As far as I am concerned, a proper pastrami sandwich (or the close cousin, the Quebec “smoked meat” sandwich)is the pinnacle of a good sandwich: moist, seasoned beef that’s been brined and smoked, the resulting meat being carved to order, with a few nice slabs being served up on some good rye bread with some mustard, and maybe some kraut. As you bite into each slice, you get a little bit of meat, a little bit of fat, and, most importantly, a little bit of the salty, spicy, and smoky crust. It’s a bit like going to get some really good smoked brisket at a good Texas BBQ joint.
There’s just one problem: the vast majority of places serving up pastrami sandwiches just don’t do that: they usually just slap some sort of pre-made deli meat (like Boars Head) onto some rye bread, and call it good. That’s not a bad sandwich, but it’s missing entirely too much of what makes pastrami sandwiches great. There are some places out there that are that good, and, indeed, a few of them I’ve even written up here, like Guild Fine Meats or the famous Schwartz’s. Or the ones I haven’t, like the famous Katz’s in New York City (I haven’t written up Katz’s? What the Hell is wrong with me? I’ll have to fix that…). But, hidden away on P Street in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood is a nice little gem of a deli that is doing it’s part to offer a good and proper pastrami sandwich.
Opened by chef Jamie Stachowski, who has been a fixture on the Washington dining scene for year’s, Cheft Stachowksi opened up Stachowski’s in 2012 after, according to his story, he was craving a good pastrami sandwich at lunch, hopped in his car, and didn’t find anything meeting his requirements until he got to Artie’s Delicatessen in Manhattan. After enjoying his sandwich there, he decided that he needed to bring that quality to DC, and Stachowski’s Deli is the result of the that effort. As I mentioned above, you’ve got to search out Stachowski’s. Being in Georgetown, it’s nowhere near a Metro station, the nearest one probably being Dupont Circle, although it is a nice walk along P Street from there. It’s also in a purely residential neighborhood that doesn’t normally get walk-up business. But inside his modest store front are two refrigerator cases of excellent charcuterie, and a very impressive kitchen operation churning out sandwiches.
I’ll get right to point: if you haven’t gone to Stachowski’s before, just get the pastrami sandwich. You’ll gawk at the price ($14 when I went), but just wait until you see the sandwich. Delivered to you in a brown bag (aside from three seats at a small table in the front window, there’s no seating, so walk a few blocks east to the park to enjoy your sandwich, with all the other Stachowski’s patrons), you immediately can tell that you are in for a serious food fest, since that $14 buys you a brown paper bag the size of your head, weighing around 2 lbs. Opening it up, you are immediately greeted by a feast: Two giant thick slabs of toasted dark rye bread, an inch-and-a-half thick layer (at least 1.5 lbs) of multiple thin slices of pastrami stacked up, and a heavy layer of mustard. If that wasn’t enough, they put a few sliced pickles in there as well.
But really, it’s not about quantity, it’s more about quality. First of all, the pastrami itself is amongst the best I’ve ever had. It’s easily in the top tier with Katz’s, and probably even beats it some days of the week. Everything about the pastrami is perfect: nice, juicy, and rich interior with plenty of spice, nice banding of the fast, and a deliciously salty and smoky crust. This is exactly what pastrami is supposed to be. But the rest of the sandwich is good as well: the dark rye is a particularly pleasant, and the perfect sandwich bread for soaking up the juices from the meat. I’m not afraid to say it: this is indeed one of the greatest pastrami sandwiches in existence. But bring a friend, or a good bag to bring the leftovers home, since one sandwich is easily enough for two meals. Indeed, a WaPo article on the place even offers up handy suggestions for polishing off the leftovers.
But Stachowski’s isn’t a one-trick pony, either. Not fully aware when we ordered the pastrami that it was several full meals in itself, Carol ordered a kielbasa sandwich, and this was excellent as well. The kielbasa itself was a treat: instead of the usual heavily salted and smoked sausage, the kielbasa here was lighter in color, and the smoke and salt applied sparingly for a surprisingly flavorful and rich kielbasa. Add in some good kraut (which in my picture here is hiding the delicious sausage) and a really nicely done bun, and this was also a sandwich worth seeking out. Just not on the same trip as the pastrami.
Overall: I’ve got to say I’m jealous: Stachowski’s is easily one of the best sandwich delis I’ve ever been to, with an entire array of tasty sandwiches and some perfectly done meats. If you are visiting Washington, consider checking them out. If you live in the DC area and haven’t yet been there: your life until this moment has been a waste. Seriously, it’s that good.