Last Updated on April 7, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 23 minutes
Pastrami kings, queens and deli mavens kibitz, cajole and peddle a NY Jewish (and Italian) experience…
By Maria Lisella
New York City is the land of delicatessens, aka delis and salumerias, stacked with nostalgic foods that followed immigrants from their old countries.
Observant Jews arrived in the 19th century from Eastern Europe while Italians, also yearning for home, created salumerias featuring mother-country delicacies.
Kosher Jews keep double kitchenware to prepare dairy and meat dishes separately. While many delicatessens followed those rituals, most delis strayed for wider appeal. When you visit delis in New York City today it’s best to stick to the classics − matzoh ball soup, matzoh brie, heaping sandwiches, and half-sours by the jar – for the greatest satisfaction.
New York City Delis Adapting
Just because there is a pandemic is no reason to lose faith in getting your favorite Jewish deli treats, at least not in NYC. Here delis and appetizer shops have gone from pushcart to posh in a century, and today are ready to send you, wherever you are, a pastrami monster sandwich.
Certainly, nationwide shipping is here to stay, as are new delivery platforms at just about every deli Never Stop Traveling spoke with, but there is nothing like an actual visit to satisfy a big appetite.
For sure, deli masters, mistresses, and owners are all kvetching about NYC pandemic policies: openings, closings, outdoor eating in plastic igloos, curbside pickups, or 25%-50% occupancy limits that do not yield enough dough to pay the electric bill.
From New York Governor Cuomo to New York City Mayor Di Blasio and everyone in between, make no mistake, these deli mavens know how to survive, thrive, and adapt to a multitude of shifting restrictions with a borscht-belt sense of humor.
Here is your guide to these delicious and famous delis of NYC, with the addresses of their New York City location(s). Be sure to visit their websites to check opening times, which may change due to religious or pandemic considerations.
Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant
About to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers distinguishes itself by its kosher kitchen and its seven locations: in midtown on West 38th St. (once known as the garment district); in Scarsdale; in its trusty headquarters in Bayside, Queens; on Long Island in Carle Place, Greenvale, and Woodbury; and further afield in Boca Raton, Florida. There’s also a Ben’s Deli Grocery on Avenue B in Alphabet City of Manhattan that’s open 24/7.
Tom Silverstein, COO, says, “We have revamped everything: our take-out and delivery orders have spiked to 75-80% of our business compared to 40% in the past.” Holiday packages and catering for special events have been downsized for small groups.
Curbside and front door pickups prevail; Ben’s delis retrained their servers to become drivers and added phone staff. The pandemic, Silverstein says, forced Ben’s team to be innovative, so rather than use a third-party online system, they created their own menu – the I-360 Menu that is about to be rolled out.
Ben’s partnered with United Way to donate food to 5,000 frontline workers. At their Florida location, when the Governor suggested opening restaurants to 100% capacity, Ben’s held fast to 50% seating for the safety of all.
Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen
209 W. 38th Street
New York, NY 10018
Tel: (212) 398-2367
Katz’s Delicatessen – Where Harry Met Sally
You can still order the “I’ll have what she’s having …” pastrami in the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally at the oldest of the delis in New York City, the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen, open since 1888. But you may also be knoshing on that sandwich in the comfort of your own home – at least for now.
Katz’s doors never closed during the crisis, as it continued to do what it has been doing for over a century: shipping, catering, and delivering its famous pastrami and corned beef to shuttered and in-place customers across the country.
Before Hollywood, Katz’s WWII slogan was “Send a salami to your boy in the Army.” It turned out to be a prescient marketing line since “Shipping across the country is way up, and is now one of the primary pieces of business that we’d like to keep post-pandemic,” says marketing director Peter Carter.
Like Ben’s, Katz’s reached out to communities suggesting to customers: “Buy a meal for a frontline worker or buy a soup for a senior.”
205 East Houston Street (corner of Ludlow St.)
New York City, 10002
Tel: (212) 254-2246
Barney Greengrass, “The Sturgeon King”
“From bagels to borsch to bialys to babka, we are a click away,” reads the marketing line for Barney Greengrass. Self-described as “a small business with a big reputation,” at Barney’s don’t expect to be bombarded with ads, pitches, texts, YouTube live-streams, or banner ads crowding your Facebook page…all transactions are by phone, on-site shopping with a minimum of outdoor seating.
This is the place where fish want to be smoked. One of the oldest delis in New York City, it’s called its current location on the Upper West Side home 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.
Affectionately known as “The Sturgeon King,” Barney Greengrass has been sustaining itself on mail order: getting its products to where you get a craving – from vacation homes on Martha’s Vineyard to Hawaii, Alaska, and the Hamptons.
Recently a customer called in: “I want four Nova Scotia sandwiches with cream cheese, tomato, and extra, extra, extra onions…” Gary Greengrass, who was purportedly hatched from a salmon egg, replied, “Is that your version of social distancing”?
541 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024
Tel: (212) 724-4707
Sarge’s and the “Monster Sandwich”
In the mood for the mountains of meat served on grainy rye in one of the delis in New York City? Run, don’t walk to Sarge’s, one of the only Jewish delis open 24/7. Sarge’s motto is “You’re hungry, and we never close,” and it features the one and only Monster sandwich.
Ok, so you won’t be seeing the classic booths stuffed with suits or hipsters, or by clubby types who clamor for a repast way past midnight. But you can still order “The Monster,” which shows you are a serious consumer.
Sarge’s has taken two unusual strategies: they set up a ghost kitchen on Vandam St. in lower Manhattan just for deliveries and pick-up to capture that Manhattan market, and set their kitchens up to prepare virtual multiple brands under one roof…without brick and mortar rents.
Steve Thali, executive VP at Sarge’s, says the dining room once comprised half the business. And even when it was reopened at 25% capacity, the staff had to focus on boosting its online deals, presence, discounts, and deliveries above and below 14th St. in Manhattan, on Long Island, and yes, nationwide.
Sarge’s Delicatessen & Diner
548 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 679-0442
Anthony Bourdain and the Pastrami Queen
When the late Anthony Bourdain was out of the US and away from home, the food he craved the most was Pastrami Queen’s pastrami on rye. Delis in New York City – or anywhere, for that matter – don’t get much bigger endorsements than that.
You could also say Pastrami Queen is one of the upstarts, when at just 65 brazen years young, as of all things, she opened a second location in the middle of a pandemic. And why is this? Because she can.
If its menu ushers in memories of simpler times like being a kid on the boardwalk and enjoying a hot Coney Island square knish, well there is a reason for that. Pastrami Queen was Pastrami King before it moved to Manhattan in 1998 from the NYC Borough of Queens and before that, from Roebling Street in Williamsburg in 1956. It became Pastrami Queen in homage to the borough where it thrived for so long.
“The restaurant business is like Broadway. You are only as good as your last performance,” says David Zilenziger, General Manager. Maybe not the best analogy right now, but this did not deter Pastrami Queen from opening its doors at its second location on 72nd Street & Broadway in the former Fine & Shapiro store.
Pastrami Queen has big plans. With the 2nd venue, they have more kitchen and storage space that allows them to create a commissary to feed other locations in the future.
1125 Lexington Ave # 2
New York, NY 10075
Tel: (212) 734-1500
The Classic Carnegie Deli
Call it a pastrami sandwich kit, and you have a new concept says CEO, Sarri Harper of Carnegie Deli, long one of the most famous delis in New York City. Its 7th Avenue location closed in 2016 but it is about to reopen this month at its new Madison Square Garden location. Following its closing, and through the pandemic, Carnegie’s wholesale and retail businesses, coupled with nationwide shipping directly to customers, has sustained this classic.
The key at Carnegie is collaboration: its deli menus are featured in restaurants throughout the country. Says Harper, “…one of our deli partners actually had an increase of 30% in deli with carrying our corned beef! We all wanted a slice of comfort food, and we were happy to deliver with our restaurant partners.”
Madison Square Garden (sections 105/106 and 219)
4 Pennsylvania Plaza
New York, NY 10001
Gertie, the Baby on the Block
The baby of in New York City delis is Gertie, set in hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It opened just before all hell broke loose with the pandemic, and it is sticking to its mission: to rewrite and redesign the restaurant business model.
Self-described as a Jewish-American luncheonette, it operates as a nonprofit community kitchen in partnership with Rethink Food and City Harvest.
Says co-owner Nate Adler, “Gertie believes in finding solutions that support the community, employees, and have an impact beyond the restaurant’s four walls.” It’s open four days a week and brunch is a bustling event, so arrive early.
357 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Tel: (718) 636-0902
The 2nd Avenue Deli
Think of the popular TV show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld when you bite into your next (or your first) pastrami at 2nd Avenue Deli, one of the long-popular delis in New York City. Now with two locations: in midtown and on the upper east side, it has been operating a kosher kitchen since 1954, and now features curbside pickup and in-store browsing and buying.
The short story behind the 2nd Avenue deli is that its patriarch Abe Lebewohl was murdered en route to the bank to make a deposit – that was the first mourning. The deli continued at its original 2nd Avenue location until 2006 when it closed due to a landlord dispute, which was the second mourning.
The deli is now located on East 33rd Street between Lexington Avenue and 3rd Avenue and there is a second location on First Avenue at 75st Street.
Abe’s nephews Josh and Jeremy, who grew up washing dishes, bussing tables, and making deliveries all their lives, took over. If you cannot get there, consider the 2nd Avenue Deli cookbook with hundreds of recipes for traditional Jewish meals.
2nd Avenue Deli
162 E 33rd Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 689-9000
1442 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(Entrance on East 75th Street between 1st & York Avenues)
Tel: (212) 737-1700
Liebman’s Deli in the Bronx
A Bronx landmark among delis in New York City is Liebman’s Deli. And it is doing what it’s done best since 1953 when there were about 100 Jewish delis in the borough: keeps a kosher kitchen, beefs up its catering, and now adds a collaboration with Gold Belly, an online marketplace that ships local foods nationally.
Active on all social media platforms, young Yuval Dekel is now at the helm and could not stop sharing all the details for the Pesach Packages built for small gatherings of 4-6.
552 W 235th Street
Bronx, NY 10463
Tel: (718) 548-4534
Three Unique New York City Delis in Brooklyn
For strictly Kosher, try Brooklyn-based Mill Basin Kosher Deli, which features the memorable triple-decker pastrami, corned beef, and tongue sandwich.
For non- Kosher, try Mile End on Hoyt Street, which introduced another layer of culture to the New York City deli scene in 2010: grandmothers’ recipes from Montreal, Canada. (Everyone knows the best bagels in the world come from Montreal, right?)
Toss in David’s Brisket House on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn for yet another top NY invention: a one-time Jewish deli that is now owned and operated by Yemenite Muslims serving serious sandwiches to a primarily African American clientele.
Mill Basin Kosher Deli
5823 Avenue T
Brooklyn, NY 11234
Tel: (718) 241-4910
Mile End Delicatessen
97 Hoyt Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Tel: (718) 852-7510
David’s Brisket House
533 Nostrand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Tel: (718) 789-1155
An Italian Deli in the Bronx
For one more New York anomaly that is not a Jewish deli but an essential player worth noting on the NY food scene for 106 years: the four-generation-run Teitel Brothers. It has its own brand of italianitá in the Belmont section of the Bronx on Arthur Avenue in one of the city’s most authentic Italian neighborhoods.
“Wholesale has made up most of the business since 1959,” says Gil Teitel, the head of this conglomerate of family, family, family. His father and uncle were tailors who came by way of Austria and Poland, learned Italian along the way, and opened an Italian deli in Brooklyn (as did Govorner Cuomo’s grandfather).
With all three sons in the business, Teitel says, “At least we get to be with each other through this.” And the beauty of retail is, “Customers come in with their kids and grandchildren, and we are all on a first-name basis, we know their families, this is a personal business,” and he takes policies personally, too.
2372 Arthur Avenue
Bronx, NY 10458
Tel: 718) 733-9400
Did Anyone Say Salami, as in Salumerias and Sausages?
There are many reasons Dave & Tony Salumeria has survived more than 40 years at the same spot in Astoria, Queens. One of them is that celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich of Eataly is among its most famous fans.
Cooks and diners alike come here for the authentic and diverse array of the Queens salumeria’s Italian cured meats and cheeses. Come September, the panettone arrive from Northern Italy. Every Italian region is represented here: sardines from Sicily, pasta from Molise, cured meats from chi lo sa (i.e., who knows where).
While many delis have gone on to become sandwich shops, Dave and Tony’s provides product – lots of it so that you can cook your own dishes. Don’t miss fresh warm, creamy ricotta fatta in casa, made in-house, or the fresh mozzarella bocconcini also in-house.
The soppressata is from Abruzzo, the coffees from Italy, the chestnuts from Italy, the panettone from Milano; not sure where the baccala comes from, but there is plenty of it.
With the influx of Eastern Europeans to Astoria, particularly those from Croatia, you can also find a taste of home in several ajvar brands. 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.
Dave & Tony Salumeria
3518 30th Avenue
Long Island City (Astoria), NY 11103
Tel: (718) 728-4850
DeFonte’s of Brooklyn
Despite its namesake, DeFonte’s of Brooklyn is actually on Staten Island, the borough island in New York Harbor. But it’s well worth the (free) ferry ride across the harbor.
It was an even longer trip from Bari, capital of Puglia, Italy for Nick DeFonte, founder of this now sandwich-heavy deli-shop. The story of the name is simple: a man named Brooklyn used to supply the day workers who hung around his store waiting for work with coffee, a deck of cards and sputini or snacks. Eventually tables and chairs showed up and Mr. Brooklyn sold the store to Defonte and the three generations that followed back in 1922.
Still serving up eggplant parm subs, pork heroes smothered in tomato sauce and tangy cucumber eggplant since 1922, the ordering system is slightly convoluted, but, that’s part of DeFonte’s charm. Hot heroes, like potatoes with eggs, are hearty enough to cure anyone’s Monday morning ails.
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 the Cuban sandwich with a twist on garlicky bread, is just oh so New York.
DeFonte’s of Brooklyn
95 Water Street
Staten Island, NY 10304
Tel: (718) 285-4310
Sorriso’s Italian Pork Store
You’ll have so many reasons to smile once you walk into Sorriso’s Italian Pork Store in ethnic-heavy Astoria since that’s what “sorriso” means smile in Italian. This is your one-stop Italian shop since you’ll find pasta of all shapes and sizes, including gluten-free, sauces, oils, vinegar, homemade sausages, and mozzarella.
Owner Frank is so observant, that a new face won’t go unnoticed before he reaches over the glass cases to offer you a sample of his homemade mozzarella. Below the cases are a cornucopia of delicacies like eggplant rollatini, marinated shrimp, and a gamut of soppressata and dried sausages. Sorriso’s is cash only, but there’s a street ATM right outside.
Directly across the street is Gian Piero’s bakery that bakes fresh foccaccia, pastries and the smoothest cappuccino around – try their pane di casa, house bread.
Sorriso Italian Pork Store
4416 30th Avenue
Long Island City (Astoria), NY 11103
Tel: (718) 728-4392
Two in Their Own Category of Delis in New York City…
Schaller & Weber
Schaller & Weber’s has been a New York institution on the city’s Upper East Side since 1937. It’s been around long enough to spot a trend when it sees one: it opened a downtown branch on the Lower East Side at The Market Line at Essex Crossing in 2019. Third-generation owner Jeremy Schaller and his business partner Jesse Denes also created their own version of a Berlin-style street food stand, thus Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar was born.
Originally a butcher or wurstmaker that specialized in pork products, the store is set in what was once a German neighborhood known as Yorkville. Eventually, it morphed into a German specialty shop and charcuterie.
Fortunately some traditions do not die: the younger generation still smokes their own meats and makes high-quality products with hand-blended spices. German sausages are stacked to the sky, with an unbelievable array of weisswurst, knackwurst, bockwurst, and plain old weiners.
You’ll find all you need for your own Biergarten party right here. If you cannot find your favorite German sausage at Schaller & Weber’s, book a flight to Germany.
Schaller & Weber
1654 2nd Ave #1
New York, NY 10028
Tel: (212) 879-3047
Russ & Daughters
Another of the very popular delis in New York City is Russ & Daughters. Its storefront on East Houston Street still 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 caviar selection spans Siberian and American roes, and pastries such as cinnamon babka, raspberry rugelach, and hand-dipped chocolates are the reason gym memberships exist.
Instead of running away with a grab-and-go piping hot knish to a bench in the park between the basketball courts on Chrystie Street as one used to do, you now have a choice: the retail shop or Russ & Daughters Cafe.
After more than a century on the Lower East Side, Russ & Daughters have also opened a site in Brooklyn and at the Jewish Museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Keep in mind that it’s walk-ins only at the cafe.
Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston Street (The Shop)
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-475-4880, ext. 1
127 Orchard Street (The Café)
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-475-4880, ext. 2
141 Flushing Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Tel: 212-475-4880, ext. 3
And One New Addition…Edith’s
Call it a sandwich counter if you want, but New Yorkers know a Jewish deli just by inhaling at the doorway. Elyssa Heller, is the owner of Edith’s, which was a Jewish pop-up in 2020, operating out of Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It is now a brick and mortar deli in hip and hopping Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Don’t even look for a phone number, this place is making up the new rules of commerce as it rises from its pop-up-status to full-fledged classic Jewish deli in the new world of pandemics and the 21st century.
At Edith’s, chef Caroline Schiff riffs on traditional, well-made baked goods. Heller affirms, “Jewish people, as immigrants, have done a great job of assimilating in America and so have some of their foods. Bagels, schnecken (aka cinnamon rolls), smoked fish, pickles are all great examples of Jewish food that has really become American food.”
Like all the other survivors in the restaurant business today, Edith’s is putting a lot of emphasis on take out and prepared items.
495 Lorimer St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211