Austin obsesses over barbecued brisket. People line up for hours at some places to eat it. You can find it all over town. Its cousin from the Northeast, pastrami? Much harder to find. Especially exceptional pastrami. And that’s a shame. Because, while barbecued brisket on butcher paper with some white bread is great, brined and smoked brisket — pastrami — on grilled rye is better.
Derrick Smith was disappointed by the lack of great delis serving pastrami and corned beef when he arrived from Philadelphia about five years ago. So he decided to do something about it. Smith had worked at the famed Hershel’s East Side Deli in Philadelphia for about five years, and after working for JuiceLand and Workhorse Bar in Austin for a couple of years, he decided to take what he learned at Hershel’s and partner with friend and New Jersey native Conor Mack to open Otherside Deli.
The blue trailer, named not for an East Side or West Side deli but for the “other” side (aka Texas), sits in a gravel lot beside Workhorse’s sister bar, Back Lot, in the old Nasty’s space near the University of Texas. And it serves one of the best pastrami Reuben sandwiches I’ve eaten in Texas.
The guys trim the brisket and brine it in a mixture of pink salt and water that also includes sugar, garlic, honey, cloves, ginger, coriander, bay leaf and more, infusing the meat with aromatic depth. They then rub it with black pepper and coriander before smoking it for four to five hours (their limited space means shorter smoking times using an oven attachment) and finishing it with an overnight steam.
The result is tender meat the color of a carnivore’s Valentine that buzzes but doesn’t ambush you with its perfumed allure. Smith and Mack layer thick-cut slices, a tangle of zippy sauerkraut and a judicious amount of nutty Swiss cheese on Texas French Bread rye swiped with just the right amount of tangy Russian dressing. It all turns to an oozy, savory, crunchy and spirited symphony at the press of a griddle. It’s a perfectly balanced Reuben sandwich ($10).
You can also order a slightly more refreshing version, if that word can apply to a third-pound of meat stuffed between slices of supple carbs: a cold sandwich called the Otherside ($10), which replaces the fermented lash of sauerkraut with a crisper cole slaw. Both sandwiches can swap out the pastrami for moist but sturdy house-roasted turkey breast or corned beef, which is brisket that gets the same brine as the pastrami but is then boiled instead of pepper-rubbed and smoked, giving the cut a more direct and beefy flavor. For those who defy tradition, Otherside also offers sourdough bread from Texas French Bread.
The trailer plays off the vaguely sci-fi evocations of its name with a menu that includes sandwiches like the $9 Barbarella (a simple turkey, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and Swiss preparation) and the vegan-lovers Scully ($9), named after Gillian Anderson’s character from “The X-Files.” And there is something mesmerizing and otherworldly about the sandwich. Smith taps into his time in JuiceLand’s commissary kitchen by grilling mushrooms infused with the same flavors as the pastrami for a centerpiece element that lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. Vinegar from Worcestershire used to make a cashew-based Russian dressing brightens the earthy mushrooms, and nutritional yeast — playing the role of cheese — lays its funky bite across the bread of one of the best veggie sandwiches in town.
The size constraints of this two-man operation mean a pretty tight menu and limited artisanal elements beyond the star meat, but you don’t need homemade sauerkraut, pickles or mayonnaise for a great sandwich as long as you buy the right ones, and the Otherside guys do. They also buy startlingly fresh organic greens and quality, pungent blue cheese for a salad that, yes, you can top with the pastrami.
The beef isn’t the only thing on which time and attention are spent. Befitting a more established deli, the trailer upstarts render their own schmaltz (chicken fat) from chicken livers, fry it with onions and mix it with pureed chicken skin for a lush chicken pâté served on rye toast with fierce red onions and minearly boiled egg (a steal at $5). It’s a dish you’d expect to find in an East Coast deli, not an Austin parking lot.
Speaking of that lot: If you come before the bar, which serves drinks and air conditioning, opens at 3 p.m., you’ll be sitting at a picnic table outside. So bring your own Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry. I’m sure Otherside will add that to the menu once they move to their inevitable brick-and-mortar deli and find an even greater platform to preach the gospel of the Other Brisket.
606 Maiden Lane. 512-856-4657, othersidedeliatx.com
Rating: 9 out of 10
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to midnight Sunday.
Prices: Snacks, $4-$8. Sandwiches, $8-$10.
The order: Pastrami Reuben
Expect to pay: $10
Notes: Outdoor seating only until the adjacent bar opens at 3 p.m. Children are allowed inside bar with parents when dining at Otherside Deli.
What the rating means: The 10-point scale is an average of weighted scores for food, service, value, ambience and overall dining experience, with 10 being the best.
The Bottom Line: Otherside Deli makes some of the best pastrami in Central Texas.