Taste Test: Pastrami By the Pile

Carolyn Alburger | May 28, 2013 | Story

Thanks to the recent opening of Shorty Goldstein’s in the financial district, the Bay Area now has enough nouveau delis serving housemade pastrami that some expert guidance is called for. To that end, we asked three discerning judges to rate the pastrami, bread, appearance, and overall deliciousness of three sandwiches—one a classic, the others ambitious upstarts.

The Judges
The Professional Eater: Raised Jewish in the Midwest, Jane Goldman worked her way through the pastramis of New York and Los Angeles before starting the food magazine Chow in San Francisco nine years ago.
The Meat Guru: Bruce Aidells founded his eponymous sausage company in 1983. He went on to write The Great Meat Cookbook, among many others, becoming a nationally recognized meat expert.
The O.G. Deli Dude: Joe Sattler opened his deli, Moishe’s Pippic, in Hayes Valley 26 years ago. He has since worked there almost every single day until 6 p.m.

Winner: Saul’s Delicatessen
Meat: Brisket from Creekstone Farms in spring, meaty navel cuts from Niman Ranch in summer. Ten-day brine. Rub of black pepper, coriander, paprika,
Since: 1986 allspice, and other spices. Smoked overnight.
Bread: Acme’s New York rye.
Verdict: A stacked pile of meat with a desirable lean-to-fat ratio and “chewy, crusty, dense” bread with real rye flavor made Saul’s the clear favorite.
1475 Shattuck Ave. (at Vine St.), Berkeley, 510-848-3354

Runner-Up: Shorty Goldstein’s
Since: Three months ago
Meat: Double R Ranch’s brisket. Four-day brine. Pepper-coriander rub. Smoked and finished in steam.
Bread: Cinderella Bakery’s light rye.*
Verdict: “Very soft” bread and “weaker deli mustard” brought the overall rating down. But the meat was “piled nicely,” and one judge favored Shorty’s over all the rest for its “good balance” of smoke, spice, and salt.
*At press time, owner Michael Siegel had switched to rye from Esther's German Bakery in Los Altos.
126 Sutter St. (near Montgomery St.), 415-986-2676

Honorable Mention: Machine Deli
Since: 2012
Meat: Bassian Farms’ fatty beef navels. Two- to three-day brine. Coriander, pepper, chili, bay leaf, allspice, cinnamon, and garlic rub. Temperature- controlled air-dry overnight. Two-hour smoke.
Bread: Bakers of Paris’ rye.
Verdict: “The Drillpress,” a Reuben riff, had less meat than the others, and one judge opined that the pastrami didn’t taste like the real deal. Goldman dubbed the Drillpress “more like a Big Mac than a pastrami sandwich,” which could explain why it’s one of the deli's best sellers.
1024 Market St. (near 6th St.), 415-913-7370

Hold On: Where’s Wise Sons? The current undisputed Jewish deli darling of San Francisco wouldn’t submit its sandwich to our taste-off because its kitchen closes at 3 p.m. and our taste test happened at 6 p.m. The owners “weren’t confident they could deliver to their standards at that time.”

Who's Got The Best Pickle? Every pastrami needs a good pickle. Shorty Goldstein’s makes one somewhere between a full and a half sour. Machine Deli’s pickle is sweeter and spiked with coriander seed. The judges’ favorite was Saul’s sour dill (pictured), which comes from Mr. Pickle in New York. (Note: Saul’s does make its own half sours from June to October, but can’t produce nearly enough to meet demand.)

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of San Francisco

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