It's 94 degrees out, so of course today was the day to head for Harvard St. in Brookline and sample 3 different pastrami sandwiches for lunch. In case my doctor is reading this, I want to make clear that I didn't actually eat 3 sandwiches - I "sampled". OK - disclaimer firmly in place here's what I found:
Rubin's Deli, barely into Brookline from Allston offers by far the best I saw today. They offer two varieties - one called simply pastrami and the other they call Roumanian.
I've seen posts on other blogs and boards trying to clarify what's meant by Roumanian pastrami in the Brookline micro-culture - but both taste and the help at Rubin's made it clear enough today. In their case at least, both products start out the same. They buy their pastrami from a source in New York.
The regular pastrami is received from NY, steamed, sliced, and served. It seems their general approach is to put the product on the slicer, and slice it thin, but they will happily hand carve it at proper thickness upon request. The machine cut sample they first offered me, by the way, was quite lean. When I asked if they could cut by hand and find some with some fat on it they were pleased to comply - and the result was very good. Their regular pastrami product, like all they sell at Rubin's is Kosher, seems relatively minimally processed and mildly spiced. Not too aggressive a cure, not too much smoke, spice, or salt. The texture - at least in the fattier product they supplied upon request - was very good. The bread was indifferent plastic bag rye. Never mind the bread, though - the meat was good.
The Roumanian pastrami at Rubin's, as I said above, comes to them as the same product discussed above. The only difference is that before they steam it, they rub it with brown sugar and ground cinnamon. The effect is not subtle. Either you'll like it or not. Personally - Next time I'm at Rubin's, I'll order the regular pastrami. But that's just one man's reaction.
While on the topic of Rubin's let me say that the service was gracious. The waitress was friendly. The counter man who offered me a slice was happy to do so. The other counter man came out to see how I liked it and engaged me in discussion. When we got to talking about pastrami manufacture, preparation, their process for "Roumanian-izing" and so forth, he volunteered to bring me a 1/2 sandwich of the Roumanian - and followed up afterward to see what I thought. The manager at the register was proud of his people. In every way, a delightful experience. And Doctor, I left with what amounted to a whole sandwich wrapped and packed on ice.
Now down the way toward Beacon St. I stopped in at Zaftig's Delicatessen (sic). It was busy. This proves the importance of location. Rubin's was not busy when I was there. Zaftig's was busy.
How 'bout the pastrami? Since nobody at Zaftig's was interested in talking about it, I don't know for sure where they're buying their product. But if pressed to guess, I'd say probably Pearl. Not a bad product for supermarket pastrami - but not in a league with what Rubin's had to work with. And handled the way they did it today at Zaftig's - well read on. As at Rubin's, I asked if they'd be willing to hand cut. Answer - NO (and seeming annoyance). OK, I asked if the product was steamed. Yes, they said (and definitely annoyance). And they went on to inform me that "We sell a ton of it" (which seemed to come with some derision in addition to the aforementioned annoyance). OK says I - bring it on. I was seated at the counter and so watched as their sandwich guy took an absolutely lean piece of meat out of a warm, moist holding cabinet - not to say a really steamy one - and put it on the slicer. He cut very thin slices of product that appeared to be pastrami single brisket, not double, not plate. He cut until his scale demonstrated that he'd cut whatever their portion control called for. Not a small quantity - not Carnegie or Katz's - but a good count for a sandwich in Boston. Then he put the meat on a plate and covered it over with plastic wrap. Then he popped the plate of meat into a microwave and nuked it. When the bell went off, he slid the meat onto the waiting (plastic bag) rye and sent it my way. Disgraceful. No pride. No knowledge. No hospitality. No pastrami deserving of the title. No deli. And the fries were lousy too. I am embarrassed by their mere presence in our fair city. And the many patrons they somehow attract and seemingly satisfy.
But I'm still noshstalgic. I'll get back to you all later on the bialys I picked up down the street. Although if you've seen my previous post on that topic, you know I'm not optimistic.