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Jake Dell on the Institution of Katz's Delicatessen

By • October 1, 2013 • 60 Comments

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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: We talk to Jake Dell, fifth-generation owner of Katz's Delicatessen, about the recently published Katz's: Autobiography of a Delicatessen. Read on to win a copy of the book!

Jake Katz Autobiography of a Delicatessen

The best kind of New York institution is relatable to people everywhere. It doesn't alienate; it brings together the otherwise separate masses. Think Woody Allen, and Frank Sinatra, and arguably the most famous deli in the world: Katz's.

In a culture where culinary fads arrive and pass quickly, Katz's proves that the deli remains alive and well. It is family-run, steeped in history, standing on a menu that is impervious to trends and refuses to change. Its loyal following has everything to do with integrity and very, very little to do with that time that Meg Ryan threw her head back and made some noises.

In the recently published Katz's: Autobiography of a Delicatessen, manager Jake Dell has penned the deli's history, accompanied by photographs by Baldomero Fernandez. We chatted with Jake about all things Katz's, and we're giving away three copies!

Katz's has always been a family-run business. What are the most important lessons that your father, uncle, and grandfather taught you about running the deli?
Growing up, I was always reminded of the value of the customer. Just like those before me, I try to meet and greet everyone who walks through our doors, and make it my mission to make sure that everyone leaves with a smile on their face.

My family likes to remind me that a “Katz’s nirvana” can usually be achieved in 3 ways: food quality, nostalgia, and atmosphere. So I focus on making sure that everything we serve is of the highest quality, that we maintain the centuries-old traditions that our customers know and love, and that this wonderful deli continually remains a fun, vibrant, eccentric, and exciting place to eat. 

In your opinion, what's the most underrated item on the menu?
I think “underrated” is the wrong word here. There are many items that are simply “under-ordered” because people usually flock to the hotdogs, matzoh balls or hot meats (pastrami, corned beef, brisket, and turkey). One of those items would probably be the latkes or blintzes. They’re perfect -- just the way grandma made them. Or maybe the chocolate babka -- it’ll seriously change your world!

More: Watch Joan Nathan make cheese blintzes.

Cheese Blintzes

How many people know the pastrami recipe? How secret is it? 
I don’t know what you're talking about.

When you're not at Katz's, what do you eat?
Like any good Jewish boy, I go home to eat a lot, and my mother never seems to skimp out. Sometimes I feel like she thinks I have 3 stomachs! I also think that my sister is one of the best cooks in NYC -- so that’s a great plus! If I’m not going home or cooking for myself, I’m a big burrito eater. In fact, my roommates and I had a challenge to see who could be the first to eat 50 burritos over a several month period. I won. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

Katz's on Food52    

What do you want readers to learn from this book?
I want people to get a glimpse into what makes Katz’s Deli so special, to see the magic that I am lucky enough to experience every day. Baldomero, the photographer, did a wonderful job capturing every aspect of who we are. I kept the history and the stories brief, and let his pictures speak for themselves. 125 years from now, we’ll have this snapshot of the deli, and a cohesive story of what brought us to this moment.

We're giving away copies of Katz's: Autobiography of a Delicatessen to five lucky readers! In the comments, tell us: what's your favorite thing to order at a deli? We'll choose five winners at random this Friday, October 4 at 3 PM EST. Sorry, but we can only ship to US-based readers.

Blintz photo by James Ransom. All book photos by Baldomero Fernandez. 

Comments (60)

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6 months ago cookinginvictoria

Oh, I so miss Katz's (and Russ and Daughters)! There is nothing like an authentic New York-style deli and sadly none exist where I now live. I too am in the pastrami and rye camp (with a half-sour pickle, please), but I think that next time I am dining at Katz's, I may have to try their blintzes!

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6 months ago Joseph Ciolino

So many people are partial to the pastrami on rye. And why not? But what's wrong, I might ask, with pastrami on club, already?

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6 months ago rob

My favorite thing to order is Matzoh Ball Soup

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6 months ago lisa mund

My favorite would have to be Katz's Pastrami in rye with mustard, Dr. Brown's cream soda, order of fries, kishke and maybe some kasha varnishkas. If I were on death row and asked what do I want for my last meal..... THIS IS IT..... oh yeah, a side of sour pickles!!!!!

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6 months ago Jackie

Pastrami on rye with bowl of pickles and a bottle of Dr. Browns. This shared with a great group of friends...

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6 months ago KosherInDetroit

In my meat-eating days, hot corned beef (on rye) with a cel-ray. Now, I'm content with the pickles

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6 months ago Sofia Hvozda

Pastrami on rye, half sour pickle and an order of fries!!!! Being a New Yorker married an Upstate NY native (Syracuse) loved Katz's deli make it a must stop every time we visit NYC!

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6 months ago Catherine

Pastrami on rye, with mustard (and sometimes a knish!).

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6 months ago Rhonda Duis

My favorite is the corned beef on rye with pickles on the side!

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6 months ago Greg

Definitely the pastrami with extra pickled tomatos!!!

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6 months ago Mark Jablonowski

Pastrami on rye, extra mustard. Yum!

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6 months ago Kevin Morton

pastrami on rye - it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

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6 months ago lnp

The pastrami. The pastrami. The pastrami. I was a vegetarian for 6 years. Twice each year I'd wake up in the morning, turn to my boyfriend and say, I NEED A PASTRAMI SANDWICH. He'd reply I'll meet you at Katz' after work. I'd take two bites. Sigh like I'd been given a key to heaven and pass my sandwich to him. He'd eat mine and his. When I stopped being a vegetarian. A Katz' pastrami on rye with only half the meat and lots of mustard was my first stop. I didn't even bother to go to work or take my boyfriend with me.

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6 months ago Dixie Lopez

Every time we go to NYC we always end up @ Katz as a last dinner in NYC!!! Love it. My fav is always the pastrami on rye of course..... dame now I'm wanting some :(

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6 months ago bree f

It's a little un-kosher (get it?), but I love pastrami on a good soft kaiser roll, spicy mustard, and extra pickles on the side.

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7 months ago BurgeoningBaker

I do like the traditional pastrami on rye, BUT living in a place that is without any semblance of NY Style Deli. I can't be picky. I'll get knishes, chopped liver, matzo ball soup, tongue and rye bread. I really can't pick just one thing which makes it hard when my in-laws in NY are like.. hurry up and order already...

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7 months ago melissav

Pastrami on Rye, with lots of spicy mustard.

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7 months ago Ronald Manley

Corned beef on rye with cole slaw

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7 months ago Nancy Runnings

Pastrami on Rye. The only place to get a good Pastrami Sandwich is at a Deli!

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7 months ago Hgranger

Vivid childhood memory, age three or four in Queens. Deli lunch with Grandpa. Hebrew national hotdog, Cel-ray soda and he gave me his pickle.

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7 months ago Elliot Miller

Pastrami on rye with cole slaw and pickles

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7 months ago veggiesandgin

I know it's cheesy but I don't care: matzo ball soup.

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7 months ago Cbmcleod

Cheesecake!

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7 months ago tony

Wow im a native new yorker and I was just 4 when my mother tool me to Katz her favorite,and now mine and my family.she introduced me to my first pastrami sandwich, on rye with mustard. Oh and you can't forget the homade pickles. I'm 46 now and live in F.L. for the last 7 years. And I've been to my share of deli's and let me tell you no one has come close. I have a son now. He's 4. When he was 3 he had his first pastrami sand and of course it was from Katz's. A tradition now for us. We love you guys. The Hernandez Family!!!

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7 months ago Nathalie

If only there were a real deli close to me. But I would happily order latkes or blintzes! Or knishes - I love knishes!

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7 months ago CrabCakes

Mmmmm, pastrami on rye, lots of mustard and pickles on the side.

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7 months ago LLStone

Definitely a reuben!

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7 months ago Linda S.

Corned beef on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing.

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7 months ago Sonia Tannlund

The thought of a perfectly built hot Ruben is currently making me smack my lips...which sort of sucks because it's 7am.

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7 months ago nogaga

Liverwurst and pastrami sandwich, with caramelized onions, mustard and a little greenery on top. Every single time.

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7 months ago Sarah

Roast beef sandwich with spicy mustard and a side of potato salad — or a pumpernickel bagel with veggie schmear in the morning with a coffee

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7 months ago CheapBeets

Corned beef and cole slaw.

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7 months ago Izzy

I am all about Katz's reuben. But besides Katz's, I really love Barney Greengrass and their assorted smoked fish. Smoked nova salmon on a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, tomato and onion! The best.

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7 months ago Kristina

Deli salad are the best!

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7 months ago amysarah

Corned beef (not too lean) on rye, with lots of deli mustard and a Dr. Brown's cream soda. As good as the best fancy wine/food pairing, I tell you. Growing up, we'd occasionally go to Katz's, and I'd eat hot dogs. 'Send a salami to your boy in the army' never ceased to make me giggle.

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7 months ago heyjude

A tongue sandwich because I'll never cook it at home.

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7 months ago zahavah

Matzah ball soup!

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7 months ago kumalavula

growing up in l.a. meant langers or canters. living in the pacific nw as an adult means living without some of that comfort food that I took for granted as a child. there's nothing like a good plate of blintzes or a small tray of kosher dill pickles brought to the table to nosh on before the mile high corn beef or Reuben's on rye show up. oy vey, I might start drooling at the thought!

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7 months ago KimmyV

Never been to Katz, but seaport deli on Long Island serves amazing rice pudding that I could eat everyday. I miss ny!

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7 months ago Reesa Beggs

I have to travel almost an hour to get a good corned beef on rye with mustard.

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7 months ago mbergner

I grew up going to Katz's on weekends. Corned beef with tongue on rye with coleslaw and mustard..

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7 months ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

Beef Salami on rye bread (slightly toasted) with deli mustard and ketchup, potato pancakes, with ketchup and as many sour pickles I can snag!

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7 months ago Tanya Waters

Anything with lox.

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7 months ago Hilary Marsh

Pastrami on rye - yum!

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7 months ago beetsandbluecheese.com

Chicken livers, pastrami and a pickle.

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7 months ago Caroline McKinney

I always order a good turkey Reuben! Love them.

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7 months ago Leslie Gast

I love pastrami. Can't pass it up!

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7 months ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

Despite the bedlam inside the doors I love this place. And of course I love Russ & Daughters and Jonah Schimmel too. Some half awake user her described these places as "tourist traps". Huh!! Not in Soho. For tourist trap you have to go up town to Carnegie Deli.

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7 months ago Robin

Eggs, lox & onions - I went to Katz's for the first time almost 4 years ago with a native New York friend. I was going through a difficult time and he doled out some sage advice while we noshed on ELO. It has become a favorite of mine that I just can't seem to find in the south. Katz's will always hold a special place in my heart.

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7 months ago grosenb562

sauerkrautya, Brent's is the best here in So Ca. I like to order lox and bagels or roast beef with thousand island dressing and cole slaw on rye with French fries. Or pastrami with mustard on rye too!

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7 months ago dmedesha

Corned beef! Well, I might go for pastrami. Then, if I can get away with it, corned beef, and pastrami, on Russian rye, with mustard. Now I'm hungry.

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7 months ago Cher

I'm partial to livestock- can't resist a good bowl of chicken noodle soup and a corned beef sandwich.

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7 months ago Kdrusnak

People certainly do leave with smiles on their faces; and they don't have to "fake it."

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7 months ago Katie.Donbavand

At Katz's, I can't go without the latkes and applesauce!

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7 months ago Kdrusnak

Pastrami on rye with lots of mustard.....pickles,pickles,pickles...cole slaw...and an egg cream! YUM!

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7 months ago alygator

I have been several times and always have ordered the same thing - pastrami on rye with mustard, a side of fries and a Dr. Brown's cream soda!

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7 months ago Bridgetd42

I'd have to say the hot pastrami sandwiches at Katz's will always be a cherished part of my college memories, but I always thought the sizzly hot fries there are seriously magical, too.

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7 months ago Stellar Onthehill

Definitely, hot pastrami... but if i win the book, I will come to Katz's and order blintzes!

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7 months ago lara@goodcookdoris

Love to get corned beef on marble rye, but lately have discovered that I've been missing out on pastrami all these years!

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7 months ago sauerkrautya

Cheese blintzes. Or, if I'm at Brent's in LA (go-to deli on the West Coast), definitely will order the Black Pastrami Reuben and proceed to survive on it alone for the next two days.