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To judge a deli’s worth, zero in on pastrami

Mustard, rye, and loads of meat at Carnivore Sandwich

Carnivore throws down a thick stack
Carnivore throws down a thick stack
Place

Carnivore Sandwich

670 W B Street, San Diego

When I first heard about a sandwich shop called Carnivore, my thought was it must be hipster. Its name sounds like the sort of provocative approach a de rigueur deli might take — daring you to embrace your animal flesh craving, to delve deep into the nuanced flavors of succulently prepared meats.

But it was the second thing I heard about the place that hooked me. Word was, Carnivore really throws down a thick stack of sandwich, they way they do at Jewish delicatessens where it’s basically a two- to three-inch wad of meat with a smear of mustard and two pieces of rye bread. For fans of cured beef, that’s a joyful thing and doesn’t exist downtown.

Carnivore Sandwich (formerly Nosh) has a nice dining patio within view of Santa Fe Depot.

For starters, Carnivore Sandwich isn’t hipster. Until recently the same shop was called Nosh, and despite the Carnivore rebrand it’s still a basic, no-frills deli counter located on B Street within view of the train station. There’s a pretty good amount of patio dining space and a thorough assortment of New York seltzers, but beyond that there’s nothing remarkable about the space. The shop’s website doesn’t even bother showing pictures of it, opting instead for photos of New York.

It does picture the thick-stack sandwich, and since that was the main draw for me it didn’t matter that its interior wasn’t decked out with reclaimed wood or living-wall planters. The place offers plenty of specialty-sandwich options pairing turkey and corned beef, pastrami and beef tongue, that sort of thing. For Jewish-deli purists there are also sandwiches of egg, tuna, and whitefish-salad. There’s even one featuring nova lox and cream cheese.

The pastrami sandwich all others must measure up to: New York’s Katz’s

But to judge a deli’s worth, I zero in on pastrami every time. It’s about 12 bucks for a full pastrami sandwich at Carnivore. It’s a lot by lunchtime sandwich standards in San Diego, but a full pastrami in Manhattan’s Katz’s Delicatessen runs about $20, so for a place willing to lay the pastrami on thick, I was happy to pay.

Not that I expected anything on the level of Katz’s, the pastrami gold standard, but a man can dream. That pastrami’s the sort of sandwich you remember for life, stacked high as it is with thick sliced, peppery, indulgent beef.

It’s thick enough, but is it pastrami enough?

Carnivore’s sandwich measure up, height-wise, but that’s where the similarities end. The problem wasn’t the deli mustard, nor the thin slice of Swiss cheese, nor the rye bread sourced from Charlie’s Best Bread, a decades-old bakery in Pacific Beach. The problem was that the heaping serving of pastrami just wasn’t great. It was sliced thin before my eyes and layered thick enough to make me drool, but the meaty flavor was watered down and the texture was a little grainy.

It was shipped in from Chicago, they told me, and I usually have to give it up for Chicago meats. But in this case I think Carnivore would have been better off using Dietz & Watson or Boar’s Head, the ubiquitous suppliers of less ambitious delis around the country. Stack those meats thick, and you might be onto something. In other words, with a sandwich as simple as this, even I could make it at home.

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Carnivore throws down a thick stack
Carnivore throws down a thick stack
Place

Carnivore Sandwich

670 W B Street, San Diego

When I first heard about a sandwich shop called Carnivore, my thought was it must be hipster. Its name sounds like the sort of provocative approach a de rigueur deli might take — daring you to embrace your animal flesh craving, to delve deep into the nuanced flavors of succulently prepared meats.

But it was the second thing I heard about the place that hooked me. Word was, Carnivore really throws down a thick stack of sandwich, they way they do at Jewish delicatessens where it’s basically a two- to three-inch wad of meat with a smear of mustard and two pieces of rye bread. For fans of cured beef, that’s a joyful thing and doesn’t exist downtown.

Carnivore Sandwich (formerly Nosh) has a nice dining patio within view of Santa Fe Depot.

For starters, Carnivore Sandwich isn’t hipster. Until recently the same shop was called Nosh, and despite the Carnivore rebrand it’s still a basic, no-frills deli counter located on B Street within view of the train station. There’s a pretty good amount of patio dining space and a thorough assortment of New York seltzers, but beyond that there’s nothing remarkable about the space. The shop’s website doesn’t even bother showing pictures of it, opting instead for photos of New York.

It does picture the thick-stack sandwich, and since that was the main draw for me it didn’t matter that its interior wasn’t decked out with reclaimed wood or living-wall planters. The place offers plenty of specialty-sandwich options pairing turkey and corned beef, pastrami and beef tongue, that sort of thing. For Jewish-deli purists there are also sandwiches of egg, tuna, and whitefish-salad. There’s even one featuring nova lox and cream cheese.

The pastrami sandwich all others must measure up to: New York’s Katz’s

But to judge a deli’s worth, I zero in on pastrami every time. It’s about 12 bucks for a full pastrami sandwich at Carnivore. It’s a lot by lunchtime sandwich standards in San Diego, but a full pastrami in Manhattan’s Katz’s Delicatessen runs about $20, so for a place willing to lay the pastrami on thick, I was happy to pay.

Not that I expected anything on the level of Katz’s, the pastrami gold standard, but a man can dream. That pastrami’s the sort of sandwich you remember for life, stacked high as it is with thick sliced, peppery, indulgent beef.

It’s thick enough, but is it pastrami enough?

Carnivore’s sandwich measure up, height-wise, but that’s where the similarities end. The problem wasn’t the deli mustard, nor the thin slice of Swiss cheese, nor the rye bread sourced from Charlie’s Best Bread, a decades-old bakery in Pacific Beach. The problem was that the heaping serving of pastrami just wasn’t great. It was sliced thin before my eyes and layered thick enough to make me drool, but the meaty flavor was watered down and the texture was a little grainy.

It was shipped in from Chicago, they told me, and I usually have to give it up for Chicago meats. But in this case I think Carnivore would have been better off using Dietz & Watson or Boar’s Head, the ubiquitous suppliers of less ambitious delis around the country. Stack those meats thick, and you might be onto something. In other words, with a sandwich as simple as this, even I could make it at home.

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Comments
7

It reminds me of the smoked meat sandwiches of Montreal. I'll check it out just for the lox. I'm a sucker for lox.

July 21, 2016

I'm a sucker for Montreal __.

July 21, 2016

Lox shouldn't be smoked, and it's a pity that such is becoming the norm as people's taste for salt-cured fish dries up.

July 22, 2016

The best pastrami is navel pastrami, has more fat. Though, first cut is what many places use.

One of my long-time favorite pastrami sandwiches is at The Hat.

July 21, 2016

Do you go to the one in Murrieta? I'll have to give it a shot some time.

July 22, 2016

I totally disagree about the pastrami: not only is it delicious, but it is from New York. Here's the text from Zagat, which provides an excellent review:

"Carnivore's meats are delivered from the East Coast twice a week. Turkey and pastrami comes from Nations Best Wholesale Deli in New York, while salami, pickles, hot dogs and sauerkraut are sourced from Chicago."

I first went to this great place when it was "Nosh," a much better name than the new one. But the food hasn't changed, it's still great, and the really generous servings are a bargain.

The best way to enjoy the pastrami and corned beef is to take the sandwiches home and make two or three sandwiches out of the meat you get, using your own bread. Or buy meat by the pound. Any good culinary artist will tell you that the best sandwiches (including burgers) have just the right ratio of meat:bread, with bread as the vehicle for the softening/wetness of creamy dressing of your preference.

A tall heap of meat looks pretty and seductive, but, lacking the right proportion of moistened bread, it doesn't give the right mouth feel and it's all too dry. You might as well just fork up meat with a bit of bread on the side, if that's what you want.

July 22, 2016

The employees I spoke to that day said Chicago, but they may have had it mixed up. Either way it didn't measure up to the made in SD pastrami I currently have in my fridge, which I'll reveal in our Feast issue. Whether it's a thick stack or more balanced, I like pastrami because it distinguishes itself from the peloton of sandwich meats. That's why good pastrami works so well in a big stack This one might as well have been corned beef.

July 22, 2016

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