We've stayed at the Mirage the past three years during our time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Like many of the better hotels in the city the Mirage has a number of pretty good places to eat - and a couple three not-so-good places. One place I had never tried before, but really wanted to try, was the Las Vegas location of a New York institution, the Carnegie Deli. After arriving in Las Vegas and being picked up by my colleague, Ian, we decided to have lunch at the Carnegie Deli after we got into the Mirage.
The original Carnegie Deli was established in 1937 just across the street from the famed Carnegie Hall on 7th Ave. (see map). The three original owners, Max Hudas, Bernie Gross and Thomas North, ran the place for 39 years before hard times forced them to sell the restaurant. The trio sold the deli to partners Milton Parker and Leo Steiner in 1976 (a third minor partner, Fred Klein, was bought out shortly after). Parker and Steiner had previous experience working in restaurants - Parker had run a coffee shop until he retired at the age of 55 and sold the business; and Steiner owned a deli at 23rd St. and 3rd Ave. in Manhattan. Knowing that Parker was bored in retirement, a business broker got Parker in touch with Steiner so they could team up to buy the once proud Carnegie Deli - at that time a 40 seat restaurant that hadn't been updated either in decor or in food choices since it opened.
Steiner, who was 20 years younger than Parker, worked the front of the restaurant, welcoming celebrities and the locals alike with his jovial nature, while Parker worked behind the scenes revamping the menu and offering sandwiches that featured 5-inch high slices of pastrami, corned beef, brisket and beef tongue that were smoked, pickled and cured in Carnegie Deli's own processing plant in New Jersey. Steiner made it a full traditional Jewish deli adding knishes, matzoh ball soup, potato pancakes and cheesecake to menu.
Carnegie Deli's chief rival was the Stage Deli, a similar Jewish delicatessen only two blocks away. When Parker and Steiner took over the Carnegie Deli in 1976, the Stage Deli had the better reputation in town. However, Steiner had a secret recipe for corned beef and pastrami - curing the meats for 13 days rather than 7 days - and in 1979 a food critic for the New York Times declared the pastrami sandwich as the better of the two. Parker and Steiner said the key was the water - Carnegie Deli cured their meats in water from New Jersey, while the Stage Deli cured their meats in New York City water.
The Carnegie Deli tried expansion in the 1980's putting two locations in New Jersey, one near Washington D.C., and one out in Beverly Hills, CA. However, all of the locations ended up closing because it was apparent that they were nowhere near as authentic as the original Carnegie Deli.
Leo Steiner tragically passed away in 1987 from complications from a brain tumor and Parker was pressured by family to consider retiring. However, he forged ahead and continued to run the famous deli for the next 15 years. He finally retired in 2002 handing over the reins of the business to his daughter, Marian, and his son-in-law, Sandy Levine (pictured left). Milton Parker passed away in 2009 at the age of 90. Upon his death, one person remarked, "(Parker's) sandwiches were incredibly much too large for human consumption."
In 2005, the Carnegie Deli opened a location at the Mirage using meats and cheesecake that were made at their commissary in New Jersey and shipped to Las Vegas. Since then, the Carnegie Deli has opened similar locations at casinos and theme parks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
The Stage Deli had a second location for 15 years at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. I'd eaten at the Stage Deli a handful of times on previous visits to Las Vegas. It had been awhile since I'd eaten there and went over to the Forum Shops three years ago to get a monstrous corned beef sandwich. But I found that they had closed in 2008 after their lease expired. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a Carnegie Deli in the Mirage.
The only problem is that I couldn't get anyone to go with me. Oh, I could have gotten a sandwich on my own, but we had a deli tray in one of our suites during CES and I didn't think it would be good to go down and get a sandwich when deli sandwiches were provided for us. This year upon arrival, we met up with some of our colleagues who were having lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. Having not a pleasant experience there last year, (see my post on CPK here), I told Ian, "Let's go over to the Carnegie Deli."
We were seated at a table for two along a short wall near the front of the restaurant. Art deco-style lamps hung from the wooden-beamed ceiling. Tables for two, four, and six were throughout the place along with a handful of booths. The waitstaff was dressed in white shirts, black vests and pants. It was fairly busy when were seated and it took awhile for our server to get to us.
Interestingly, the fries (above right) were brought out to the table before our sandwiches. I was getting pretty hungry - it was past 2 p.m. in Las Vegas and it was past 4 p.m. "body-time" for me and I hadn't eaten anything since a steak salad the previous evening. So having the fries brought first was another nice little appetizer. And the fries, I have to say, were fabulous. The were crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. I don't know what they fry them in, but the taste was so much better than most fries I've had at other restaurants.
Our sandwiches came out not long after we had made a dent in the fries. Of course, they were huge. This is half of my sandwich - yes, half! The lean and rare pastrami was piled high on the bread and held together with a long toothpick. There was the sauerkraut on top as well as the Swiss cheese. However, I was somewhat dismayed that they hadn't melted the cheese giving me instead three thick slices of Swiss cheese. It wasn't a deal breaker by any means, but I would have rather had the cheese melted.
The pastrami was just excellent. It was flavorful, had a little bite of pepper to it and was simply some of the best pastrami I've ever had. Ian said, "Oh, yeah. This is the same stuff that you get in New York."