Chef Aaron Wells-Morgan works in fine dining, crafting elegant dishes such as tuna tartare and grilled filet mignon for customers at Grand Street Cafe.
When he’s off the clock, Wells-Morgan craves less fancy fare. Specifically: Sandwiches stuffed with spicy, smoky beef.
“I’m a pastrami junkie,” he says.
The addiction took hold when Wells-Morgan was attending culinary school in New York, where pastrami is a deli staple. Recipes vary by deli, but most make pastrami by coating beef brisket in salt and seasonings (garlic, pepper and coriander are common) before dry-curing, smoking, steaming and slicing. Pastrami is often served hot between slabs of rye bread.
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Despite its barbecue-like flavor profile, pastrami isn’t as prevalent in Kansas City as it is on the East Coast. Which is partly why Wells-Morgan decided to make his own version of the classic hot pastrami sandwich and serve it at Grand Street Cafe at 4740 Grand Ave. near the Country Club Plaza and 8815 Renner Blvd. in Lenexa.
Wells-Morgan’s pastrami-making process starts when he brines lean Black Angus brisket flats for seven days. He coats the salty meat with a coarse spice rub heavy on peppercorns and coriander before smoking it for 12 hours. After another 12 hours of steaming, the pastrami is soft enough to slice and flakes easily, but retains its many flavors.
The chef serves the pastrami on toasted marble rye bread with Gruyere cheese, horseradish aioli, Worcestershire sauce and giardiniera, a hot and colorful condiment made in-house with carrots, celery, red onions, garlic, jalapenos, fresno chiles and rice wine vinegar. The $13 sandwich is crowned with a pair of crinkle-cut pickle slices and served with spicy house-made potato chips. As Wells-Morgan puts it: “It’s kind of a kick in the pants.”
After trying the sandwich, I also developed an addiction to pastrami, which “Seinfeld” fans know is “the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats.” Here are four more KC-area sandwich shops where you can celebrate National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day on Thursday.
▪ Milwaukee Delicatessen Co., 101 W. Ninth St., buys American-style Kobe beef from Kansas City’s Boyles Corned Beef Co., seasons it with rub and hickory smokes it for about six hours. The pastrami is cooled before it’s sliced, steamed and served on marble rye with fresh greens (usually arugula but sometimes spinach), Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, grainy mustard and horseradish. Owner Jon Gerner plans to pare down the toppings on the $9.50 sandwich this month so the pastrami takes center stage: “We’re going to change it up — just pastrami, cheese and caramelized onion jam, with mustard and horseradish on the side.”
▪ D’Bronx Authentic Deli and Pizzeria, a New York-style deli with locations in Kansas City, Overland Park and Mission, sells more than 5,000 pounds of pastrami per year, according to owner Don Foringer. D’Bronx recently switched suppliers and now serves Sy Ginsberg Gold Label Pastrami, produced in Detroit. The pastrami is made from heavily marbled beef navel instead of leaner brisket. The juicy, paper-thin slices are delicious on the pastrami and Swiss sub ($8.50), topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, black olives and balsamic vinaigrette. D’Bronx also serves pastrami on rye bread or on a Rachel, a twist on the Reuben made with pastrami and coleslaw.
▪ Jersey Boyz Subs & Deli, 315 Armour Road in North Kansas City, serves a hot pastrami sandwich that reminds me of a Reuben without the kraut. Picture layers of thick, lean slices enveloped in melted Swiss and wedged between two perfectly toasted slices of squirrel’s tail marble rye, which gets its name from the shape of the swirls in the bread. The $7.99 sandwich is great with a side of hand-cut fries ($1.99).
▪ Geo’s Pizzeria, 9220 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, specializes in pies but also makes a mean sandwich. The pastrami and Swiss ($6.49) is simple, satisfying, and easy on the wallet. Try it with a swipe of spicy mustard and a pickle on the side.