I work in Midtown, and count a number of under-$10 lunch spots among my favorites. But special occasions call for special plans. My birthday and my work anniversary coincide, and I’ve made it a bit of a ritual to enjoy Stage Deli once a year to provide a money-is-no-object celebratory lunch.
Stage is definitely a tourist destination. Lunchtime crowds pack into the classic Jewish deli for their wide, wide assortment of kosher sandwiches, soups, and other tasty treats. It ranks with Carnegie Deli as one of the most-visited eateries in Midtown.
I’m pretty sure I don’t count as a tourist, yet I go in once a year for my pastrami on rye, with brown mustard. I’m not alone — Stage is popular with celebrities, and the colorful takeout bags are abundantly visible in that part of Midtown at lunchtime.
I learned a long time ago not to ask for toasted rye. They, like most delis, don’t like waiting for the toast. Just enjoy the mounds of pastrami, piled into the classic seeded rye bread, mustard on the side.
As pastrami a la carte is $25 per pound here, I can live with the half-pound or so stuffed between two woefully-inadequate slices of rye bread. It may not be clear in this picture, but the bottom slice is soaked through with fatty juices from the pastrami. It’s unbelievably good.
I honestly enjoy the pastrami at Stage as much as any other deli in the city. Katz’s may just barely edge out Stage, but when I take that first bite of this sandwich, the juicy meatiness, and slight spice character, of the Stage pastrami really tastes unbeatable. It’s just that good — greasy, messy, complemented by the mustard but just as good without. The sandwich isn’t comically unwieldy, and it’s a good size for me for lunch. Overall, Stage just makes me wish I had that kind of cash, and the metabolism, to enjoy this pastrami weekly or more often.
To add insult to injury, the pickles are nearly as addictive. Not half-sours, these pickles are the simply-brined bright-green ones you see alongside the much more sour pickles at any respectable deli. There’s a satisfying snap to each bite, and they work well with the pastrami.
Yes, overall, I recommend this sandwich without question. It’s a $16 (plus tax) pastrami on rye, which is on par with the classic pastrami delis — Katz’s, Carnegie, 2nd Avenue — but the juiciness of the standard sandwich is unmatched. I’m a big fan of the meat here, and I’ve had pastrami at close to a dozen delis around the city. I don’t know that any pastrami sandwich is worth $16, but Stage comes pretty darn close to making it worth my while. Add in that it’s a special occasion, and it’s a no-brainer purchase. Definitely enjoy Stage Deli as a rare splurge, and don’t think about the calorie or cholesterol count.