Between Two Slices: Swiss Cheese on Pastrami. Yay or Nay?

Look, I've been putting Swiss cheese on my pastrami sandwiches for as long as I can remember. I like the way it tastes, and I like the soft sharpness of Swiss cheese, complementing the salty and smoky pastrami. It's the perfect flavor balance to go along with thin-cut rye bread slices and a slather of brown deli mustard. 

So to my chagrin, I was surprised when I got called out by some friends on Instagram for putting Swiss on my 'strami sando at Wise Sons Jewish Deli. One of them even deleted her comment (“Cheese?”) since it seemed I'd already been sufficiently mocked for my decision (And yes, I Instagram photos of sandwiches that appear on this column on occasion, so save the social media hater-ade!)

[jump] Is there some unspoken rule that I wasn't privy to? I grew up with a Jewish grandfather, who neglected to inform me of this specification in between bites of lox bagels and his second cup of coffee (“Don't talk to me until after my second cup of coffee!” he would say.) But hey, I'm open to debates about what constitutes a righteous sandwich or not, so I'm curious about the reasoning here. 

As for Wise Sons, I hadn't been back since they first opened. I was a skeptic after my first visit, cause when I'm dropping $13.50 for a pastrami sandwich, I essentially expect it to stand up to Katz's Deli in New York. And while Wise Sons' sandwich isn't as stacked as Katz's, it was a worthy creation. The smoke stands out in their meat, which skewed towards the dryer side, but had a solid flavor profile and pronounced fat, which gave it balance and the presence of all of the elements of good, thick cut pastrami. The thin-cut rye bread was a standout that held everything together and the crust was flavorful. 

My favorite part of the meal was the matzo ball soup ($7.50) I got alongside it, some of the best matzo ball soup I've ever had. The broth was hot and densely packed with noodles, chicken, thick carrot slices, and fresh dill. (Fresh dill is the best, you guys.) The density of the matzo ball was on point and seemed to soak up just the right amount of flavor from the broth on every bite. It's worth a stop at Wise Sons for the matzo ball soup alone and a half sandwich with a bowl of soup and a side is a modest $13.75, while my full sandwich with cheese and matzo ball soup cost me a more unpalatable $24.88 in total. 

But alas, back to the main point here: Swiss cheese on my pastrami sandwich. I liked it, even though Wise Sons' Swiss didn't have the signature holes. I mean, I appreciate them trying to give me more cheese for my money, but dammit if those holes aren't fun, amiright?! When you boil it down, I basically ordered a Reuben without the Russian dressing or sauerkraut. Surely that's in play?

So what's your take? Swiss cheese on a pastrami sandwich, yay or nay? It's not like we're talking a well done filet mignon here (the biggest of all food-related sins.) Until then, I'll be ordering that slice of cheese for an extra buck on my pastrami sandwich, but not without a little bit of guilt from here on out. 

Wise Sons Jewish Deli, 3150 24th St., 415-787-3354.

View Comments