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 TOM Pastrami Queen
Photograph: Courtesy of Minori Kawachi

Pastrami Queen opens its first Brooklyn outpost at Time Out Market New York

It's the NYC classic's first address in Brooklyn in 68 years.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako

A new destination for classic pastrami debuts in Brooklyn this month, and it’s one that’s actually been open since 1956. Pastrami Queen, née King, first got its start in Queens 68 years ago. 

“It was a legend at the time,” says Brooklyn-born Alan Philips, who would go on to buy the business in the early aughts after it had begun expanding into Manhattan. 

“The reason why I got involved with it, and the reason why we thought it was an important opportunity to maintain a traditional New York kosher delicatessen within the five boroughs, is because, as dietary changes took place, and for many, many that were once proliferating throughout the city, they, over the years through attrition, real estate, and second generation children not going into the business [waned],” Philips says. “So, almost like the traditional language of Yiddish, which was a primary language when Jewish immigrants came to America, the delicatessen was waning. I, being raised with traditional Jewish grandparents who used to eat this, I saw it not only as business opportunity, but also more importantly, as an opportunity for me to make some contribution to Jewish life in New York.”

Pastrami Queen’s outpost at 55 Water Street will not be kosher, but its Upper East and West Side locations are. There is also a Pastrami Queen in the somewhat still newly renovated Moynihan Food Hall. Coming up on four locations and nearly three-quarters of a century in operation is an objective achievement in the hospitality industry, where major players close to public shock not infrequently. 

“The successes isn't mine alone,” Philips says. “It was built upon the community that wants [the product] and welcomes it. So that's the most essential part. And what we tried to do is it here to the values from a culinary perspective, that was important to the community. So from kasha varnishkes, to knishes, to pastrami, to stuffed cabbage, to chicken in the pot, all of these different menu items were ones that, initially the Jewish immigrant and Jewish families ate. So, we try to continually keep that in that format, rather than getting overly creative with all these different nuances. So we're a basic, traditional New York, Russian Romanian Jewish immigrant delicatessen,” he says.

“As much as we pay homage to the history,” Philips adds, “the reason we've been successful is for the absolute taste of the food. It's delicious.”

Pastrami Queen’s titular recipe is top secret. 

“There are specific spices that we use,” Philips says. “There's an aging, where we put the meat into a vat of spices, it stays there for a period of time where it kind of like marinades and pickles. And then we have, fortunately, a facility that brines it and cooks it. And when they cook it, they then send it to us three quarters of the way cooked, and then we finish it off in our shops.”

In-store, the pastrami is heated and steamed for 24 hours to achieve peak moisture and tenderness—a third of the three day process from raw deckle cut acquisition to finish. 

“We're really able to accomplish that smoky sense of it without being barbecued,” Philips says. “So we have a gentle smoke, a really nice seasoning where it has a balance between salt and sweet.

Philps credits his professional mentor, the late Henry Kalifowitz, with a degree of this pastrami perfection. 

“He was a delicatessen veteran. The first round of tasting, he would say, No, no, no, not right. Try this, add this, take this out. And then through a period of time, not a lot of time, you know, we were able, culinary wise, to accomplish what we felt was traditional and necessary. And that’s how we came up with the recipe.”

Elements of the preparation, Philips says, stretch back generations. The three most recent: Philips, his son and business partner Jonah, and his grandson Finn, who, at 12, is a burgeoning home cook with authoritative tastes of his own. 

“He has a very discriminating palate,” Philips says. “When we bring new items on, Jonah brings [Finn] into the restaurant, and he’ll give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down.”

This first break into Brooklyn had familial influences, too. 

“Jonah had fond memories of visiting his grandparents in Brooklyn. So when the opportunity to come to Time Out, to Brooklyn [arose], he embraced it. He goes, “Dad, we should really go back to Brooklyn.” This is where he would walk with his grandfather underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Time Out was like, not our traditional venue, you know, being in that kind of concept. But I walked in, he walked in, we went in a number of times and we said, "you know what, this is the perfect place to put our toe in the water.”

Pastrami Queen opens in Brooklyn’s Time Out Market New York at 55 Water Street this February.

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