My search for the best corned beef/pastrami in New York continues….
Part of the deli experience is the deli man. There is even a documentary made about this cultural icon. While I was sitting at Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, I watched the owner Jay Parker walk around and joke with some of the diners. He never made it to my table, but in all fairness, it was an off-hour and I imagine he wanted to sit down and take a break. I also probably don’t put out the “talk to me” vibe when I’m out by myself. I’m trying to be incognito and get an unbiased taste of the food.
But I really enjoyed seeing the deli man at Ben’s Best doing the thing he does best. That’s the kind of thing that happens at old school Jewish delis that keep them relevant and comfortable. The food speaks for itself, but the owner makes or breaks the business.
In this case, Jay makes the business. It’s obvious he loves what he does and he’s been doing it for almost 40 years when he took over the deli from his father who ran it before him. Along with an old-school ambiance and an extensive menu, he keeps the business charming and alive.
People come from all over to this little block in Queens to try the food. I was amazed at how many non-locals there seemed to be in the restaurant. It had been on my list since I started searching for corned beef and pastrami, but the geography made it more difficult for me. Once I was commissioned to write an article for Gothamist, I loaded my Metrocard and went out for a visit.
In addition to the combo sandwich, I got a cup of their matzo ball soup and a frankfurter. The soup was garnished with dill and featured a giant matzo ball, but I found it a bit bland on its own. It definitely felt curing and nostalgic, but I just had to get a little friendly with the salt and pepper.
The main event, of course, is my favorite: a corned beef and pastrami combo. The waitress was nice enough to let me order a half sandwich with the soup. Thankfully, I didn’t see any added charge on the bill for the annoying request.
The stuffed sandwich came with a side of excellent cole slaw and a variety of pickles. I also found the soft rye bread to be of excellent quality. Unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed by the actual meat.
Perhaps my tastebuds were a little off, but I thought the meat was also rather bland. Corned beef is usually salty and full of garlic flavors. Here it was quite mild. The pastrami also had a restrained amount of spices so it was actually difficult to tell the difference between the two.
That being said, the texture was pretty good. The fatty bits of the pastrami melted nicely and definitely opened up the meaty, garlicky flavors I was hoping for. With the bread and mustard, it ended up being a nice deli meal.
Ben’s Best might not have the best corned beef and pastrami, but it is worth a visit to see a real, live Jewish deli in a real lively neighborhood away from the tourists. This is how New Yorkers live and eat. It’s a truly special place.
Does Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen have the best corned beef/pastrami in NYC? Unfortunately not, but it’s still decent and gets a 7 out of 10. However, the restaurant itself might be one of the best, most authentic old-school delicatessens in the city. And that alone makes it worth a visit.
|BEN’S BEST KOSHER DELI|
|96-40 Queens Boulevard (between 63rd Drive and 64th Road),
Rego Park, Queens