Before moving to New York City, Joe Langhan thought of pastrami as being more or less like any other cold cut. Tasty enough, but nothing special. Then he tried the pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen and discovered there was more to the brined and smoked meat than he realized.
Years later, when he moved back to Massachusetts and settled in Gloucester, his craving for high-quality pastrami came with him. He tried to find a suitable sandwich, but nothing he tried quite made the grade.
“I’d say, ‘It’s OK, but it’s nothing like the real thing,’” Langhan says.
So he and Essex resident John Girard, another former New Yorker who missed the city’s pastrami, set out to recreate the authentic experience. The results were so well-received that the pair decided to go into business; their product is now the centerpiece of Beantown Pastrami, a thriving sandwich shop at the Boston Public Market.
They started by perfecting the recipe, a complex process that involves multiple steps: soaking in a salty seasoned brine, coating with a spice rub, smoking, and finally steaming. Though the exact recipe is proprietary, we can tell you that Langhan and Girard settled on a spice combination heavy on coriander and black pepper.
“We were doing it at home, smoking in the backyard,” Langhan says.
After they prepared the meat for parties a few times, they realized they had something special on their hands and decided to go into business, another complicated proposition. Because of federal rules, they could no longer make their own pastrami, so they had to seek out a processing company that would produce it to their precise standards.
They operated out of a food truck for a short while, as they worked out their business concept. But then, while walking in downtown Boston one day, Langhan noticed “Coming Soon” banners on the building that today houses the Boston Public Market. He applied for booth space and was accepted.
The Boston Public Market requires all foods sold within to be grown or processed locally. To meet that mandate, Beantown Pastrami uses pickles from Salem’s Maitland Mountain Farm; the farm’s sauerkraut adorns the eatery’s Reuben sandwich. Other locally made components include the freshly baked bread from local bakeries and the coleslaw and potato salad that Langhan and Girard make themselves in a commercial kitchen in Gloucester. The Rachel sandwich is made with locally raised turkey, and the pastrami is made from local beef when possible.
Beantown Pastrami’s menu includes its signature pastrami, alone in standard sandwiches and in Reubens, as well as corned beef and turkey sandwiches. Salads and sliders are also on offer. Despite these options, the pastrami is still about 60 percent of what they sell.
So here’s the most important question: What does a Beantown Pastrami sandwich taste like? Well, the meat is delicately crusted with a peppery spice blend. The sandwich is warm and moist and thick; the double version is piled with a full half-pound of meat. In a word: delicious.