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Pastrami Taste-off: Niman Ranch vs. David’s vs. Secret Brooklyn brand vs. Boar’s Head vs. Robert’s (in that order)

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This all started because I was curious about a mention of Robert’s pastrami, an old SF corned meat producer. I never heard of them and decided to stop by.

They are located on 1030 Bryant across the street from Henry’s Hunan.

It is a rather cool place with huge rolling steel vats of corned meat. I doubt if the place changed a bit since it opened in the 1920’s. The old cash register is there. You can see a little bit of the big vats in the website picture. The place looks like that ... huge vats and men dressed in white coats making corned meat.

http://robertscornedmeats.com

You can buy retail in bulk with a 5 lb minimum. Since I never tried the pastrami, I was reluctant to commit to that much meat. However, if the signs were accurate, the prices are beyond belief. Here’s what they sell:

2.59 – Corned brisket
2.89
Pastrami
Salami
Corned tongue
Hocks
Bacon
Corned something round (can’t read my own notes

)

Some special cut of corned beef that I forgot to note was 3.29

For $65 there was Povi-masima which the kind of unhelpful worker said was a big box of corned meat. Don’t know how reliable he was but he said Mollie Stone sold their meat ... not in Marin ... unless they are selling it as their house brand. There’s a list of customers on the website.

Anyway, back to Mollie. I get there and see David’s Pastrami which has a lot of good posts on the board, so I decide to try it. Then I stop by Hillary’s in San Rafael to get a sandwich made of Roberts. Hmmm ... I says to myself ... let’s see what NY by the Bay Deli (NYBTBD) has.

The guy at NYBTBD says the pastrami is from Brooklyn, but they’d have to kill me if they tell me the name ... ok, not that extreme, but he won’t tell me the name.

So ... as I’m heading back home across the San Rafael bridge, I’m thinking ... I always thought the Niman Ranch pastrami at Saul’s was excellent ... might as well add that to the taste-off.

As I leave Saul’s I’m thinking. I wonder how plain old Boar’s Head compares ... so there you go ... the birth of the taste-off.

Here are the results in order of preference:

Niman-Ranch: (Saul’s $15.95 lb) Say what you will about Saul’s, this is the best pastrami in the Bay Area. Sliced warm ... it was beautifully marbled with fat which gave a lovely sheen to the meat. It was velvety and full of wonderful pastrami flavor and spice. Despite being wrapped in lined white butcher’s paper, the fat still managed to produce spots on the paper. Even cold, this was the most flavorful.

Saul’s makes this with care and love.

David’s: (Mollie Stone $16.99 lb) This was from a piece of pastrami wrapped in heavy plastic in the deli case, so in the hands of a restaurant that prepared it with the same respect as Saul’s it might have fared better. It is still good.

The fat here is on the exterior and there is a nice smoked flavor to it and lots of spice. It was a little paler than most pastrami’s. For some reason, the flavor hit isn’t immediate ... it comes after a few chews. Nice, but not in the same league with Saul’s. Don’t know what cut this was ... doubt it was the elusive navel cut ... when I asked the deli clerk she looked at me and said ... brisket?

Secret Brooklyn brand: (NY by the Bay $10.99 lb) Deeper pink color with a little marbling throughout that gives pastrami a richer mouth-feel. The flavor and spicing was good though not as pronounced as the other two. For the price, a respectable showing. Not worth going out of the way for, but good for the neighborhood.

Boar’s Head: (Bianca’s Deli $9.99 lb) I always thought that Boar’s Head was characterless. It is ok, the main spice being salt. There’s not too much flavor. In a blind test I doubt if I could taste the difference between Boar’s Head pastrami and corned beef. The biggest selling point ... it is not dried out.

Roberts: (Hillary’s House of Bagels $9.95 sandwich) Very lean and dry even just-made and hot. I’m a little reluctant to put this on Robert’s as it seems like it was poorly made ... .devoid of taste ... no spice ... no pastrami taste ... no nothing.

I’ve had the pastrami at other places that use Robert’s like Tommy’s Joint, Lefty O’Doul’s and Mel’s ... the first two good the last ... eh ... I think it is dependant on the restaurant or store handling.

The whole sandwich was bad. First of all, you know you are in trouble when they ask if you want it with everything ... lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard ... uh, no ... mustard only ... THIS could have used mayo. The rye was dry like the pastrami. The pickle was horrid, sour in a bad way and soft. Don’t choose the potato salad with egg, onion and parsley. Hard to believe, but with all that it was tasteless. Wanted to like the place. Wanted to like the sandwich. Hated it ... it was like eating sawdust.
So sneer if you like. It might not be like the best of the East Coast pastrami, but Saul’s is very good and a satisfying pastrami fix.

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  1. I'll try the pastrami the next time I'm there. By the way, any suggestions on how to order the corned beef? Each time I've tried it, the way they cut it is such that when you bite into it, you have to take it out of the sandwich and cut it with a knife. It tastes delicious, but having to remove it from the sandwich takes away from the pleasure of eating it. Any suggestions?

    1 Reply
    1. re: rightstar

      Maybe someone else can help out. My corned beef experience is limited to St Patrick's day served with potatoes and cabbage.

    2. The pastrami at RoastHaus in Terra Linda always satisfies, whatever brand it is, but ask for Not Lean for your sandwich. Is NY By the Bay in Terra Linda? Then it's across the Freitas Pkway from RHaus which is in the mall a few stores left of Safeway.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sarah

        Yep, that's it.

      2. I'm posting an earlier pastrami discussion, from when I first discovered for myself how great Saul's pastrami was. I'm with you on this one, rworange.

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1 Reply
        1. re: jillyju

          Yes, that post clued me into the pastrami at Saul's. I tell you it is even better than I remembered it from a year ago ... probably shining like a star next to the other more ordinary pastrami.

          Thanks again.

        2. I've had the Roberts pastrami at Tommy's Joynt and really enjoyed it -- a nice amount of quite flavorful and moist pastrami -- not too lean. Unfortunately, Tommy's doesn't offer a good rye bread, so I always order it on a French roll. It's still a very good sandwich.

          1. Saul's must have a magic touch in handling the product, as I've had the Niman pastrami at two other places and found it vastly inferior in taste and texture to David's regular brisket cut. I'll have to try it at Saul's.

            P.S. We steamed the David's at home.

            1. I think that I had the Boar's Head yesterday in a sandwich at East West Deli in SF, which further confirmed the superiority of the Saul's pastrami. It wasn't very spicey, and was entirely too lean. Very disappointing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jillyju

                Eek! Haven't been there for a year now, but Miller's East Coast West had a much better product than Boar's Head. Hope it hasn't changed.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Don't worry. The pastrami at Miller's is fantastic. I've been there twice in the past month or so and each time had "The Chief" -- pastrami and corned beef with Russian dressing and cole slaw. It's flat out delicious - as good as any deli sandwich anywhere, including New York and the boroughs.

              2. So what I don't get is this....does Saul's cure its own pastrami from Niman meat or does it buy Niman pastrami already made and just steam and slice it perfectly?

                I'm leery about Saul's since I've had several bad experiences....the chicken soup with matzoh balls that was like celery water. I've posted about it before but it was soooooo bad. My husband griped that his salami and eggs was not "pancake style" as he remembered it from Brooklyn.

                I've GOT to try the pastrami, though. Have had a yen for a while.

                Thanks a bunch, RW!!! You are a true gem.

                3 Replies
                1. re: oakjoan

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36104...

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    Saul's has a few great items and a whole lot of evil drek. It is finding the good stuff ... latkes and breakfast items I've tried, are NOT in the good column.

                    Neither is the herring in wine which is scary, but the herring in sour cream is wonderful. I'm also a big fan of the beet horseradish which they usually have in the back.

                    On this visit I found out they had SLICED Acme rye ... NOT corn rye ... that was sooo good. Those little orange-slice jellies are nice too.
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/355522

                    Don't know what magic they might or might not do with the pastrami or if they are buying some special cut. It is thin sliced though, not thick.

                    Funny, I saw thick-sliced pastrami on a chain menu ... Black Bear in Sonoma. So far BB is getting creamed on the chains board.
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/368458

                    But the description sounds good ... hot pastrami dip (yeah, I know) ... thick cut pastrami and grilled onions served with a Dijon horseradish sauce, covered in swiss cheese. It is on a French roll though and served "with au jus". Ok, that last sounds scary, but I don't need to dip.

                    Off topic ... well, I was talking about orange slices ... so maybe not too much ... but I love my new avatar. It sticks out and I can find my posts easily in a thread. Needed to re-read this topic and check to see I wasn't repeating myself. Gary Soup inspired me because his is clear and I can always easily see if he's participating in the "Who's Talking" section. Someone else has a bright green square and there is porthos's fish.

                    1. re: rworange

                      The difference between Saul's and the other examples of Niman pastrami I've had is that Saul's allegedly uses the navel cut.

                  2. You know, I realize now that I'm not sure if the pastrami at Miller's East Coast West is Boar's Head or not. I noticed a sign when I came in that said something about their Boar's Head products, and I made the jump to assuming that their pastrami was part of that. I just know for sure that it was overly lean and lacking in spice.

                    1. Thanks, rworange, for the report. I am somewhat surprised that Saul's won, and at the same time, well, if that's the best pastrami around, that's the way it goes. I was a longtime Saul's hater from a disastrous meal of brisket and latkes last year that was just too sad, but I came around a little when I had the pastrami sandwich on rye in December. It was pretty good, although the shocking pink color threw me a little. Let's be clear, though -- it's pretty good, but not remotely comparable to what you might get along the east coast.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: melisky

                        Yeah, definately not a good NYC pastrami. I'm more likely to get a closer fix at a haufbrau in this area. The color of Saul's was about the same as all the others with the exception of the David's which was paler.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I had a pastrami sandwich a couple of weeks ago at the hofbrau in Northgate II in San Rafael. The meat was tasteless.

                      2. Thank you. That place gets thumbs up on Chowhound, but out of all the Hofbrau's I've tried, this one is the worst. I had the same experience with no flavor. Someone said to ask for the fatty pieces ... but it is staffed by high school kids with no manager in evidence. The bread was kind of dry too.

                        Ack ... replied in the wrong place ... to Mick Ruthven.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rworange

                          I don't think a fatty piece of that pastrami would have any more flavor. Either they buy pastrami with no flavor of they somehow cook the flavor out of it. I see no reason to go back.

                        2. Here's a link to another pastrami taste-off
                          from the February Berkeley Monthly:

                          http://www.themonthly.com/food-02-07....

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Hop

                            Slightly annoying that he identifies only two of the four pastramis they blind-tasted (Niman's and Katz's).