For the Love of Pastrami, Or, My “Regular” Place, when I’m Not in My Regular Place

by on November 19th, 2010
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I have always felt a degree of pride that it seems no matter where I wander off to, I seem to have a knack for finding good food. I am not a food critic. I like a good sandwich, or pancakes at one in the morning at a diner. I’m a pretty simple human, and though you couldn’t tell by looking at me, I like good food. So, as I’ve traveled –with friends, or by myself– I try to find the out of the way places that fit what I’m looking for as well as my budget. Perhaps, I just have tremendously good luck, or, maybe I can really count it as a skill of mine.

There was the time I was driving with three friends as a teenager; we were coming back from Boston. We had taken the long way home, as teenagers do, driving through Connecticut. We found a tiny diner that was all one room. The kitchen was opposite a counter, and had a half-dozen booths around it. It was unassuming, but the food was great. That was perhaps the first time I sort of realized this skill. Then, some years later and somewhere on the outskirts of Providence, R.I., myself and the two other members of the band I was in woke up all hungover after a one-off show. I had run out for coffee and asked the local convenience store cashier where the best place to get breakfast was. I left with enough information to punch into my friend’s GPS. Before long we were driving down back-roads and ended up at a desolate looking strip-mall with a neon Budweiser sign in the window. I thought my friends were about to murder me. It took some coaxing, and “we’re really not going to find anything else,” to get my friends into the place. We went in and the place turned out not just to be alright, but freakin’ awesome. The prices were good, and despite the unpromising locale, people were friendly to the half-dozen or so bedraggled looking group in all-black and smeared make-up that hadn’t yet washed up from the night before. I want to say the name of the place was Annie’s Restaurant, if memory serves. Then, lastly, there was the time I was at the main bus terminal in Boston. After I had wandered in and out of Chinatown during a 3 hour wait for my connecting bus back to Albany. I found a little corner deli (might have just been called Corner Deli) a couple blocks north of Boston’s main bus and train terminal.

What all this is intended to illustrate is that I have a knack for finding good food, and then forgetting the names and addresses of places. Remembering a good sandwich, I can do. It’s the details I am not so good at. So, I went around for years telling people about this great little place on Avenue of the Americas in mid-town Manhattan. This deli that had a kick-ass Pastrami sandwich, and I could never recall the name. Sometime before my son was born (about 2004) I went down to Manhattan. I saw the Jackson Pollocks at MOMA. I wandered round Central Park as tourists do. Then, I looked for somewhere to eat. I ended up dropping into a place for lunch before catching the bus to the financial district, to visit the former World Trade Center site. The place I found was relatively small and reasonable priced, and I remembered it to be good.

Necessarily, when I went back to Manhattan recently and found myself hungry and in mid-town, I decided to find that place again. It had been about seven years, and I was hoping to not be disappointed by a place I had remembered fondly. Astro’s, it turns out, has been in business for 31 years. It’s pretty clear this is an unpretentious place that’s proud of its longevity.

This time around, funny as it was: I walked in and asked to use a bathroom. The guy waiting tables said there was not one. I took this as odd, since I remembered there being one. Still, I had a seat. Before my order had been taken, the owner (I believe) came over, and pointed out the bathroom. He told me to watch my step as I went in. Needless to say, the food didn’t disappoint. As I was eating, I related how I had wandered in in a similar fashion some seven years ago. I told the guy I’d try not to take so long to get back for the next time. My pastrami sandwich, coleslaw, pickle, and two domestic pints came in somewhere between $20-$30 with tip. I added to that a cup of black coffee to go.

Astro’s is a no-bull, no pretension New York deli and diner. I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been remodeled in seven years. There was still the diner booths along one wall, and a counter with swivel stools along the other, and a lot of wood paneling. It’s my kind of place. Why change what is works. I want good, hearty food, and I usually can’t afford to pay a lot. In 2004, when I saw Astro’s as I was walking by, the things I’ve mentioned are all what convinced me to go in to begin with. Astro’s also does breakfast, wraps, and Greek and Italian specialties, as well.

I get that two times in seven years doesn’t exactly make me a regular. Still, if I lived in Manhattan, I know I would be. Anyway, now people can all know about that damn Pastrami sandwich I have been talking about for years.

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