Let’s talk about Woody Allen for a second. You could make a very convincing argument that he is the ultimate New Yorker. Forget Walt Whitman or Donald Trump. Woody was born in Brooklyn, his jazz ensemble plays at the Carlyle every week, and he made a film called Manhattan for crissakes! Interestingly enough, the only time Allen ever appeared on the Academy Awards (even though he’s won three!) was to talk about New York City.
So it didn’t surprise me in the least when I got to another famous New Yorker, the Carnegie Deli, and saw that the corned beef and pastrami combo (a very NY sandwich) is named the Woody Allen. I’m sure that the fact that his film Broadway Danny Rose is centered around this restaurant didn’t hurt matters. But one way or another, with all the famous pictures hanging around the dining room and all the out-of-town tourists (and me) snapping photos, all I wanted to eat was the Woody Allen.
I’m still amazed that I had never been to the Carnegie before today. It’s one of those old-standbys (it’s been around since 1937) that you stay away from because of the overwhelming amount of tourists. It’s in midtown (where all the tourists congregate) and they serve the biggest sandwiches you’ve ever seen. Only in midtown do you get sandwiches as big as your head. The tourists ooh and aah with amzement and I look at the sandwiches with both awe and dread.
And this place is the epitome of “tourist trap.” The menu is littered with rules and little hidden upcharges. Sharing a sandwich? Gonna cost you 3 bucks! And on top of that, every person in your party has to spend at least $12.50. And don’t even try to pay with a credit card.
Needless to say, I didn’t finish an entire sandwich (does anybody, really??). I didn’t even finish a half of a sandwich, but I ate enough to leave me stuffed. It looked like everybody leaves Carnegie Deli stuffed to the brim. It’s so funny. Everybody is excited and overwhelmed by the old fashioned New York feel to the place when they first arrive and about twenty minutes later look like they’re going to be sick.
I also don’t see how anybody here eats the sandwich the way it’s supposed to be eaten – with two hands. I don’t think it’s even possible to pick the thing up (and I have been going to the gym, thank you). It immediately falls apart and you’re forced to use a fork to get the meat into your mouth. Or you can reassemble it to a smaller sandwich with the extra bread they give you. The whole thing just seems absolutely ridiculous. They make this monster sandwich for you and you have to reconstruct it and make it a smaller, more manageable sandwich?!?
But so how did it taste already? Pretty good. The meat was buttery without being too greasy. The pastrami didn’t seem to have much smoky or spice flavors, but it still tasted good. Although it was tough differentiating it at times from the corned beef, they both were rich and meaty and delicious. There was the right amount of fat on the sides of the meat to give it that extra fatty, buttery flavor. The rye bread was also tasty and when I could actually get the meat to stay on the bread, they worked well together.
I can’t imagine that Woody has ever finished his namesake sandwich or even comes into this place anymore. The food is a decent representation of old school New York, but it does feel a bit Disney-fied and overpriced. It’s a zoo where the tourists come to gawk and take pictures at the celebrity photos, the fake salamis, and the gigantic sandwiches. Maybe Woody shows up really late at night (they’re open until 4am), when you can get a taste of that classic NY cured meat in peace. I imagine, you’ll also get a round of indigestion eating that food so late at night.
Is Carnegie Deli the best corned beef/pastrami in NY? It may have been one day and it still retains its old school charm and hefty sandwiches, but is a little annoying because of all the blatant tourist rules that you’re forced to endure so it gets an 8 out of 10.