|Yes, it can kill you, but what a way to go!
I confess to what may be a congenital weakness for sandwiches containing any cut of meat that falls under the general category of “brisket.” That includes the Big Three: corned beef, pastrami, and plain old “brisket of beef.”
All three contain enough animal fat and sodium to send an elephant into cardiac arrest, with enough fat left over to kill the elephant’s pet whale. One ounce of brisket — one measly ounce! — contains seven tenths of a gram of saturated fat, 18 milligrams of cholesterol, and, almost any way it’s prepared, 22 milligrams of sodium. And don’t take my word for it. That’s Google talking.
All this would be perfectly fine and not a hazard to human health if people actually limited themselves to eating an ounce of brisket, or pastrami, or corned beef every now and then. Fat chance! (No pun intended.)
Is it worth your life?
In New York, moderation be damned! Instead, we have the revered phenomenon of the New York deli sandwich, a gastronomic institution among New Yorkers who have the daring to risk their lives for the richness of great gleaming globules of oily fat mixed with giant doses of blood pressure-raising salt, and in the case of pastrami also a probably-toxic level of smoke particles, (as well as some accompanying animal protein.)
In a New York deli when you order brisket, corned beef, pastrami or some combination thereof, you don’t just get an ounce. You don’t just get two ounces. You don’t just get three, or four, or five, or six, or seven ounces. Or even a little bit more than that.
Instead you get a pile of meat so high that the obligatory rye bread, weakened by rivers of fat oozing from the meat, can’t possibly hold the sandwich together. You get a great, heaping, huge, humongous mountain of adipose protein, so big, and so devastating to the bread above and below it that the sandwich falls apart if you’re foolish enough to pick it up. Instead, you have to eat it with a knife and fork.
Little wonder that my father died at age 67. Or that one of my cousins died at 47. Or that another of my cousins, although he lived to 75, spent the last ten years of his life in a wheel chair after a debilitating stroke at the age of 65. As the Parisians would say, if they lived here instead of in Paris, cherchez le brisket. But of course, if they lived here they wouldn't be Parisians.
Was it worth it? My deceased relatives would probably tell you,”Yes. Yes it was.” And although I personally am a member of Pastrami Anonymous, every so often I fall off the PA wagon, too. And when I do, I usually wake from my trance to discover that I am sitting at a formica table in a New York deli, in the midst of a sea of pastrami-chomping tourists who are carrying on high risk flirtations with cholesterol as part of their New York gastronomic experience.
And no, I will not tell you where to get the best brisket-stuffed sandwiches in New York. The Second Avenue Deli has its aficionados. So does the Carnegie Deli. So does Katz’s Deli. So did the late, lamented Stage Deli, may it rest in peace and fond memory upon a lake of molten chicken fat. And other delis with their claques include, but are not limited to Sarge’s (founded by a retired Jewish police sergeant I’m told), Mendy’s, and Pastrami Queen. Did I mention Sammy's Roumanian, where they don't even have brisket, but do have pitchers of chicken fat on each table to fatten lubricate the tenderloin steak?
As I said, I’m not getting into a whose-is-best free-for-all.
But I am, finally, getting around to my point.
What it all means
During the past month there have been two separate revelations of restaurants that offered pastrami also illegally stealing natural gas from utility lines.
The first was the Stage restaurant, (no relation to the original Stage Deli in the theater district). The Stage, in this instance, was a Ukranian restaurant in the East Village that dabbled in pastrami sandwiches (although at $8.70 per, they couldn’t have been nearly as thick as the $16-and-up tourist-chokers in midtown and elsewhere in town.)
The second was one of the grand dames of things done to brisket in the name of attracting tourists — the great Carnegie Deli.
Somehow, a scheme I’ll call The Old Ukranian Gas Tap Caper led, through a process I don’t pretend to understand, to a huge and fatal explosion in a neighboring sushi restaurant. Sushi? Fat-free sushi? Blown up by gas from a brisket joint? The details are all a bit muddled, if you ask me. But suddenly city inspectors, or maybe the utility's inspectors, awoke after the Great Pastrami Disaster from a decades-old torpor and began inspecting. And soon after, the Carnegie Deli was caught at the same gas-tapping caper.
Is this an alert
The city’s enforcers now seem to be conducting inspections following the maxim – energy explorers please note –that where there’s corned beef and pastrami, you’re likely to find gas. (Yes, damn it, pun intended.) To which I might add, where there’s gas you'll also find greedy people pumping it at breakneck velocity.
On the other hand, finding gas in the wake of pastrami sandwiches would come as no surprise to my dead relatives.