Two things about the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches at David’s Brisket House are likely to raise an eyebrow. First is the locale: an otherwise generic- to sub-generic-looking deli in a predominantly Caribbean area on the Crown Heights-Bed Stuy border. In other words, not the first place you’d expect to find top-notch Jewish deli. Second, and more notable for our purposes, is the price: $5, unbeatable for honest-to-goodness, luscious, salty, fat-streaked cured meats piled on rye, an indulgence that tends to run in the double digits.
In case you fail to draw this conclusion on your own, a sign out front drives the point home: “Don’t confuse it with an $8 sandwich or a $10 or $11 sandwich, it only a $5 sandwich.” Got it?
I was first brought to David’s over a decade ago by Jim Leff, the founder of the then-nascent Chowhound site, and an intrepid eater without peer. I don’t recall how he’d discovered it exactly, but the back story he’d gotten to explain the unlikely spot was that one of the Puerto Rican countermen had logged years working at a classic (and since-shuttered) Midtown deli and learned the art of curing Jewish deli meats. I’ve heard other accounts, so I’m not certain that’s actually true, and in any case the place changed ownership a few years ago.
The pastrami, corned beef and brisket are still there, though. And a memorable comment Leff made at the time still holds up: “You could bring a 70-year-old Garment Center worker here and he’d cry tears of joy.”
For that matter, he might even shed a few extra drops in deference to the recent introduction of a $5 sandwich special, probably an effort by the new owner to drum up recession-era business. Whatever the inspiration, where the budget-minded gourmand is concerned, it’s an innovation right up there with the invention of the internal combustion engine.
It should go without saying that for $5, you’re not going to get a Katz’-style jawbreaker, piled with a pound and a half of meat. If you want to beat your arteries into submission in that fashion, opt for the large, which is still a deal at $11 for pastrami, $10 for corned beef or the namesake brisket. There’s also a medium, for $8. Someday I might do the same, but for now, the thrill of handing over a five-spot and walking out with a New York City classic is enough to bring on my own tears of joy.
David’s Brisket House, 533 Nostrand Ave., 718-789-1155