The awning outside of Sarge’s Deli proudly proclaims that it opened in 1964, the Manhattan delicatessen is decidedly not stuck in the last century: It recently started offering plant-based sandwiches.
I walked up to the counter quietly wondering if I had the right place. There was no signage announcing the new menu item or branding for Unreal Deli, the company behind this deli’s particular meatless meat option. In fact, it looked like the type of old-school New York deli that would rail against the non-traditional and paradoxical ways of meatless meat.
But no, I was in the right place. My plant-based corned beef sandwich cost me just over $15. When checking out, I asked the cashiers if the order was popular, especially with what seemed like little marketing. Both women gave enthusiastic affirmatives, saying people were ordering in-store and online after seeing the new choice on the deli’s website.
To be sure, you can find Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli online, offering the same corned “beef” I purchased, a Ruben, and corned beef by the pound, with an encouraging note that this cold-cut choice has a six-month shelf life.
On to the meat of it though: what does it taste like? Quite good, actually. It was a simple sandwich that left the focus on the (meatless) meat, which felt in keeping with the traditional New York deli-style many locals come to expect. Most people probably wouldn’t tell the difference between the Unreal option and a regular corned beef sandwich. I did notice coloring was slightly off and gave a duller color than the pink most beef, at least fresh beef, sports. But for anyone looking for the experience of a good old-fashioned deli sandwich without the meat, this is hard to top.
The rise of Unreal, Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, and other plant-based meat purveyors marks a turning point in dietary restrictions and choices. Vegetarians, vegans, or anyone else looking to cut down on meat aren’t doing it because they don’t like eating meat. Health and ethical choices push people to make the change or even to consider the change. For those struggling or find themselves missing their favorite dishes, it could be just the thing that lets everything else fall into place.
If a deli from the 60s in Murray Hill can make the switch, there’s hope for more substantial changes. And it likely means good business for both meatless companies and the shops offering them if the orders at Sarge’s Deli say anything.