This is the time of year when more than anything we crave savory, warm, salty, and juicy, meaning we crave good delicatessen.
We’ll be honest: Central Wisconsin is no one’s idea of a delicatessen hotspot, though you can get a decent chicken soup if you crash the right weddings. But we know where we want to go, and where we will go when we make it to the city in a couple of days.
“The city” is, of course, New York City, the Delicatessen Capital of the Universe, the Andromeda Galaxy notwithstanding. However, we’ll readily admit there’s great delicatessen to be had in other cities around North America. Below are five of our favorite spots. Not many surprises here; word gets around on the best places, and the lines get long.
(Note: We’re giving Cochon Butcher a pass in this round for fear we might wear out people on the place, but if you’re in New Orleans, some advice: You. Must. Go. )
Schwartz’s, Montreal: Here’s the real measure of a city’s deli culture: Does it have any meat named after it? Sorry, New York. There’s no such thing in the popular lexicon as New York pastrami. There’s no Miami salami or Chicago smoked tongue or L.A. roast beef. However, there is definitely a type of charcuterie known as Montreal smoked meat, and Schwartz’s is the place to get it. Schwartz’s has been around forever, and it’s the eternal embodiment of the Montreal food scene, being equal parts Canada, New York, and Paris. The food is glorious and the polyglot nature of the place is positively intoxicating. Step inside and you immediately feel that you’re someplace different, but you can ‘t precisely put your finger on where. That’s one of the glories of Schwartz’s; the other is the food, which is heavenly. It starts with the smoked-meat sandwich, but honestly, you cannot miss with anything on the menu, right down to the half-sour pickles.
Second Avenue Deli, New York: This is not the original, the ur-deli from which all others have descended. That would be Katz’s, but Katz’s these days is overrun with tourists craving a When Harry Met Sally experience, and besides, its matzo-ball soup isn’t nearly as good. When you find yourself needing this salty, schmaltzy bowl of goodness, health, and healing, Second Avenue is the place to get it. The pastrami is as good as any in the city, and better than most. Everything good about ethnic food in the Big Apple can be found at the Second Avenue Deli.
Manny’s, Chicago: You’d expect a deli located in Carl Sandburg’s old Slaughterhouse for the World to focus on the meat, and you would be exactly right. Some people consider Manny’s to be one of America’s best delis just for that reason – though the we-never-bothered-to-change atmosphere certainly makes the matzo brei go down with a smile. Grab yourself an impossibly huge corned-beef sandwich and some latkes and judge. Though we’ll warn you: You may be too deep into a foodie fever dream to judge impartially.
Zoozacrackers at the Wynn, Las Vegas: One of Vegas aficionado Brad Rutta’s favorite haunts, Zoozacrackers remains every bit the way he described it in July: “Zoozacrackers is the best New York-style deli in Las Vegas. Everything in the Wynn is top-notch, but here’s one of the things that makes Steve Wynn’s restaurants special: Every one of them has vegan options. This place is great for the cost-conscious traveler who still wants to indulge in the luxuries of the Wynn.”
Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles: Jerry’s Original may get the headlines, but Canter’s gets those who know, and those who know hit this Fairfax Avenue institution for the bakery – rugelach, cheese Danish and blitzes – as much as for the pastrami. Make no mistake, though: The pastrami is as good as you’ll find on the Left Coast. And it’s open 24 hours a day, so you can get your pastrami whenever you want it, no matter what time zone you’re operating on.