Don’t let the vertical orientation throw you; those pickles were easily pushed on top of the pastrami, easily making a proper sandwich. That’s not the story here. The story is how a sandwich that’s just pastrami, pickles and mustard relies heavily on the quality of the pastrami, and therefore one should have a reliable method for finding above-average pastrami. Luckily, such a method exists.
Willie’s Grill and Deli happens to be tucked inside the Alameda Jr. Liquor Market, a clean, well-lit liquor store with an ample selection. That’s a good sign for any sandwich counter. The logic is simple: By joining up with a cash-heavy, usually-profitable business the sandwich counter has access to lower overhead, in the form of cheaper rent when they’re a separate business or just general subsidy when they’re owned by the same people. This takes the pressure off they typically-thin margins of a restaurant, and more often than not that means a bump in the average quality of the food. Things tend to be more fresh, from quality producers, or provided at a better value. That was certainly the case at Willie’s, and it only strengthened my belief that if you’re looking for an above-average sandwich at a modest price, you can do a lot worse than head to a liquor store.
This sandwich was the result of a simple question. I wondered if pastrami and roasted beets might go together, and so I investigated just that. It seems straightforward enough in concept, the savory, just-salty-enough presence of the pastrami and the sweetness of roasted beets. Arugula brought a bit of pepper to round things out, and a red pepper sort-of-pesto was the final addition. (I thought that the sweetness of the beets might not be enough, so a mash of red peppers, garlic, almonds and some Parmesan offered some support.)
Is there a bigger delight in sandwiches than trying something new and finding out it works? Such simple exploration yields tasty results and another reminder of just how wonderful sandwiches can be. They can be quite complicated, and a truly great sandwich is a rather difficult thing to construct. But a tasty, satisfying number usually isn’t far off, provided you’ve got a few things that are likely to taste good together. Pastrami and beets fit the bill, and now that I know it works, I imagine my future likely holds some quality pastrami and more stained fingers.
My initial experience with Eagle Rock standout The Oinkster was something of a disappointment, but also something of a fluke. My esteemed associate Bill has since returned more than once, highlighting some of the things on offer at what is, by nearly all accounts, an outstanding sandwich shop. I found myself there recently and was able to sample some of those things, and I came away as delighted as anyone. I’m not breaking any new ground in praising the Oinkster, but I do believe the sandwich shop is a special thing and it deserves to be recognized as such. I’ve discussed this before, how many places sell sandwiches but the Sandwich Shop is a different thing entirely, and a good one is to be treasured.
The above sandwich was their special of the moment, a pork patty grilled and put between bread with provolone, peppers and onions, and marinara. There’s not much to complain about there, the pork was moist and tasty, the flavor combination tried-and-true.
The Oinkster sells a burger called The Royale, and it’s piled high with chili, bacon and pastrami. So I’m not sure if I can call the above Oinkster Pastrami the intended ne plus ultra of the menu, it shares the shop’s name and is built to highlight the pastrami upon which they pride themselves, but it isn’t listed first on the menu and it doesn’t carry the same mien that featured sandwiches from other establishments do. None of that has any bearing on its quality, I suppose, and it’s quite good. It’s pastrami, cabbage, grilled onions and Gruyere cheese. That’s tasty, and it’s presented in reasonable proportion, but I think the cheese gets a bit lost. Regardless, it’s tasty as heck and a reasonable contender in a town where “best pastrami” is no small contest.
The last time I went to Canter’s (the real one, not the one in Las Vegas) I spent about two weeks crowing about the Reuben. I’ll still talk it up, given the opportunity. It’s fantastic. But readers are my first responsibility, and so when I entered Canter’s the other day I knew I couldn’t go back to the Reuben. That’s no great tragedy, as the menu offers all manner of other intriguing numbers. This time I went with the Bronx Special: pastrami and chopped liver on rye. The pastrami, as I knew it would be, was fantastic. I had high hopes for the liver, I’ve gotten some really good liver before and I figured Canter’s would know their way around chopped liver. Apparently I figured wrong, as I found the liver here to be dry and bland, and especially unpalatable in comparison to the pastrami. It’s possible that this is something like intentional, and someone didn’t want the liver to outshine the pastrami, but if one flavor risks outshining another the solution isn’t to do away with one of them. A healthy dosage of mustard helped the sandwich out (and thankfully the mustard selection at Canter’s is substantial) but the sandwich shouldn’t have needed that help. I didn’t care for the assembly required nature of things either, but I try not to complain about that too often or too much.
I’m still sold on Canter’s (good lord, that pastrami is good), but on my next visit I’ll steer clear of the liver.
Every now and again, a menu item may jump out to you and seem just a bit out of the norm, just slightly left of center, and just original enough that you feel as though you couldn’t possibly pass it up. The Sailor at Granby Bistro and Deli stood out to me in particular because of my recent at-home experimentation with sausages and what sandwiches they can become.
The Sailor is the most complex simple sandwich I’ve encountered in some time. It consists of pastrami, knockwurst, Swiss cheese, and “bistro sauce” (Russian dressing, as you’d expect) on rye bread. It’s a very interesting spin on a traditional deli sandwich, and I was more than rewarded for spying it on the menu. The ingredients meshed better than I could have hoped. I’m finding more and more that, although pastrami is a fine meat in and of itself, it is the perfect complementary or supporting meat in a two-meat (or more) sandwich. It is to sandwiches what vodka is to mixed drinks: versatile, unobtrusive, and reliable. If you are in Norfolk and in need of a tasty and satisfying sandwich, I cannot recommend The Sailor enough.