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When's the last time anyone ate at Sarge's?

I'll admit that I've never been a regular at Sarge's. The last time I was there (before last week) was many years ago. I remember a brightly-lit, bustling place with enthusiastic service, terrific pickles and coleslaw and really great deli sandwiches. Last week, I was wandering the neighborhood in search of lunch - actually craving a burger and fries, not a deli sandwich - and went into Sarge's. It appeared to me to be half the size of the place I remembered and I was a bit nervous about ordering anything at all. The tables were only about 30% occupied and I was seated quickly, but waited for attention for quite a while. A waitress handed me a limp, stained, photocopied page for my perusal and quickly walked away.

About 5 minutes later, she stopped schmoozing with her co-workers long enough to come back and take my order: burger deluxe and unsweetened iced tea. "Ham or cheese?" she asked, which confused me. Usually, it's "What kind of cheese?" isn't it? Anyway, neither, thanks. So perhaps that's where I made my mistake -- in not ordering corned beef, pastrami or roast beef. Dunno.

Another 5 minutes passed and a busser dropped off a bowl of coleslaw, topped with two pickles, along with knife, fork and napkin. No small dish, no glass of water. While I was waiting, a couple of construction types came in, stood behind my table and discussed ripping out the chair rail, new booths, etc. I don't think it's going to help.

About 10 minutes later, I caught her eye while she continued to do pretty much nothing. Something may have clicked at that point. She finally came back with my lunch order after another 3 or 4 minutes, mumbled, "Sorry," as she shoved the plate in front of me and hurried off. So I guess she was physically able to move quickly, just not predisposed to do so in the performance of her job.

The pickles were okay, the coleslaw inedible, the burger was only so-so, and the fries - cottage fries, not french fries - kind of lumpy-looking and mushy in texture. Naturally, the waitress waited until I had a mouthful of food and then rushed up to me. "How's everything? Everything good?" I began to gesture but, before I could swallow what was in my mouth, she disappeared again, to go chat with her colleagues.

I ate about half of what was presented to me and gestured to her, actually succeeding in getting her attention, to ask for the check. She didn't ask me if there was anything wrong and didn't seem interested in returning to the table to clear or to take my money. So I went up front and waited to pay while the two women running the two registers tended to other matters.

I don't think even Gordon Ramsay would be able to do anything with Sarge's at this point.

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  1. i order delivery from them now and then for work...last time was probably a month ago...ive never eaten in the restaurant but their pastrami is right up there with carnegie and katz's.

    i have zero issues with sarges...

    1 Reply
    1. re: sam1

      Maybe that's the way to go - to order in. Except I can't eat at my desk, so I'm always looking for someplace where I can sit alone, comfortably, and be served a meal under $20.

    2. When we go to Sarges, we don't go for the service or the atmosphere- it's really all about the pastrami. Although I did go in a few weeks back and order a whole chicken from the counter. Done in minutes and was very good.

      My only complaint about sarges is that their a bit pricey - but that said I can live for three days off of one corned beef and pastrami sandwich.

      1. I went there about a year ago based on hound recommendations and had their pastrami. The atmosphere was pretty much as you describe it - kind of dreary and more than a bit run-down (and not in a cool old roadhouse kind of way). Service was fine, though - no complaints on that score. The pastrami (ordered extra fatty, as I usually do) was totally ordinary - I found it underflavored and somewhat on the salty side. It didn't compare to Carnegie's, let alone Katz's; in fact, a pastrami sandwich I had a few weeks later at Artie's on the UWS (which I don't love but I was in the area and had a yen) was better.

        Based on that single visit (which did not encourage me to return), Sarge's is an OK neighborhood deli - no better than that - and certainly not worth a special trip.

        1. I don't think I'd go to Sarge's for a burger--pastrami/corned beef is definitely the way to go. Usually their fries (not cottage fries) are among the best. Service has always been lackluster. They did downsize the restaurant a number of years ago. I understand they're in the middle of renovations so that may have made things worse for them. Sarge's is my "go to" deli (even though I now live on the UES). In addition to the pastrami, I love their fries, noodle pudding and chopped liver. My mom has always liked their brisket. So much so that I'm ordering it for the holidays.

          1. we had great service when we were there earlier this year, and our food (lox, eggs and onions and corned beef hash) was tasty. the atmosphere doesn't bother me at all, and the menus we got were large, laminated, multipage ones. i agree that it's not a destination restaurant, but imo it's a solid neighborhood choice.

            1. The best part about Sarge's is that they're opened 24/7. And the pastrami is delicious! I eat there at least once a month, I work a few blocks away.

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              Manahattan, Manhattan, NY

              1 Reply
              1. re: samthemaniam

                I was just there this past Sat night post-theater. I found the atmosphere to be bright and airy, the service warm and friendly. I had tongue on rye while my wife had a potato pancake which was more like a knish. The tongue was tender and tasty. Ditto on the pancake. All were washed down with Dr. Brown sodas. I thought it was a very good experience, especially for a late night snack.

              2. I was there back in the spring, and the corned beef hash was excellent, as usual.

                1. always order delivery if you are so inclined to eat something from their establishment. i've eaten there once. ditsy, loud waitresses seem to have issues with serving beverages. there's no way i'm going back for a sit down meal. this also compelled me to cut down on deliver orders. not sure i want to patronize this place.

                  1. The key to Sarge's is to not eat it prior to 1 am.. Sarge's is great for what it is.. And the will delivery pretty much anywhere on the east side..

                    A drunken rueben and a dr browns, maybe some cheese fries and a pastrami sandwich at 3 am..

                    Thats how to properly enjoy sarge's.

                    1. I ate there around 4 months ago.
                      Had the pastrami (fatty) and it was a first rate and generous sandwich for the price. I can't vouch for anything else they serve there, but that sandwich was top notch.
                      I wouldn't be surprised if the pastrami is made by Carnegie (at their plant in NJ) or State National/Old World. Seems that most decent delis get their pastrami from one of these sources.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: The Professor

                        actually, sarge's is one of the few, if not the last place, to cure their own pastrami.

                        1. re: jon

                          Interesting...I didn't know that!
                          Corned beef I might have guessed since that process requires no really special equipment. But the fact that pastrami is smoked after curing would seem to complicate things a bit for a deli that size. Either way, theirs is definitely up there with the better pastrami sandwiches in NYC (though maybe they could use some better rye bread).

                          1. re: The Professor

                            For me, Sarge's pastrami ranks near to Katz's. However, when it comes to bread, I think the rye at Sarge's is quite good and imanages to stand up to the mound of pastrami between the slices. At Katz's, the rye bread is so flimsy that it is no match for the generous pile of pastrami and completely falls apart or disintegrates.

                            1. re: RGR

                              Agreed. I think the OP's right that the service can sometimes be really hit or miss (folks who do brunch on weekends are usually down-to-earth, fairly efficient and overall good people, tho I've had pretty ditzy service at late night dinners). But I don't go for the service, I go for the pastrami (which I think is better than Katz's based on the two times I've tried it at Katz), the hockey puck potato pancakes, and the chopped liver, which is dense, dark, liver-y, and chock full of schmaltz -- just how I like it.

                              1. re: cimui

                                Well, if I'm in the neighborhood and have a craving, I'll give it one more try - but frankly, the pastrami I had there didn't hold a candle to Katz's (or Irving's of Livingston, NJ, for that matter).

                                1. re: Striver

                                  There are definitely differences between the pastrami at Katz's and Sarge's: hand-sliced vs. machine cut and thickly-sliced vs. thinner. Also, there are differences in spicing which leads to a difference in flavor. So, I'm guessing you prefer Katz's flavor and thicker cut.

                                  I find the flavors of both styles of pastami appealing. I want my pastrami fatty enough to make it juicy and succulent, so I always ask for that. Both Katz's and Sarge's have never failed to deliver.

                      2. Ordered take out 2 mos ago. Corned beef sandwich there IMHO is much better than Carnegie. Have not had one at Katz'. coleslaw , fries, and half sours are all good. I only ate there once....The place IS a dark dump. Too depressing for me. But for take out or delivery, it is great.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: steelydad

                          When we ate there a few months ago, they were in the process of renovating the interior. It looked cleaned up, freshly painted and fairly bright.

                          We did delivery several weeks ago. I ordered the pastrami and bread separately so that I could put the sandwiches together myself. The woman who took my order said 30 minutes, but it arrived sooner. My request for fatty pastrami was met. It was still warm and was, as always, juicy and delicious!

                          1. re: RGR

                            I had a very tasty burger smothered in fried/grilled onions with french fries a few weeks ago, with a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry. Now you all have me craving a pastrami sandwich! (I just happened to be in the mood for a burger the last time!)