With the debut of Eli's Restaurant in DC's Dupont Circle, we asked Mel Krupin to decide which, if any, of the pastramis in town measure up.
Since selling Krupin's on Wisconsin Avenue in DC's Tenleytown, the self-proclaimed "pastrami king" has spent the last three years as a maître d' at McCormick & Schmick's on K Street, but he hasn't forgotten his meats. He showed up at our offices for a blind tasting with a white butcher's apron ("I don't want my yellow tie should get dirty") and latex gloves ("That's what we use on the line")–and his customary brashness.
Chutzpah (12214 Fairfax Town Center, Fairfax; 703-385-8883). The meat, sliced from the back end of the navel, or belly, was too lean to merit much discussion. "No fat. The flavor's in the fat. . . . You want something in your mouth that will melt."
Verdict: "What do people in Virginia know about deli?"
Max's Kosher Café (2319 University Blvd. W., Wheaton; 301-949-6297). This longtime kosher deli lost before it got into the game: "It's brisket. It's a cheaper cut. It's not what we call pastrami." Besides which, "it's not cut nice enough to make a nice sandwich."
Verdict: "If you gave me this, I'd send it back."
Parkway Deli (8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring; 301-587-1427). Noting appreciatively the holes in the slices of meat–"They needle the meat; that gets the salt water in there and breaks the fibers"–and the fat-edged slices, Krupin was surprised there wasn't more flavor.
Verdict: "What bothers me most is the presentation. If you want to be a good deli man, it's the presentation as much as the taste. Put this one third."
Deli City (2200 Bladensburg Rd., NE; 202-526-1800). Poor presentation–among the "tough, chopped up" pieces of pastrami, Krupin spied a curl of turkey ("They just cleaned out what's under the slicing machine")–but this one won points for color and depth of flavor. It finished a close second on flavor.
Verdict: "Deli City? Never heard of it."
Eli's Restaurant (1253 20th St., NW; 202-785-4314). Though appalled by the poor cutting–"You see that? Broken pieces. They take a good piece of meat and they ruin it"–Krupin was pleased to note the maroonish color and depth of flavor, evidence of the meat's having spent time on the steam table, a plus.
Verdict: "It's the best-tasting, but if I'd gotten this at the restaurant, I would've sent it back. It looks like somebody ate it before I did."