On this first spring-like day in 2011, we meandered through my favorite place in NYC: Central Park. It was 67 degrees and all the leftover blizzard snow created muddy pathways, but it was gorgeous. Couples lingered on benches eating lunch; runners circled the reservoir, and we strolled our 8-month-old under the still-bare trees.
After a few hours, we made our way downtown and decided to have an early dinner at Carnegie Deli. The boyfriend was in the mood for a classic pastrami on rye and I thought a matzoh ball soup would be fantastic. WRONG!
At first we were delighted that they actually allowed us to park our stroller near our table since the baby girl was sleeping under the canopy. (Usually many Manhattan restaurants don’t let us do that since they claim it is a fire hazard.) I read through the menu to see if there was another non-meat option and even tasted their tuna salad, which I decided against since it was celery and mayo heavy. I knew the prices were high, but I still had slight sticker shock ($9 for a bowl of soup; about $19 for the pastrami). We ordered within a few minutes and they brought over a bowl of sour and half-sour pickles. So far, so good.
I went to the bathroom, down the old decrepit staircase. The woman’s room had a sign that said “Pardon our appearance during construction.” Incidentally, I didn’t see any much-needed renovations happening. There were two stalls and both were filthy, in biologically inappropriate ways. Normally I would dismiss this – but thought it was a bit inappropriate that a “classic” restaurant that has no problem keeping up with inflation didn’t keep up their latrines.
I came back to find our food had arrived. Such quick service!
To their credit, the bowl of soup was enormous and the matzoh balls were the size of baseballs. I was excited for my first taste. I cut the huge ball with my spoon and the texture seemed promising; the taste, however, was an entirely different story. They were flavorless; just a mush of texture and the chicken broth tasted nothing of chicken. I wondered why the broth was thick and such a dark yellow color. I took one slurp and made my tasting face, quickly followed by my yuck face. I tried another spoonful but that was all I needed to discern that this wasn’t even made out of chicken; it tasted like artificial bouillion cube soup. I prefer Campbell’s.
I called the waiter over and told him the soup didn’t taste right. He said he would talk to the manager. I told him to bring him over!
A minute later he comes over and says, no problem – would I like anything else? I told him I wouldn’t. Then he said I was right. The soup was awful. The previously cold waiter turned warm as he confided in me. He said he tasted it and it had no chicken in it; he agreed that it was atrocious.
According to the boyfriend, the pastrami sandwich was mediocre at best. It was not as good as he remembered in the 80s, but the bathrooms were definitely still the same.
The highlight of the Deli was that we saw Geddy Lee, the lead vocalist, bassist and keyboardist from Rush. We tried telling several waiters that he was someone famous – and don’t they want his photo to add to their celebrity-photo wallpapered walls – but in broken English, they all told us they don’t do that anymore. As we were leaving, the musician’s wife came over and told us our daughter was gorgeous.
We ended up walking to the train through Times Square. This was the first time that the baby girl was alert enough to really appreciate the lights. She loved it, turning her head like an owl in every direction to try to see it all. Her parents, numb to the lights from a lifetime of seeing them, were mesmerized by her reactions.
Overall a glorious day – just skip the Carnegie Deli. For the best matzoh ball soup – I say Second Avenue Deli all the way!