My father took me to NYC when I was 12, and we ate at the Carnegie Deli, where I was amazed at the hot corned beef sandwiches. (Before then I'd only had either cold cuts, or the hot Irish-style stuff they served up in lunchrooms.)
Since then I've often sought out good corned beef when in NYC, switching among Carnegie, 2nd Ave Deli (sliced thinner, but of wildly varying tenderness from one visit to the next, including one visit where it was inedible) to Katz's, where the thick, hand-sliced corned beef literally melts in your mouth.
On a recommendation and recollection from Jim Leff I ventured recently with two friends to David's Brisket House in Bed-Sty for what had been billed as the best deli anywhere. It is, as Jim described once, the most unlikely place to find Jewish brisket: it's in the middle of a neighborhood that's sooner home to food from Jamaica and Trinidad. We entered and encountered a front part where the slicing and food prep was done, a narrow counter with stools, and some tables in the back. It has what looks like a normal small diner menu, though I think without any pork -- eggs for $2 with grits, beef bacon BLTs for $3.25, grilled cheese for $1.60.
Standing curiously out by price on the menu are $8 sandwiches: corned beef, pastrami, and cooked brisket with gravy. My friends and I got both brisket and corned beef sandwiches (on a bun and on rye, respectively), and even with the build-up, we were blown away. The meat came from a steamer cabinet and was sliced on a rotating mechanical slicer -- but each sliced pushed by hand. For the corned beef, maybe Katz's could come close on a good day, but this was perfection. Not the volume you'd expect at the Carnegie, of course (and it's under half the price, after all), but the texture and taste were amazing. The slicer guy was about to break for midday prayers, but lingered long enough to prepare two sandwiches' worth of corned beef and pastrami to go, with the rye bread separately wrapped and a generous helping of all-sour pickles. (I thought they were great; my friends thought they weren't crunchy enough.)
The next day I heated the pastrami and corned beef in the microwave and it reverted more or less to its original form. I'm no expert on pastrami, but I found it really good -- smoky but not all that spicy; no real "bite" to it the way I've tasted other pastrami.
Anyway - thanks Jeff, for the recommendation, and I'm pleased to say that four years later the place appears to be going strong.
It's at 533 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, and the takeout menu says hours are Mon-Sat 6 am to 5:30 pm. It's really out of the way, but for someone serious about deli, it's a visit that has to be made at least once.
.JZ, long-time listener, first-time poster