I'VE DONE ENOUGH eating at Pastrami Zombie over the last several weeks to make a final call about how good these smoky, drippy, and huge sandwiches are. So naturally, I just placed a Caviar order to have another one delivered while I write.
Pastrami Zombie’s signature Reuben is deceptively simple: a huge stack of beef, a couple slices of Swiss, dressing, a forest of coleslaw, and two fairly thin slices of Grand Central rye. But that’s all owner and mastermind Melissa McMillan needs to spin a sandwich that joins the upper ranks in a city that perfected the art of stuff between bread.
McMillan’s Ashland storefront, Sammich, has garnered a New York Times blessing and a dedicated following. She opened her Pastrami Zombie truck a few months ago, and quickly moved it to its current home next to Pollo Norte on Northeast 42nd.
Biting into the deeply unctuous and smoky brisket pastrami—cured for four days before smoking and steaming—with the tart coleslaw and dressing dripping over your trembling pinkies is to know what those Carl’s Jr. ads were talking about when they said, “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.”
The food is best when McMillan, a Chicago native who wears her city’s sports jerseys proudly, is the one cooking. And while the Reuben ($12 for a whole, $7 for a half) is the undisputed queen of the cart, the other offerings are also worth a spin, especially the burger with that pastrami added on top ($12). It’s another drippy wonder, this time with a griddled patty and oodles of American cheese.
The tuna sammich ($10), with albacore poached in the cart plus avocado and arugula, is a more subtle beast, and is perfect to share along with one of the more intense sandwiches at lunch. McMillan’s specials also let her take a walk with her ingredient list, like with a recent house-brined and smoked pork loin, chopped bacon, cheddar, lettuce, and mayo on sourdough with just a smackling of sweetness from a housemade plum jam. Just beware: After repeated visits, Pastrami Zombie will take over your brain.
Open daily 11 am-8 pm. Items sell out. Delivery available via Caviar.