I like brine.
It has been years since I stepped through the famed doors of Katz’s, stumbled to the front of the line, and ordered more deli meat and chopped liver I’ve seen in all my life. Then one of those “what the hell did I just put in my mouth” moments happened, when the man hand-carving the blackened hunk of pastrami handed a slice to me and said, “Try it, and tell me you don’t like it.” I tried it, and I was speechless. Except my brain was screaming, “what the hell did I just put in my mouth.”
Katz’s has been the standard for me, at least for pastrami. Hand-carving the meat is what sets that deli apart from the rest. Paper-thin slices do not do justice to the fatty juice that should be running through the meat. When that brisket is taken out the steamer, it rises from a bed of billowing steam. Hand-carving the meat preserves that moisture, and delivers the clouds right to your mouth.
I’ve been meaning to try DGS Delicatessen in DC for a while. In search of a decent Jewish deli in town, I wandered to and fro, disappointed mostly with the inability to reproduce my virgin pastrami experience at the Big Apple. Not bad, but nothing special. Maybe it was an atmosphere thing. Katz’s has a distinct noise, a distinct density. And I don’t know of a DC deli that can point to a table and say Meg Ryan had an [cinematic] orgasm there. Right there.
Multiple sources informed me that DGS is legit. So I finally went there, with high expectations.
I like DGS.
Scrap everything I said about pastrami (just for a second). The pickle plate at DGS is a must. Every pickled thing is done in-house, and whatever they are slipping in their brine, it’s working. The mind-blowing appetizer is more like artwork than pickles. Complete with a hot pink egg. I can’t find words to describe pickled blueberries. Sweet, sour, with a tang, but not like pickled cucumbers, still has a reminiscence of late summer. Amazing.
I can say this. The pickles at DGS are better than Katz’s. I said it.
The latke was cooked perfectly, crispy brown on the outside, steaming moist on the inside. The apple chutney (not sure if it is made in-house) was delicious, complimenting the rather salty potato pancakes.
Am I the only person blown away by this? I’m sure some misinformed TV guy on the Food Network said Katz’s is the last place on earth still doing this. Sorry, Food Network guy, DGS has been doing this forever, just blocks away from my office. Thanks.
The portion was smaller than Katz’s (meaning DGS serves sandwiches for one person, not me, my wife, and Uncle Joe), but the price tag was also proportionately smaller. I got the classic: rye and mustard, nothing else. It was stupendous. All the benefits of hand-carving the meat were there. Moist, juicy, flavorful. Right amount of fat. And something was going on with the mustard, although I shoved this thing down too quickly to observe it. In simple terms, to quote Borat, it was “very nice.”
Katz’s is good because it’s in New York. The city adds flavor. By the same token, DGS is good because it’s in DC. Believe it or not, the District also adds flavor.
Even in the midst of a shut-down.