Sarge's Deli in Murray Hill has been on my "Who Goes There?" list for some time. In an era when the few remaining classic Jewish delis in Manhattan have been transformed into tourist attractions known mainly for their high prices, sliding quality and political photo-ops, Sarge's is an encouraging example of a deli that just is. And after 50 years it has yet to shake off its salty, unburnished New York character. I credit its obscure location with this. If Sarge's had been on Broadway or 34th Street or Houston Street, it would have been ruined long ago. Here's my Eater column:
Who Goes There: Sarge's Deli
Sarge's is Manhattan's premier also-ran Jewish deli. In its nearly 50 years of existence on Third Avenue, the joint has never topped a "best of" list and it isn't likely to. Food critics sometimes toss it a bone, using terms like "underrated" and "unsung" and praising its hash or latkes or corned beef (which are all good). But this second-drawer status actually constitutes Sarge's chief attraction. Not having netted the bold-face type, it isn't crowded with annoying tourists, like the Carnegie and Stage Delis are, and there's never a line out the door. It feels like a real New York deli, not a theme park attraction. Also—and this can't be underestimated—it is open 24 ever-lovin' hours every day. And delivers anywhere in Manhattan. So, at 3 AM on Christmas Day, you can have a kugel delivered to your pad in Inwood. Who does that?
Sarge's was founded in 1964 by a local cop named Abe Katz, who didn't call the deli Katz's for reasons I don't need to tell you. (An almost too-perfect picture of Abe in uniform graces the cover of the huge menu.) It's still in the family, now run by Abe's grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of waitresses are relatives, too. They certainly seem at home. Getting served by them is like being served by your aunt; she'll be nice to you, as long as you don't push it.
During the day, the clientele is local and skews older. The people who pass in and out of the door are very salt-of-the-earth. Groups of older ladies are not uncommon, and neither are families. Area workers cotton to the lunch service. When the sun goes down, things change up a bit. Cabbies and cops are fans, but so are Murray Hill's multitudinous bar-hopping youths. In the wee hours, as the taverns close, carousers crawl in for some schmaltzy sustenance. All the above notwithstanding, I've never seen the place packed. But that's not a worry. The Katzs own the building, so they're set to make their well-regarded pastrami—based on Abe's recipe—as long as they like. Plus, they appear to do a lot of take-out.
I had some of that tasty pastrami on my recent visit. It was moist and fatty and disappeared fast. So did the chicken soup, stained brown by an amazingly big beef kreplach. There are still many things on the vast menu I'd like to try. The blintzes, the pierogi, Sarge's Favorite (brisket on a potato pancake with gravy and applesauce) and the bizarre Cosby (a cheeseburger topped with a grilled hot dog). So, would it kill them to deliver to Brooklyn?
—Brooks of Sheffield