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Katz’s Deli is known for its pastrami sandwich. It’s also known for its corned beef and, increasingly in the last few years, for its Reuben—a relatively new addition in the 128-year life span of this NYC institution. But none of those are owner Jake Dell’s go-to. The owner of Katz’s Deli, grandson of the original owner, has another favorite: Katz’s turkey sandwich.
And some people don’t even know it exists, Dell tells us. But when the owner has a regular order, and it’s not the iconic sandwich that has tourists and locals lining up at all hours of the day, you know it’s gotta be good.
“It’s an all-white-meat turkey. It’s incredibly juicy. It’s like having a Thanksgiving turkey every day.” Wrapped up in the oven, the turkey marinates in its own juices as it cooks anywhere between three to five hours, Jake explains. “It’s really phenomenal.”
He should know. Dell eats at his deli up to six times a week, anywhere between one and four meals a day. “I’m a big eater. Three meals usually doesn’t cut it for me.”
And he hasn’t just been eating the sandwich for the last four years that he’s owned Katz’s, or for the last seven that he’s been in charge of operations. Dell grew up at his father and grandfather’s restaurant. He grew up at Katz’s, having birthday parties there and even his bar mitzvah, marked by the neon sign that hangs in the middle of the room. When asked if he remembers his first turkey sandwich, he laughs as he says, simply, “no.”
The turkey is so juicy that it doesn’t come with anything else on the bread. Sure, you can add mustard, some lettuce and tomato or coleslaw and Russian dressing, as Dell sometimes does, but it really doesn’t need a thing. After trying the sandwich for ourselves, we can confirm: The turkey is the best-kept secret at Katz’s.
When we asked how many people are on to his little secret, Dell puts it this way. “It’s interesting. The more regular someone is, the more they venture away from the things they know. And I have many, many regulars.”
The restaurant serves about 30,000 pounds of meat—from pastrami and corned beef to hot dogs—each week, and of that, only 2,000 to 3,000 is turkey. But that’s changing, Dell says. “Two to three thousand pounds is a lot. So it’s definitely trending towards more.” He credits a growing concern with health and a move away from red meat as one possible explanation, adding, “A lot of people from L.A. order the turkey.” Maybe, too, the cat’s finally out of the bag.
Though he lets the 140 members of his staff do most of the cooking and sandwich-making, Dell is known to step in from time to time. “Last year for Hanukkah, I personally probably made like 400 matzo balls. Mine were the deformed ones,” he says, smiling. Sporting a Katz’s Deli T-shirt when we spoke to him, the 29-year-old owner quite literally wears his tremendous pride for the family business on his sleeve, and when he talks about the place—the turkey sandwich, his staff, and the special meat they do for Thanksgiving—you can hear the passion of someone who knows he has a special place.
On Thanksgiving, the deli holds a two-and-a-half hour, all-you-can-eat, family-style meal for $85—a pretty great deal considering the quality of the amazing turkey, and everything else that comes along with it.
“You get everyone in here and they all sit at the same table and eat family style. It fosters this fun, family environment, which is really what we do. That’s what Katz’s is about and that’s what Thanksgiving is about. Or any meal is really about that. Not to get too cheesy on you,” Dell says.
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