Living in South Korea, I was a happy boy, but after three years, I was certain I had to return to America. There were many reasons, some better than others, but a few factors stood out above the rest. For starters, while Korea had a plentiful supply of washing machines, there wasn’t a single damn dryer in the whole damn nation, and waiting for your clothes to dry in the frigid winter was a small slice of an icy hell. When it came to cuisine, I constantly craved sandwiches, and save for a sole Moroccan outpost known as “Casablanca,” there wasn’t a proper deli in the entire peninsula. And of course, I missed my family and friends and country and all that stuff.
Perhaps more than anything, there was one motivating factor, one dream, if you will, that I knew I could never fulfill unless I moved back to the States. The necessity to live this dream was intrinsic, like the native drive of the Sockeye Salmon of the North Pacific swimming upstream to mate. In short, my soul required this experience to be complete. And on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, I accomplished this mission at Radio City Musical Hall in the third mezzanine, seat 603.
I saw Dave Chappelle perform live stand-up. And it was glorious.
The venue, Radio City Music Hall, is an output of history and swag. Its vast foyer area is instantly impressive, featuring Erza Winter’s massive wall-spanning depression-era mural “Fountain of Youth.” Walking in and following the furry stairs upward, I was met by a live jazz quartet playing on the second floor. Here, the four serenaded the crowds with an instrumental rendition of R. Kelley’s “Remix to Ignition,” no doubt in homage to Chappelle’s infectious “Remix to Pissing”.
The walls of Radio City have witnessed countless performances from the day it opened its doors in December of 1932, standing as a living historical museum. It is iconic to the point that in 1980, when it was set to be demolished due to overhead costs, John Belushi sprung into action. On SNL’s Weekend Update, he unleashed a coarse and stirring rant in favor of preservation of the gorgeous edifice. Many attribute him as the building’s savior.
Fast-forward to Radio City now. For the last two weeks, Chappelle shut down the 6,000-seat arena, performing at ten separate sold out shows, featuring himself, fellow comics, and a rotating collection of some of contemporary music’s most legendary artists (oxymoron?), each with a connection to the comedian. The Roots performed, who are said to be tried-and-true amigos of the comedian; Nas showed up, laying down his Illmatic album in its entirety; and even Kanye West made a surprise visit, citing the Chappelle Show as one of the jump-off points of his career.
The night we attended, the gorgeous Jenell Monae belted out one of the most enthralling performances I have seen to date, Busta Rhymes showcased his absurdly fast-rapping hip-hop stylings, and DJ Premier, the man Rolling Stone deemed “the greatest hip hop producer of all time,” took the audience back in time to the early nineties, spinning classic tracks backed by a forty-piece ensemble known as “the Chappelle Orchestra.”
But the night was about Chappelle and his triumphant return to New York. He killed it. He absolutely killed it. Balancing a compilation of poop jokes with moments of undeniable profundity, this comic god went on to tackle issues of gay rights, fatherhood, race relations, sexual frustrations, and life. His ability to fluctuate between in-depth discussions of our social reality and revelations about the size of his genitals is unparalleled, and I proceeded to laugh so hard, I found myself limping to work the next day.
Rarely are experiences everything you want them to be. Thank you, Dave Chappelle.
Sandwich 25: Katz’s Delicatessen
Katz’s Deli is a sandwich mecca. If you haven’t heard of it living in New York, or hell, living outside of New York…well, there’s no way to finish that sentence, because there’s no way you don’t know what this place is, even if you think you don’t. It has been a backdrop in numerous Hollywood films, among them Donnie Brasco, Across the Universe, and of course, Katz’s is where, in When Harry Met Sally, Sally has her classic sandwich orgasm (something I’m quite familiar with), to which Estelle Reiner replies “I’ll have what she’s having.
Older than Radio City, Katz’s has seen more history than any living person. It was founded in 1888 under the original name “Iceland Brothers.” When it was bought out by the Katz family two decades later, it became Katz’s Delicatessen, and has since stood on its corner of Delancey. While not technically kosher (it’s deemed kosher-style), Katz’s stands as an archetype to Jewish sandwich cuisine, steeped in history. During the days of World War II, a sign outside the restaurant suggested supporting the Allies by “Sending a salami to your boy in the army.” It later became a cultural outpost, a point of pilgrimage, it’s walls inundated with signed photos of celebrities who have consumed a Katz’s sandwich. Movie stars like Bruce Willis and Barbra Streisand, sports icons like Mike Tyson and Magic Johnson, and even U.S. presidents have praising this establishment for its unrivaled sandwich prowess.
That’s not to say Katz’s is without its haters, of which a vast array exist, claiming Katz’s is a fallen sandwich angel, that it is a tourist trap, a monument of deception and fraud between two pieces of bread. There is some truth to these claims. Yes, tourists love it, yes, the deli plays up its connection to When Harry Met Sally, and yes, it’s pricy as hell. They have the bravado to charge seventeen dollars for a single sandwich.
And yet, each week, (according to Wikipedia) this legendary deli produces “10,000 pounds of pastrami, 5,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 12,000 hot dogs.” Was it truly such a shit organization, it stands to reason people would have given up on Katz’s a decade ago, especially when it’s twenty bucks a pop for some meat, mustard, and bread.
The Katz’s experience is unequivocally worth it. My go to, a pastrami on rye with mustard, is flawless in its construction. No vegetables, no infusions, no bizarre French-twist. It is merely a third of a cow layered in between slices of fresh baked rye coated in that dirty Katz’s house mustard. Suspend your disbelief if you’ve never experienced this beast of a hero. Biting into it, you are transported into a level of savory you may have thought impossible. The freshness and care that goes into the meat at Katz’s transcends it above all other delis in the city, appealing to a hunger inside you simultaneously carnal and sophisticated. Coupled with their in-house pickles, you’ll soon realize that, sometimes, things are popular because they’re unparalleled in their awesomeness.
I believe Katz’s to be such a place.