Zinsky's versus Deli-News: Battle of the Pastrami Sandwich

Although typically reserved, Sally flutters her eyes and grins as she tosses her head back, her hair flailing softly across her shoulders as she moans with repeated and joyous abandon. As her tempo quickens, Sally's neighbors pause with alarm. She rocks with repeated gasps and jolts. Sally's excitement rings throughout the room, and with a final slam on the table as she looks up sweetly with a sense of gratification.

The room stands still and all eyes turn toward Sally as she nibbles her sandwich. Sally enjoys a good pastrami, and it shows.

What makes Sally and the hordes that visit Katz's Deli on New York's Lower East Side happy are the thousands of pounds of pastrami sold weekly at the quintessential mecca of all delicatessens. It is also the site of the famous fake-orgasm scene portrayed by Meg Ryan in the film When Harry Met Sally.

The pastrami sandwich in North America dates back to an influx of Romanian Jewish immigrants in New York City. It is debatable as to which deli opened first, but as with all arguments related to food origins, we can all be thankful of the resulting product.

Since the times lacked refrigeration and modern preservation techniques, pastrami was made of the cheapest cuts of beef, something Texans can relate to. To keep the meat from spoiling, beef brisket was cured in spice-filled brine then slow smoked. The resulting product has a peppery bacon flavor profile that many have come to crave and associate with proper delis everywhere.

This brings us to today's Toque to Toque "Battle of the Pastrami Sandwich".

Many agree that pastrami should be served on rye bread. The bread should be fresh yet firm enough to hold together many layers of meat. The pastrami should have a delicate smokiness, with a slight black pepper after burn. The meat should be sliced thin, but not too thin.

As for condiments, mustard or a Russian dressing can be used, but never a mayonnaise. Order this sandwich with mayonnaise at Katz's and you might be tossed out.

Other additions can be lettuce and tomato, but they're not recommended. Homemade coleslaw can definitely be used as a topping for a well-built pastrami sandwich, and homemade sour pickles are for the side. Serve with a cup of matzo ball soup and a Dr. Brown's cream soda for the ultimate deli meal deal.

We first visit a new player in the Dallas deli scene. Opened in 2009, Zinsky's Deli is owned by Mark Brezinski and Jim and Liz Baron, all successful Dallas restaurateurs (Mark of Bengal Coast, Pei Wei and Tin Star fame, and the Barons of Blue Mesa Grill).

Zinsky's makes many of its selections on the menu from scratch, including breads. Recently it increased the size of the regular sandwiches to include 12 ounces of meat. That is huge, and it comes with a fairly steep price of 13 bucks. For that amount you get your choice of bread, toppings and a side.

I choose a pastrami on rye warmed and toasted, their homemade coleslaw and a side of mustard (they use the very awesome and spicy Zatarain's).

The sandwich is quickly brought to me by Bruce as he explains to me that the meat was shipped in from Chicago's Eisenberg's. They make incredible sausages, so I was looking forward to this sandwich.

First thing I notice is that Zinsky's doesn't really slice the meat, but rather uses shavings and small slivers. Since I had the meat warmed (which is more traditional) it makes for a drier sandwich. And the meat is extremely lean, perhaps making it more healthy but short on depth of flavor. The smokiness is pronounced, as is a slight peppery burn. Definitely a plus.

The homemade rye bread is pretty incredible and holds the sandwich together well.

With half of the sandwich packed for tomorrow's lunch, I am off to the next destination: Deli-News.

Deli-News has been in operation since 1987 and has had several locations in the North Dallas area. When you walk into Deli-News, you are taken aback by the bounty that is laid out in the front display cases. Giant haunches of roast beef, selections of smoked fish and pastries stare back at you as if inviting you to eat them.

I find myself a table and am greeted by George, who takes my order for the same pastrami I am still digesting from Zinsky's. George tells me that the pastrami is procured from New York's Nations Best, and the bread from "some place in New York".

The sandwich arrives, and I plow into the layers of juicy meat laden with rich striations of fat and chunks of crispy black edges. The meat from this sandwich is held warm in a steamer and always served hot. The bread has a more noticeable rye flavor and holds together very well.

The layers of meat are compelling, and I am shocked to learn that the pastrami weighs in at 6 ounces, half of what Zinsky's now stacks on their sandwiches. This sandwich cost $8.99.

The supplied Deli-News mustard is Hebrew National, and it doesn't quite pack the punch that Zatarain's provides. Although very grainy, the mustard tastes more like that you will find in the average yellow plastic squeeze bottle at a ball park.

With all things considered, I enjoyed the Deli-News sandwich far greater because of the larger slices and fat content of the meat that made for a juicy and warm pastrami experience. It is the closest thing we have to the Katz's experience in Dallas. The win for the Pastrami Battle goes to Deli-News.

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Steven Doyle