Burns My Bacon: Jewish Deli Bread

corned beef sandwich

Britannia got our mini-rant series going last month with his admonishment of the salt and pepper shaker filler-uppers, and now I’d like to tell you yell about something else that burns my bacon, er…pastrami.

I think we can all agree that an old-school, New York-style Jewish deli is just about the best place in the world to get a serious sandwich. Pastrami from Katz, corned beef from 2nd Avenue Deli — wherever it is, you know the deal: some form of exquisitely cured beef product piled far beyond reason and then shoved between two slices of bread; mustard, pickles and slaw on the side.

But there’s one thing that has always bugged me about Jewish delis, and I’ve been afraid to ever say it, fearing an outpouring of anger from the traditionalist eaters. But I just can’t stay silent any longer.

Why does their bread have to suck?

I mean, it’s not bad. But it’s far from amazing. Look at that pastrami just oozing out of the sandwich above. Those meager slices of flimsy, untoasted rye bread can barely handle the stuff! And this is exactly how every single Jewish deli I have ever been to serves a sandwich. You might as well go ahead and order a pound of pastrami on a plate. What are you even supposed to do with the mustard? Spread it directly on the meat? It doesn’t work! Yes, I’ll say it: this sandwich does not properly function as a sandwich. It just doesn’t.

Now before you start screaming, I’m aware that delis are first and foremost about the meat. But the very definition of a sandwich is something you can pick up and eat in your hands. Just think: wouldn’t this be a truly amazing sandwich if it was placed on a toasty baguette or an everything bagel? Hell, I’ll take a sub roll — anything would be better than this pathetic, half-hearted nod to bread.

I also get that the deli tradition stems from serving the poor, huddled masses, and that’s why these once-cheap meats weren’t originally served on twice-toasted sesame focaccia, but the big-name delis now charge upwards of $15 for these sandwiches — you’d think they could at least throw in a slice of rye that’s as big as the slices of meat. Why do they continue to go with this poor excuse for bread?

Am I crazy??? Is anyone with me? And more importantly, can anyone point me towards a deli that puts this great meat on an equally deserving slice of bread?

What burns YOUR bacon? Send us your mini-rants on all things edible! info@endlesssimmer.com

(Photo: Gandhu & Sarah)

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  • Alex October 7, 2009  


  • Adam October 7, 2009  

    I would agree that the bread at delis like Katz’s is sub-par, but I think the reasoning is because it’s meant to be as unobtrusive as possible. With other sandwiches, the bread is important. When it’s surrounding a pound of pastrami, it’s job is to make the pastrami go into my mouth, while slightly lowering the amount of grease and mustard I get on myself.

  • Mike B. October 7, 2009  

    Pastrami on *toast*? A baguette? An everything bagel?! I’m… I’m speechless….

  • tvff October 7, 2009  

    Is it possible that rye bread just sucks?

  • gansie October 8, 2009  

    okay, now this might garner some complaints. but would it be weird if i wanted to keep the bread as is, but instead just lessen the amount of meat? and then maybe add more toppings like raw onions and avocado slices? or does this make me the devil?

  • La Morgan October 8, 2009  

    I’m with gansie, and therefore possibly the devil. 😉 I don’t think ANY type of bread could stand up to such an intimidating pile of meat. You might as well eat it out of a bowl. And then possibly sign up for a colon cleanse.

  • Maids October 8, 2009  

    I third gansie’s comment. Even though I’ve never been a fan of caraway seeds, what would a Jewish deli sandwich be without the Jewish rye. And for the record, I’ve been in jewish delis where they offer toasting of the bread.

  • Tracy October 14, 2009  

    I agree Jewish deli rye bread is a joke, too small and flimsy. I gotta 4th gansie’s comment. The bread wouldn’t be so small if they would just give less meat (and charge less). On the rare occasion of my ordering one of these sandwiches, I remove most of the meat and take it home for several other sandwiches. A 1/4 pound of meat tastes the same as a pound of meat but is much easier to eat and better for you. Who can eat a pound of meal in one sitting, much less oen day?

  • Cor October 15, 2009  

    Did anyone mention Jewish? Sorry, but no comprendo. I just got back from Jerusalem where I went to this place called New Deli (on Jaffa Road) where I got myself a pastrami (whole wheat)bun with extra toppings.
    Quantity? You bet! Was the bun, which rather serves the purpose of a container holding everything together, able to withstand the weight of that half-a-cow worth of meat? I’d certainly say so.
    Though I haven’t been to the states (yet), on this side of the globe (The Netherlands), sandwhiches are usually 20 x cheaper in comparison to buns. Maybe that’s where you’ll find the answer to your issue?

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