As soon as she opened her mouth, I knew I was in the right place.
There was no: "Hiya, hon, what'll you have?"
There was no: "Are you ready to order now, dear?"
Instead, the waitress said: "Yeah?"
And I knew that a real New York deli had finally arrived in the Baltimore area.
Two tables down, a black guy called out: "You got knishes, today?"
The waitress, whose name tag said "Mouth" but whose real name is Becky Goldstein, looked over at the long, gleaming, glass-enclosed deli counter behind her.
"We got," she said.
"I'll have," he said.
Which supports my theory that the two kinds of people who really know good deli are Jews and blacks. Sammy Davis Jr. probably could have lectured on deli.
Two weeks ago, I got a call from Susan Stepner of Reisterstown, who said: "You're an expert on pastrami, right?"
Yes, I said. I have eaten pastrami all over the world and in such exotic locations as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Santa Fe, N.M.
"My husband, Allan, was born in Brooklyn," Stepner said, "and has always complained about the pastrami in Baltimore."
That's because they grill it in Baltimore, I said. This should be some kind of Meat Abuse crime but is excused as local color.
"So we go into this new place a few months ago," Stepner says, "and Allan tries the pastrami and he yells: 'They got it right! They got it right! Call Roger Simon!' "
So I checked the place out a few days ago. It is called the Delancey Street Deli, is located in the Garrison Forest Plaza on Reisterstown Road and claims to be a "Traditional New York Delicatessen & Restaurant."
I entered and took a seat, and Becky Goldstein brought me a menu. I ordered the Romanian pastrami, which has less pepper and more coriander than regular pastrami and is the specialty of the Carnegie Deli in New York, the standard by which all pastrami is measured.
Goldstein took down my order, walked over to the counter and bellowed "Ordering!" as if the counterman were located in St. Michaels, when actually he was about two feet from her.
She does this all day long, which adds to the New York ambience of the place.
After a few minutes, she came back with my pastrami and about 20 napkins. "In case you're messy," she said.
As soon I bit into the sandwich, I knew something was up. This pastrami had never been near a grill. If the Carnegie's pastrami is a 10 and most other pastramis are a 3 (the pastrami I ate in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabi, was a 6, but it turned out to be roast kid -- a small problem in translation -- and so I have disqualified it), the pastrami at the Delancey Street deli is a 9.
I demanded to speak to the owner, who turned out to be Neil Parish, 28, a graduate of Randallstown Senior High and Western Maryland College, which means he had to steal the secret from out of town.
"No secret," he said. "We don't grill the pastrami. I've worked in Baltimore delis since I was 13, and you know what?"
They grill the pastrami, I said.
"They grill the pastrami," he said. "Here, we don't."
Parish gets his pastrami where most delis in the area do, at Saval Foods in Baltimore, but he takes it out of the brine it comes in, puts it in his own brine and re-marinates it for two days. Then he cooks it and keeps it sitting in steam, but he never grills it.
Or so he claims.
Let me call your attention to this, I said to him. And before you say a word, let me point out that I know somebody who knows Connie Chung, and she can be down here with an investigative team in about five minutes.
I confronted Parish with his own menu. Under "Combo" sandwiches was the "On Broadway," which was listed as: "Grilled pastrami, chopped liver, Bermuda onion, and Russian dressing."
"So?" Parish said.
So you just said you never grill your pastrami! I said.
"We don't," he said. "Never."
But is says right here on the menu grilled pastrami!
"Sure it says," Parish said. "But it's a lie."
I told you it was a real New York kind of place, didn't I?