‘Where’s your ticket?’ A prison of pastrami

A Katz’s corned beef sandwich with a ticket. Enjoy the sandwich — but better not lose the ticket!
A Katz’s corned beef sandwich with a ticket. Enjoy the sandwich — but better not lose the ticket!

BY BETH KAISERMAN | Everything was planned out perfectly. My co-worker Rachel and I would eat a feast at Katz’s, down a couple beers and then head to my last day of work before I moved Upstate for a summer internship on a vegan farm. We were only a few stops away on the F train from the restaurant from where we worked, so everything would be timely and smooth.

Some of my favorite eating memories are with co-workers from the service industry. When you serve people all the time, flipping the coin and letting yourself be served is a great way to unwind. Katz’s is probably one of the last places in New York City where you should expect stellar customer service, but of course that’s not why you’re there. You’re there because the meat melts in your mouth, and the tireless counter guys give you little morsels while they construct your dream sandwich. The cooks, counter people, hosts, busboys, dishwashers and servers work their butts off to make this New York institution a well-oiled machine.

That is, until you lose your ticket.

We had started with a bowl of fluffy matzo ball soup, ordered a variety of meats, took pictures with the meats, ate, took a break, breathed heavily, ate some more and finished our beers. Everything had gone well, as it always does when Katz’s pastrami is involved. We put everything on Rachel’s ticket, since we were sharing it all anyway. At the end, we proceeded to the credit card line where they sell bagels (separate from the cash line up front) and split the cost between us. I clutched my credit card receipt as I waddled toward the door, full and ready to tackle my last day of work.

After that, it’s a bit of a meat-dazed blur.

“Where’s your ticket?” the security guard asked.

“It must be here somewhere,” I said, searching my bag, pockets and eventually every crevice of my body. I searched the table. I went back to the pastrami counter. The matzo ball counter. The credit card counter. My ticket was nowhere to be found. My mouth was suddenly very dry, thanks to many salty meats and a crippling fear that I was in trouble. It was second grade, and I was caught racing down the hallway all over again.

“Well, I have my receipt from when we just paid!” I said hopefully.

“You need your ticket. Call her in,” the security guard ordered to another.

She arrived. I guess her name is Mrs. Katz’s Deli. She has red hair and New York attitude written all over her. Jake Dell currently runs all operations as far as I know, but this older woman was surely in charge of the scene that day.

“Where’s your ticket?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I checked everywhere in here but I have my receipt right here showing we paid! I really have to leave for work! What can I do?”

“Ya can’t leave without your ticket.”

“I know, I’ve looked everywhere though. What more can I do? We paid all on one ticket, and mine must have dropped somewhere.”

“I should call the police right now,” she said.

My life flashed before my eyes. It seemed so typical of me. This was how I was going to go down — all because of a sandwich. My love of eating always got the best of me.

Ten minutes of a similar back-and-forth ensued until it was finally decided that the cops would not be involved. At least, not today.

“This time, go. Next time, keep ya ticket!!!”

I thought my picture might be put on the wall, strictly separated from signed photos of Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Stiller and all the other Jerrys and famous deli lovers.

Two years later, I’m still paranoid at Katz’s. As soon as I enter, I clutch my ticket like my life depends on it. I do a ticket check with my dining companions every five minutes. Eating at Katz’s may not be the most relaxing scene, but a little dramatic flair might be the secret to keeping the meat oh so tender.