Pastrami Smackdown!

The Chicago area is full of both pastrami purists and newfangled innovators. With some new delis entering the scene, we sized up a few of the latest offerings alongside some old favorites.

 

The Chicago area is full of both pastrami purists and newfangled innovators. With some new delis entering the scene, we sized up a few of the latest offerings alongside some old favorites.

 

The Best
Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli
1141 S. Jefferson St.
Aggressively spiced meat is the hallmark of this local institution in the Loop
Pros: Slightly thick, slightly fatty, slightly briny slices are packed between a deli rye so flavorful that, even completely undressed, this sandwich sets the bar for all the others.
Cons: Clawing through the packed lunchtime crowd of lawyers and pols to get the goods.
Price: $9.95
  Max and Benny’s Restaurant & Deli
461 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook; 332 E. Illinois St.
This standby serves both lean and regular versions, but real deli lovers will choose the regular. A little fat, after all, improves the taste of this lowbrow cut of beef.
Pros: A mix of both brisket and belly cuts.
Cons: Though soft, the parbaked rye bread (a nostalgic favorite of the owner) doesn’t garner high marks. Meat made with this kind of care deserves a real deli loaf.
Price: $8.95
  Blackbird
619 W. Randolph St.
A gourmet version of the lunch counter standby
Pros: Chef/owner Paul Kahan’s home-cured pastrami, cut paper thin, the better to showcase its melt-in-the-mouth texture. Simply spiced with coriander and black pepper, the grilled sandwich comes on a homemade light rye with a perfect crust.
Cons: Let’s note up-front that this is basically a Reuben.
Price: $13
  Finkl’s World Famous Deli
400 S. Financial Place; 926 North Branch St.
This barebones operation offers up a warmer version than all the others. Tip: Tell them easy on the mustard.
Pros: The junior-size option ($4.25).
Cons: Fatty, chewy meat that comes forth from the sandwich with every bite; mass-produced rye bread that could easily be mistaken for a tasty white were it not for a few caraway seeds.
Price: $5.75

Photography: Grant Kessler
Eleven City Diner
1112 S. Wabash Ave.
The latest entry on the deli scene offers a fine version of the genre’s classic. Bonus points: The best pickle of the group
Pros: Thin-cut slices with a hint of brine are piled high between tasty slices of deli rye.
Cons: Texture-wise, this meat really delivers, but the sandwich needs a little time to mature into its distinguished guise.
Price: $9.75

 

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