mozzarella is made in house daily, and specialties like meatball marinara, eggplant parm and homemade pasta keep patrons old and new coming back for more. And when in season, pumpkin raviolis in the freezer. 35-17 Broadway; (212) 728-2422 TRAINS N, Q/Broadway R/Steinway St. ((718) 278-2422)
DeFonte's of Brooklyn
Grab your Metrocard and bring an appetite to this Italian-American sandwich shop, where the 94-year-old Red Hook original serves up eggplant parm subs, pork heroes smothered in tomato sauce, and tangy cucumber, eggplant and pickled giardiniera salads. The sandwich board is expansive, and the ordering system slightly convoluted, but, hey, that's just part of DeFonte's charm. Hot Heroes like potatoes with eggs are hearty enough to cure anyone's Monday morning blues, the Sinatra Special includes steak pizzaiola that would bring a twinkle to Old Blue Eyes, and the crispy fried eggplant atop the hot roast beef sandwich with house-made mozzarella, or try the Cuban sandwich with a twist on garlicky bread. 379 Columbia Street, Brooklyn; (718) 625-8052 TRAINS F /Smith-9th Sts. ((718) 625-8052, (718) 285-4310)
The gargantuan sandwiches and heavy-lifting "something on the sides" are back as are the fluffy matzoh balls that float in your soup. Carnegie Deli was closed for 10 months and judging from the lines that snake outside the door in inclement weather, it was sorely missed.
Carnegie is a popular pre- and post-theater spot, and nearly always crowded, but the crisp, efficient service keeps lines moving and mouths happy.
Don't miss the special sandwiches: The Woody Allen, the one that takes credit for making "Broadway Danny Rose" famous or the Ah, There's the Reuben, the famous open-style sandwich piled high with corned beef, pastrami or turkey. Both of these celeb sandwiches will set you back $29.99, up, add $3 if you have the temerity to share your sandwich. Not a heavy carnivore? Milton's Smorgasboard is ideal – four mini rolls stuffed with shrimp salad, tuna, chicken and egg salad, again for two to share. The truly gargantuan roster includes triple decker Carnegie Haul to The Mouth that Roared ranging from $25-$29.
It's not a mirage if you think you see Carnegie Deli in other places, it has exported itself to Madison Square Garden, Las Vegas at The Mirage Hotel & Casino, at The Sands Bethlehem in PA and during the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, Queens. (212-757-2245, 800-334-5606)
Named in honor of the late restaurateur Artie Cutler (of Carmine's, Dock's, Ollie's, Virgils, Gabriela's, Jake's and Columbia Bagels), this top-notch joint was based on the concept of the classic, 1930s Jewish delicatessen. Artie's is a vision in tile, with simple flooring complemented by a display counter and tables appointed with an array of condiments. The place can get loud (especially at lunch), and it always seems to be busy ... But, then again, what's more New York than that? The old school eats range from the Famous Romanian Pastrami, piled high with peppery cured beef, to the open-faced steak sandwich served on an onion roll. And, for the truly indulgent, there are french fries topped with melted cheese, scallions and pastrami. 2290 Broadway & 83rd St.; (212) 579-5959 TRAINS 1/79th St. (212-579-5959)
By day you will see the classic booths are stuffed with suits, but by midnight, a scattering of hipsters, clubby types clamor for a repast way past midnight. Ok pastrami you think is either lean of fatty but at Sarge's the smoky blends with the salty and the rich flavors in between. Yes you can still get a half sandwich and a soup here for just $15 but if you are considering New York's largest sandwich, known affectionately at Sarge's as "The Monster," you are a serious consumer. Served on thick sliced rye bread with corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, fresh turkey, salami, sliced tomato, lettuce and cole slaw with Russian dressing, you are facing a $41.95 challenge. As if this might be unthinkable, try to leave room for one of the many homemade cheesecake varieties including peanut butter. 548 Third Ave. bet. 36 & 37th Sts. (212) 679-0442 TRAINS 5, 6/33rd St. (212-679-0442, 877-727-4371)
Dave & Tony Salumeria
This is the first place Lidia Bastianich of Eataly and Felidia fame returns to every time she comes home to Astoria. Cooks and diners alike come here for the most authentic and most diverse array of Italian deli meats, cheeses and come September the arrival of panettone from Northern Italy. Every Italian region is represented in this store: sardines from Sicily, pasta from Molise, cured meats from chi lo sa, and more. Fresh mozzarella? fresh ricotta, fresh sausage of every kind + soppressata from Abruzzo.
Of course you can also get hero sandwiches or panini here. It's a little do-it-yourself as you choose your own fresh roll or hero from the shelf. Then watch the magic as the staff lovingly layers mozzarella, thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, spicy soppressata and maybe peppers to balance the fat with the not-so-fat for about $9. There's a reason Dave and Tony's has survived some 40 years at this very spot. 35-18 30th Ave., Astoria; (718) 728-4850 TRAINS N, Q/30th Ave. ((718) 728-4850)
2nd Avenue Deli
It may not be on Second Avenue anymore, but this timeless deli brings Lower East Side elan to a small but spirited space on East 33rd Street. The menu spans all the kosher classics. Start with the heart-stoppingly good gribenes, or fried chicken skin with onions, to get appetites going. Then, move on to a beef tongue and pastrami sandwich, covered in coleslaw and Russian dressing, double-decker pastrami on rye, or the hearty, oddly elegant chopped liver. Service can be spotty, and wait times considerable, but it's all part of the 2nd Avenue Deli experience. So sit back, sip your egg cream, and bite into old New York. 162 E. 33rd St. betw. Lex. & Third Aves.; (212) 689-9000 TRAINS 6/33rd St., 1442 First Ave. & 75th St; (212) 737-1700 TRAINS 6/77th St. (212-689-9000)
Russ & Daughters Appetizers and Russ & Daughters Cafe
The original "appetizing store" debuted in 1914, and today stands as a throwback to a time when the Lower East Side was a neighborhood of new immigrants. The iconic storefront on East Houston Street stocks a broad selection of Jewish-American staples like hand-rolled bagels with cream cheese and lox, buttery pistachio halvah and unctuous, irresistible pickled herring. The renowned caviar selection spans Siberian and American roes, the bagels and bialys are made on-site, and pastries like cinnamon babka, raspberry rugelach and hand-dipped chocolates are the reason gym memberships exist. After 102 years on the LES, Russ & Daughters have opened a site at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. 179 E. Houston; (212) 475-4880 The Cafe, 127 Orchard St.; (212) 475-4881 TRAINS F, V/2nd Ave., J, M, Z/Delancey St. 6/Bleecker (212-475-4880, 212-475-4881)
About Maria Lisella
No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.
Maria writes about New York and other destinations for outlets including NYC & Company, AFAR, Travel and Leisure, Wells Fargo Conversations, and others.
As the Queens Poet Laureate, 2015-2018, she observes, listens and captures the urban energy of NYC in poetry and prose.
Her book Thieves in the Family has been described as “… a collection of postcards from the Global Village…”
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