The Great Pastrami Heist of 2006
Daniel, often refers to me as the "Bonnie" to his "Clyde"–a rather inaccurate comparison given my tendency to stray from the more damning of biblical transgressions. He'll often return from the market with the quart of milk and the cluster of bananas I requested along with a delicately sculpted boule of cheese which, triumphantly he believes,he's managed to conceal in any number of fearsome regions. It's a habit I look upon with a sort of quiet disdain.
But I love pastrami.
A few words on Katz's Delicatessan. Established in 1888 by a family of Russian immigrants, Katz's built it's reputation on providing faithful recreations of old world standards for a concentrated Eastern European community. It's one of few bastions of the old Lower East Side still visible and today, occupies an inconceivable stretch of real estate on the corner of Houston and Ludlow. It's served as the backdrop for countless New York films and is one of the only restaurants in the city that attracts both tourists and locals in equal measure. The dated ticket system—essentially a paper receipt that allows the deli to account for orders placed both at the table and at the counter—has been the downfall of many a pastrami enthusiast. The loss of a ticket means a $50 fine, a harsh penalty and one we know all too well. We resent Katz's for harshing our nosh vibe with such archaic fear tactics, and perhaps more so, because despite outrageous prices and an annoyingly outdated collection of celebrity photos, we simply can't find a better cut anywhere on the planet (though surprisingly, Lenny's does a decent thin sliced version).
So when our waiter (clearly a new hire) neglected to mark either of our tickets, Daniel saw an opportunity to even the score with the deli meat behemoth. We couldn't leave with two unmarked tickets, it was simply too obvious. So we concocted a plan that involved the ordering
of a second sandwich, this time at the counter, which would be indicated on Daniel's ticket. We would pay for that sandwich while letting our table order slip through the cracks, making off with a hefty take-home meal like the cured meat bandits that we are. I took my naked ticket to the cashier, leaned suggestively over the counter and waved dismissively in Daniel's direction. "My fella's taking care of this one," I winked.
I slinked out the door and positioned myself such that I could peer inconspicuously through a row of hanging salamis and watch him in action. A compulsive lip biter, I feared Daniel's tell would be obvious to the cutters and the savvy rent-a-cop who stood watch near the door. But my darling, moral fibers creakingly taut, ordered our sandwich with stunning finesse, marched it proudly and discretely to the check out and metered his steps towards me like any other nebbishy Brooklyn boy bringing home the pastrami for a late Shabbos meal. Pilfered meat in tow, we gleefully skipped towards Second Avenue, stopping only to argue about who should rightfully inherit the bulk of the sandwich.
Did we need another pound of pastrami? Certainly not—after all I can’t in good conscious deny that Katz’s is one of the central vices that have impressively bloated my mid-section. But it's nice to know that once in a while, a pair of nogoodniks can still beat the system.
Next stop, Carnegie Deli. I hear they have a heckuva matzoh ball…