New York's Pastrami Queen


Growing up in Queens in the 60's before the need for David Sax's book "Save the Deli," we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to Jewish delis. I even remember going to school with the daughter of the owner of the Stark's Deli close to my home. Dad begged me to marry her, but at 9 years old I was a card-carrying member of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, and didn't yet let my love of pastrami cloud my judgment as it did my Dad's.

There was also Ben's Best, the lone surviving Jewish deli of note in Rego Park, Queens, which I still occasionally visit. But in between Stark's and Ben's on Queens Blvd. was a third deli whose reputation, like a Jewish version of Camelot, is legend when whispered with reverence among New York's Jewish deli mavens and fressers such as myself: The Pastrami King.

Located across from the court houses near Union Turnpike, The Pastrami King smoked its juicy pastrami a dark ruby red in the days when "lean" was not an option. Sadly, The King is long dead, but after going more than 10 years without tasting his pastrami I'm thrilled to shout, "Long live the (Pastrami) Queen!" The owners of Pastrami Queen on Lexington and 78th can directly trace their lineage and bloodline to the owners of the legendary Pastrami King of my youth (as, apparently, can Pastrami King in Merrick, Long Island, and Pastrami Queen in Boca Raton).

However, pastrami is thicker than blood, and I can vouch for the royalty of their meat. I instantly knew I had come home when, before confirming their heritage, I ordered pastrami "not too lean" and laughed when the waiter told the counterman to slice me a "fatty" pastrami sandwich, a word I feared had vanished from the deli lexicon much the way Yiddish has all but disappeared. Oy vey! Though the luscious overstuffed sandwich needed no help, the Orwasher's rye bread was an added bonus.

Who says you can't go home again? Now, I wonder if the owner has a daughter.