On Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish days, I surrendered to hunger and broke the fast at 4:30 pm (I take a liberal view of sundown) at a green formica lunch counter, with a massive brisket sandwich from David's Brisket House. To compound my sacrilege, I ate it with swiss cheese.
David's Brisket House sits on a busy stretch of Nostrand Avenue straddling Bed Stuy and Crown Heights in the heart of Brooklyn (and incidentally making the heart of Brooklyn the place I just moved, because the heart of Brooklyn is exactly where I say it is). Accounts vary on the provenance of the brisket house, (here's the Village Voice speculating as usual), but it's been owned since at least 2007 by Sultan and Waleed, along with their nephews and other relatives. These guys couldn't be more welcoming, (I'm easily swayed by samples and for showing off the various meats cooking directly in front of my seat at the counter).
But back to my fast-breaking sandwich.
Famished (I'd just taken a long walk around the neighborhood), I took a bite before even remembering to take a picture. That first sustenance of the day, meltingly fatty brisket washed down with a Dr. Brown's cream soda amid bites of sour pickle, was well worth the slim likelihood of eternal damnation. Not pictured is the bowl of gravy for sandwich dipping. The gravy is fine, but hardly necessary (and tastes a little too strongly of carrots).
Pastrami is juicy and tender (far more so than Mile End, but nothing melts quite like Katz's), with a peppery aroma coming from the steam encircling your freshly sliced sandwich. Get it with any bread you want, since, unlike at Katz's, you're untethered to 2000+ years of Jewish tradition. The rye is fine, but try it on a club roll (or even white bread).
Just as good (and cheap) is breakfast. For six dollars you can get an omelette (American cheese for me) topped with a mound of pastrami. The side of home fries was better (and crispier) than I expected (my expectations are usually low for home fries-- so easy to do right, but so often watery, bland and overcooked). You can also get it with grits, but they look like the instant variety (and there's so many great soul food places around the area that you needn't even bother).
To conclude, I thought about going the "only in NY" angle with this post, since a Muslim-owned Jewish style deli serving a mainly African American clientele naturally evokes such a reaction, but I'm not going to do it (especially since an analogy to the current "Ground Zero" mosque issue could easily be shoehorned in as well). Similarly, I could wrap up with something smarmy like: "Woody Allen would cringe at how many orders of pastrami on white with mayo fly out the door without even a thought to tradition, but who cares when the meat is this good?" But seriously, I would never do that.
Ultimately, you probably don't give a crap about the background of the guy serving you your meat, what your supposedly "allowed" to have on your sandwich, nor especially care about my politics-- you only want to know if it's good.
So to answer a Manhattanite craving a fat pastrami/corn beef/brisket sandwich who would scoff and ask: "I have Katz's and Sarge's to fill my every deli need, why would I need to trek to Brooklyn?" I would say: go on a Saturday (unless you're near enough for a weekday lunch) and stuff yourself with a giant sandwich (the "small" is only $5 dollars and a pastrami/corn beef combo is $13). Once finished, stroll down the street and pick any number of Trini places for a double. You'll still spend less than half you would at Katz's for a sandwich that's nearly as good.
Meanwhile, let Mile End hog the superficial Brooklyn deli accolades while David's Brisket House hides in semi-obscurity, serving stellar sandwiches to all comers.
David's Brisket House
533 Nostrand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11216
I love the amazingly lo-fi website.
Before going, make sure you know the hours, as they are weird. Monday-Friday 7:00 am - 6:45pm, and until 5:45 on Saturday. Closed on Sunday and for prayer services on Fridays between 1-3pm.