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