Who doesn’t love pastrami?
4204 Voltaire Street, San Diego
I’ve been seeing a lot of house-cured pastrami popping up around town — at Counterpoint, in the food truck New York on Rye, and at the Heart & Trotter butcher shop for example. I don’t always order it, but it’s always a close call.
I mean, who doesn’t love pastrami? Vegans and vegetarians shun the stuff through sheer force of will, and the Internet is littered with the recipes of people trying to emulate the cured beef with tofu, tempeh, seitan, and even beet. Crushed peppercorn, coriander, garlic, and onion are bound to make such ingredients taste better, but take away that brined beef and its clear those guys are chasing rainbows.
When I visited Point Loma’s Sessions Public, I thought I was going to order the fried chicken. But my eyes kept drifting back to the word “pastrami” on the menu. Then my waitress told me her favorite dish was the pastrami sandwich, or maybe the pastrami poutine. At some point during deliberations I realized: I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to the mere mention of pastrami. I was drooling into my beer — the first of three Fall Brewing IPAs I ordered from the restaurant’s reliably good tap list.
I ordered the sandwich. Now, as much as I adore pastrami, I’m not so much a fan of its most frequent breadmate: rye. I requested a substitution, which I was told would be an artisan country bread from Liberty Station bakery Con Pane. Fine by me. I sipped beer and nibbled on Sessions’ staple duck fat truffle fries while I waited. It was shaping out to be a fine evening.
For $15.50 The Eric sandwich comes with housemade pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, and spicy Thousand Island dressing. I dunno, I guess replacing Russian dressing with Thousand Island keeps it from being a Reuben? I’m not trying to stand on tradition, but given how close the two dressings are, I wasn’t seeing the need to rename a sandwich over it. Maybe if they didn’t default to rye?
However, they do, and my substitution didn’t go through. I got the rye, also baked by Con Pane. That the last bread I got at Con Pane didn’t thrill me makes what I’m about to say all the more surprising: it’s pretty great rye. Maybe hardcore rye enthusiasts would find fault, but it’s the first time I can remember rye bread contributing to the betterment of a sandwich. They only bake it on Mondays, so plan your rye visit accordingly.
The Swiss held up well in the sandwich as well — a generous serving of it, thick and melted and gooey. The bitterness of the bread, tanginess of the kraut, and mild spice of the sauce came together to make a fine sandwich. What kept it from being a fine Reuben was that pastrami.
Don’t get me wrong, that beef tasted fantastic. It just didn’t taste much like pastrami. It was savory, juicy, and flavorful but lacking that extra peppery seasoning that gets me salivating at the sound of a bell. It’s a semantic argument, really, one that might entertain any schadenfreude prone vegans out there. Not a great Reuben, but an outstanding Eric, and an excellent foil for this gastropub’s true siren song: their beer selection.