I have a thing for Jewish delicatessens. I’ve enjoyed many a deli sandwich over the years, from my formative days at Eppes Essen in Livingston, New Jersey, to once-a-year visits to the Stage before a Broadway show, to breaking Passover at Yachabebe, the one Jewish deli in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Jersey-style sloppy joe sandwiches from Nana’s, to far-too-few Second Avenue Deli visits, to greasy indulgent deliveries from Sarge’s, to once-a-year visits to Rein’s Deli in northern Connecticut, to semi-regular visits to Artie’s up the street from my apartment, to delicious off-hours runs to the legendary Katz’s on the Lower East Side. They’re all delicious in their own way.
Yet none of them resonates with me like the Carnegie did. I’m not entirely sure why. My personal history ran through all of its competitors. I didn’t go all that often. But as I got to know what makes a great deli, and a great deli sandwich, my go-to became corned beef at the Carnegie, as often as I could justify it.
When I worked in the neighborhood, I used to round up a group of coworkers for take-out every month or so. I’d stop in with friends from out of town, and occasionally with family. My wife and I had our rehearsal dinner in the back room the night before our wedding–Sandy, the manager (his business card read “M.B.D.” What’s that, you’d ask him? “Married the Boss’s Daughter,” he’d say with a wink), gave us a strict time window and told us to just order off the menu. In true New York deli fashion, at the end of our booking window the restaurant was seating new customers in the space before we even vacated the room.
New York being New York, change is inevitable, and so tomorrow is the Carnegie’s last day in business. I’m irrationally sad and have been pining for a sandwich since I heard the news. But then, I was last there in 2015, and I haven’t made it there in the three month farewell window. Sandy, our one personal connection, went through an ugly divorce from Marian, the owner (and “boss’s daughter”), several years ago. They closed the back room a ways back, and most of my Carnegie meals have been take-out, anyway.
Besides, there will be more deli in my future. As I write this, my parents and children are on the way to Artie’s to pick up some lunch (having been unable to get through to the Carnegie by phone to place an order today). The Carnegie still inexplicably and deliciously runs a food stand at Madison Square Garden. I’ll get back to Katz’s soon. And I’ll find other delicious corned beef, I’m sure. Heck, my wife’s cousins own the Mill Basin Deli, which I have yet to visit; hopefully the next time I scratch my corned beef itch, I do it in Brooklyn.
Still, I had a soft spot in my heart for the Carnegie, with its true New York flavor, both metaphorically and literally. It will be missed.
For an even better farewell, read Jake Dell’s farewell letter to the Carnegie in the New York Times, especially the last line.