Apropos of nothing, unless you're one of the good people at Curbed or The Gothamist, was the re-opening of the 2nd Avenue Deli last week at its new location at the vortex of the Universe, 33rd Street and 3rd Avenue (I refuse to pronounce it in Bugs Bunny dialect) in Manhattan's Murray Hill.
As a native of Murray Hill (and someone who is much more likely to refer to it as Midtown rather than Murray Hill), I had to stop by, not so much to get something to eat as much as to pick up a menu and see what was what. I work nearby the former location of the 2nd Avenue Deli at 10th Street and 2nd Avenue (now one of the Chase Manhattan Bank locations more appropriate for the universe created in Woody Allen's "Sleeper," than Manhattan, 2007), and for what it's worth, I was never impressed. I rarely, if ever, ate there. I was never particularly fond of the food, and it was incredibly overpriced, at $13.25 for a Pastrami Sandwich, among other things.
When the 2nd Avenue Deli closed at its original location, there was, of course, a great uproar within the neighborhood. How could an iconic place like this close down? I figured it might have had something to do with the $14 sandwiches, but I kept my mouth shut, lest risk being beaten down by rabid foodies. But, few short months later, it was announced that the 2nd Avenue would be re-opening in my backyard, just down the street from another iconic New York Deli, Sarge's. Now, I happened to grow up directly across the street from Sarge's. I broke a salt shaker in there as a small child and was afraid to go back for several years. But eventually, I would return. Their prices increased over the years as well, although they currently get $10.95 for a Pastrami Sandwich. My father mused that a price war would occur between the new rivals. Who would win the battle of charging the most for a Corned Beef Sandwich?
So, the 2nd Avenue returned on 33rd Street. Not much has changed at the new location, opened up in the storefront of a building owned by a relative of the late Abe Lebewohl. I was there with my father at around 11pm on the day it opened, just to pick up a menu. The restaurant itself was packed. Lord only knows what people were picking up, but it was still packed late on a Monday night. The 2nd Avenue plans to operate 24/7, just as Sarge's does, but at what cost? Combing the menu, I found the going rate for sandwiches to be downright alarming:
Corned Beef - $12.75
Pastrami - $13.75
Tongue - $20.75
$20.75 for a damn Tongue sandwich? I work with a big Tongue fan. When I mentioned this to him, he started yelling about taking out a loan so he could go have lunch.
This is what it's come to.
The iconic New York Deli is a dying breed. There are only a few left, scattered in pockets around the city. The Carnegie is probably the most hyped, although it's also probably the worst out there. The Stage is still around too, although it's seen better days. Wolf's was probably the best, but when it closed its original location at 57th and 6th in 1997, a small piece of me died with it. A relocation was short lived. My personal preference has always been Katz's, on Houston and Ludlow, where it's been forever, even as the gentrification in the neighborhood seems to make it more and more endangered with each passing day. There's always been something oddly charming about the way Katz has operated, with the walk up counter, the miles of Hot Dogs grilling away, and the old-fashioned Water stand in the back. It's always an event for me to go there. It has been a long standing aspiration of mine to someday take a date to Katz's and get her to fake an orgasm over a sandwich of her liking.
But not when that sandwich is over $15.