serves up big
By Richard Deitsch
ON A RECENT October afternoon one could find a
quartet from Spain, a trio of Australians and a couple from Italy eating within a few feet of each other
at the Carnegie Deli. The popularity of the restaurant, which sits on a crowded stretch of Seventh
Avenue near West 55th Street in Manhattan, has
grown so great that longtime owner Milton Parker
likes to joke how “they named a world-famous
concert hall after us.”
Eating at the Carnegie is an experience everyone
should enjoy at least once—preferably without your
cardiologist. It was the longtime favorite hangout of
one-liner king Henny Youngman, and immortalized
by Woody Allen in the film Broadway Danny Rose.
The makeup of the customers today is mostly
tourists, who line up in front of the neon storefront to
sample pastrami and corned beef piled so high they
could start for the Knicks.
While you can order a sandwich to go at the front
counter, the real fun is sitting elbow to elbow with
other patrons in the dining room. According to the
Carnegie Deli’s acting president, Sandy Levine, who
bills himself as “the MBD”—for “Married the Boss’s
Daughter,” because he married Parker’s daughter,
Marian—the Carnegie’s legendary overstuffed sandwiches date back decades to when the countermen
held a contest to see who could make the biggest
sandwich without it falling over.
Calling the sandwiches overstuffed may be
underselling them. The deli’s sandwiches are about 5
inches high, and people have been known to gasp
upon delivery of their food. The Carnegie’s signature
sandwich is the Woody Allen (“Lotsa corned beef plus
lotsa pastrami”), and if cheesecake is your dessert of
choice, a piece the size of Asia goes for $7.95.
The restaurant dates back to 1937, when Izzie
and Ida Orgel opened a 42-seat restaurant and
named the place the Carnegie Deli because of its
proximity to Carnegie Hall. They sold the deli five
years later to Max Hudes, who ran it until 1976.
That’s when Parker and the late Leo Steiner took over.
What ultimately turned the restaurant into a Big
Apple icon was a March 2, 1979, review in The New
York Times by noted restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton,
who declared the Carnegie “tops” in the city for pastrami and corned beef.
The brand has since gone national, and a second
location was opened in the Mirage Hotel in Las
Vegas in February 2005. “We make our own product,” says Levine when asked about the Carnegie
Deli’s staying power in a city that devours restaurants weekly. “Our corned beef and pastrami we
have down to an exact science.”
Part of the dining experience includes gawking at
walls filled with hundreds of autographed photographs of the famous and infamous who have
eaten at the restaurant. One sample row offers the following absurd slice of Americana: Vicki Lawrence,
Orrin Hatch, Don King, Rikki Lake and Pat Sajack.
As he walked around his store, schmoozing with
diners, Levine, whose personality is as oversize as his
sandwiches, pointed to an autographed photo of a
recent patron. “TO THE CARNEGIE DELI. MEAL OR NO
MEAL.” It was signed by Howie Mandel.
But even the famous occasionally have to wait
for a meal. In June 2000 then-President Clinton
wanted to eat at the restaurant, but when the Secret
Service arrived to sweep the restaurant, they were
met by a line of people in front of the store.
“The Secret Service said, ‘You have to
move away from the store. The president
of the United States is coming,’” Levine
recalls. “But the people in line refused. ‘We
ain’t moving,’ they said. ‘We came a long
way to eat at this place, and we don’t want
to lose our place on line.’ The Secret Service
ended up canceling the reservation.”
All was not lost. Clinton ate at the
restaurant the following year. Levine says
he ate a Woody Allen. “It was delicious,”
declared the former president, before adding,
“I waited a long time for this dinner.” C
Address: 854 Seventh Ave.,
New York, NY 10019; Mirage
Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
Phone: (212) 757-2245 or
Hours: The deli is open
365 days a year from 7 a.m.
to 4 a.m.
Products at Costco:
Kirkland Signature™ by
Carnegie Deli Sliced Pastrami;
Carnegie Deli Kosher Spears
The Carnegie Deli in
New York is famous for
its loaded sandwiches
and celebrity clientele.