We tried, we really did. When we published our pastrami tour, we were confident that we had hit every spot in the metro area with a noteworthy pastrami sandwich. Yet somehow, during the process of eating and writing, and eating and writing, we missed some good ones. You caught us and called us out, and bless you for doing so.
Perhaps they were being gracious on our first visit to the St. Paul Meat Shop (1674 Grand Ave, St. Paul, above), when they excused us for missing their flagship pastrami sandwich ($14, top) by explaining that for their first couple of months in business, they were trying to fly under the radar pastrami-wise, until their recipe was tested and perfected. They shared their process: beef brisket (of course) is dry cured for 16 days (no more, no less), seasoned and smoked, and then finished sous vide.
The result is fatty and chewy, but still tender enough to give way to the teeth. Profoundly flavorful in a spicy-more-than-smoky way, the meat is cut thick to order (even too thick to call it sliced) and piled to modest height on lightly toasted Breadsmith caraway rye with a smear of well balanced, grainy mustard. The dry bread holds the sandwich together to the last crumb. You might not even need a napkin; this sandwich is engineered so well. We will cry it from the rooftops: tested and perfected, this is a damn fine pastrami sandwich. And we’d expect nothing less from the sister deli of the St. Paul Cheese Shop, purveyors themselves of fine sandwiches.
Sitting just one door down from Be’wiched of the “pastrami hall of fame,” Borough (730 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis) is serving up (lunch only) a sandwich ($13) that is top to bottom house made, from the bread to the mustard to the meat. Sandwiched between rectangular, griddled slices of caraway rye, the pastrami is thin-sliced and fatty to excess, yet somehow still a bit tough. Resonant smoky flavor redeems the textural issues to some extent. A zippy mustard opens the sinuses, and sauerkraut cuts the fat, adding a welcome vegetal crunch. As a whole, however, the buttery and brittle bread coupled with pastrami that wants to stick together makes a sandwich that is overly rich and requires careful handling to keep the contents from tumbling out onto the plate. It is a good sandwich, but flawed, especially sitting on a menu next to the “burger hall of fame” Parlour Burger.
About 150 miles outside the scope of this Twin Cities tour, but nevertheless well worth mentioning, is the unfortunately named but absolutely delicious Pastrami Mommy sandwich ($9.25) at Northern Waters Smokehaus (394 Lake Ave S, Duluth). Bucking the Jewish deli tradition, this sandwich is served cold and includes provolone, peperoncini, greens, mustard, and mayo. The lean bison pastrami is so good as to have caught the eye of a certain poorly dressed, aggressively coiffed TV host and “restaurateur.”
While we are a little sheepish about the above omissions from our Great Twin Cities Pastrami Tour, these are three sandwiches that we are thrilled to have in town and in state. Our bellies are full, and the state of pastrami is sound.