Peak Pastrami-By: Matt Masterson
Written by Staff on March 10, 2022
This is not a restaurant review. This is a pastrami review.
Why drive two hours or so round trip from the Capital District just to eat a sandwich that you can find on the menu at many local places? Tender, smokey, peppery, house made pastrami.
The smoker is on the left side of the diner. It’s the kind of smoker that makes a man who spends many a weekend smoking meat nod in respect when he sees it. They don’t only smoke pastrami, but this is just about pastrami.
And it’s an old school diner, too. The Wall Street Journal called it “a chrome-and-vinyl relic from 1953” and that is exactly correct. You feel right at home when you walk in the door, like you are walking into a diner from your childhood, especially if you spent a lot of time in diners during your childhood with, say, your grandfather, which I was lucky enough to have done.
Not sure when I first heard or, more likely, read that the newest owner of the West Taghkanic Diner (WTD), a chef with a very impressive international resume, was making his own pastrami, but it caught my attention. Twenty or so years ago my job occasionally required me to drive by the diner and I made my first stop when I heard you could get an ostrich burger there. Pretty exotic for the time. It was good.
Anyway, new owner, new menu, and house made pastrami.
I distinctly remember the first time I tried pastrami. My mother handed me a warm pastrami on rye with mustard when I was around 10, telling me it was kind of like corned beef, and that I would like it. When you are right, you’re right, and so began a lifelong love affair with what I consider the finest of all the smoked meats. Yes, I have eaten BBQ in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and other southern states so I have some idea with what I’m talking about.
If you don’t know, traditional pastrami is made with beef, usually brisket, that, like corned beef, has been brined. After brining it is coated with at least black pepper and coriander, before being smoked and then steamed before serving. It’s not just something you whip together in an hour. It’s a process and, when done properly, transforms a big old tough cut of beef into something magical.
Now, the West Taghkanic Diner is most famous for its 12-hour smoked Pastrami Reuben, regular or double meat, double cheese (who are you kidding, you’re getting the double double), but I had to start where I started – double, naturally – pastrami on rye with mustard. No, it’s not on the menu, but the super friendly staff had no issue with my request. The result? Great rye, great mustard, amazingly tender, smokey, peppery, house made pastrami.
I think you might see where this is going. A few weeks later I made my second trip, this time for the Reuben. The double meat, double cheese 12-hour smoked Rueben. The grilled bread, the melted Swiss cheese, the Hawthorne Valley Kraut, the house made WTD sauce, and the star of the show combined into the best Reuben, not just pastrami Reuben, I’ve ever had.
Now to be fair I haven’t eaten all the Reuben’s in the world and certainly not all the pastrami. One of my biggest failings as a pastrami eater is that I still haven’t been to Katz’s Deli, so judge me if you will, but this pastrami and this Rueben must be among the finest anywhere.
Going for breakfast and don’t want a Reuben? Not a problem. The WTD Smoked Hash – two eggs, house-made pastrami and bacon burnt ends, pickled onion, potato hash – will likely ruin you for all other breakfast hash moving forward.
Just like the Reuben.