Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Benash Deli, New York

One of the world's great joys is a great deli. If I lived in America, I would eat in delis frequently (in fact, despite what I do every day in Tokyo, I still maintain that my basic preference is for a nice sandwich at lunch time). When you see the pictures here, you'll probably agree that it's a good thing for my health that I live in Tokyo.

I was in the upper parts of Midtown for lunch - just south of the park. A few blocks random walk put me right in front of Carnegie Deli, which had a big ol' line of tourists out the door, so I went across the street to Benash Deli. The sign outside promises that their sandwiches hold one pound of meat (if such a thing could ever be held by a mere sandwich), and I didn't have that much time to walk around, so... The atmosphere is OK, but the (Russian?) waiter was fairly grumpy, or just sorta depressed. The prices are violent, as in $15+ depending on which sandwich you want, but that's the same as Carnegie and I figured it was just a Midtown deli gouge phenomenon. Right first time!

I think everything comes with these pickles and coleslaw. The slaw was OK in an "I haven't been in America for 5 months so I don't mind that this is watery and boring" sort of way. The pickles were travestational. It's not often that I say something tastes terrible, and I won't go so far as to exaggerate and say they were 'inedible'. But I cut a small piece out of one of them, tried it, and immediately called it a day. It didn't taste at all like a pickle to me, and there was a strong chemical taste (where said chemical was not 'vinegar').

So I ordered corned beef on rye, which was indeed so big that it was already intruding into the above photo. This is one of my three favorite deli things - the other two being whitefish salad or lox on a bagel. With sandwiches not being available on bagels, and the server seeming to think that perhaps I could order a bagel separately and build it myself, but not being quite sure or very excited about it, I just gave up and got corned beef. Oddly, I had this problem a few years ago at another place in the neighborhood, maybe Carnegie. Are my expectations out of line? I think not.
This half of the sandwich sure looks like half a pound. It's comical that they call this a sandwich; not only is the filling overdone, but the bread is too soft for anything substantial. I think that comedy is part of the point. Still, when eaten in stages (take out some beef, eat with coleslaw; top remaining beef with coleslaw and eat as sandwich) it wasn't bad at all. The beef was decent - pretty well-pickled, a little warm, soft, fatty.
A little research on the googles indicates that this place is deeply reviled. If you find a site where people give scores, it will have a lot of reviews (prime tourist location) and most of them will be 1-2 out of 5. Prices are frequently cited, service is a secondary factor. I think the corned beef was OK if you could stomach the price ($19 before tip for the sandwich and soda), and I agree the service was subpar (not just my guy; the waitress at the next table was fighting with people whose order she had messed up). Interestingly, I read a fun piece about how the managers abuse the staff, both verbally and with policies like charging waiters for food that's sent back.

Anyway, you've been warned on this one, but it won't be the end of the world if you get stuck eating there. Still, if you've got more time than me, you might want to wander around a bit more. One of the world's great joys is a great deli. There's nothing like a great deli. And this place is nothing like a great deli!

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