The Carnegie Deli, found at 854 7th Avenue at 55th Street, is as New York as Yankee Stadium, Central Park, subway rats and, perhaps most appropriately, Woody Allen.
Allen, who has crafted some of the Big Apple’s most iconic cinematic moments, immortalised the establishment on-screen in Broadway Danny Rose, his ode to New Jersey chutzpah, or unshakable ambition. The film opens on five comedians as they sit around a table at the Carnegie, remembering with fondness the small-time, big-hearted talent agent (played by Allen in flashback). It’s not the most famous New York deli scene (that honour goes to Meg Ryan’s extended session of faked fulfilment in Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally, shot at Katz’s Deli on the corner of East Houston and Ludlow streets), but it captures the old-fashioned neighbourhood camaraderie of New York City like few other films have.
The Carnegie’s owner, Sanford Levine, thanked Allen the only way he knew how – by naming an enormous sandwich after him. According to page six of the deli’s 200-odd-item menu: The Woody Allen is made with "lotsa cornbeef plus lotsa pastrami". It can be found alongside such Broadway-themed New York 'deli-cacies' as Beef Encounter (triple-decker roast beef, chopped liver and sliced onion), The Egg and Oy! (chicken salad, sliced egg, lettuce and tomato) and My Fair Latkes (a three-deep stack of potato pancakes). Thankfully, Levine’s food is much better than his puns.
The deli owner’s gesture was an eccentric one, to be sure, but it was genuine and heartfelt. Such qualities are inherent to the New York state of mind and emerge in SBS’s season of documentaries, which seek to celebrate the unique personalities of the city. The programming choices reveal a New York City that: demands an unwavering self-belief from those wanting to tower over her (James Marsh’s Man On Wire, 2008); asks that hearts beat stronger when faced with adversity (Jill Andresevic’s Love Etc., 2011); emerged from dark passions (William Karel’s The Empire State Building Murders, 2008); and possesses a vitality for life that has kept its showgirls kicking for more than 70 years (Heather Lyn MacDonald’s Been Rich All My Life, 2006).
Today, there’s a scar that cuts across the city at the corner of Liberty and Church streets. The people of New York City look to it as a badge of courage, symbolic of their hometown’s triumphant resurrection as much as its darkest hour. The films inspired by New York City and the food its multicultural heritage affords are profound, but these are ultimately just two ingredients that make up our planet’s grandest social entity.
Photography by Brett Stevens
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.