Favorite Dish: The Pastrami Burger From Top Hat Deli

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With so many restaurants in South Florida and more opening all the time, just picking where to go for dinner on a Saturday night or lunch on a Wednesday can be an overwhelming task. Sometimes, you just need a reason. This ongoing list of the favorite dishes from food writers who know the local scene will help you discover new restaurants, cafés, and eateries and maybe even a new favorite dish of your own.

If you want to get poetic about it, pastrami is a way of going back in time. During the late 19th century, the concept of pastrami was first concocted in New York by Romanian Jewish immigrants who attempted to adapt their meat curing techniques using what was — at the time — a very cheap cut of meat known as beef brisket.

The meat is pickled in salt, seasoned with a blend of spices (most notably coriander and black pepper), and smoked. By the turn of the century, delicatessens across New York, including world-famous Katz's, were serving pastrami, steamed until tender and juicy, sliced thick, and stacked high between slices of rye bread.

A product of American fusion, pastrami burgers are apparently a "thing" in Utah, where fresh pastrami is piled on top of an all beef patty. The meat-on-meat combo has become one of the state's most beloved dishes, and almost every burger joint in Salt Lake City has one on the menu.

There's just one problem with these so-called burgers, which are given the usual topping of lettuce and tomato. All that rich, juicy pastrami completely overwhelms the beef of the burger, even if it's seared and char-grilled. Not to mention the fact that typical burger accoutrement has no business being anywhere near a pastrami sandwich.

The only reasonable solution: bring the beef and pastrami together. That's what you'll find at Top Hat Delicatessen in Fort Lauderdale, the traditional, New York-style deli specializing in a fusion of original and new-style dishes. The menu offers standard classic deli items like Reuben and Rachel sandwiches, liver and onions, Nova lox, corned beef, white fish, and matzo ball soup.

But there's also a number of new-fangled finds, including the pastrami burger, a patty made in-house that delivers just the right amount of smoky pastrami flavor, says Top Hat owner Elliot Wolf, who has perfected the recipe at his two-month-old deli. 

Wolf's pastrami burger is a 50/50 blend of beef and pastrami, which is chopped into a fine hash before it's pressed into the meat and seared on a flat-top grill. From there, it's topped with melted Swiss cheese and a scoop of homemade coleslaw, all of it piled between two slices of fresh, doughy challah bread. Now that, my friends, is a pastrami burger.

Top Hat Deli is located at 415 NE Third St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-900-3896, or visit tophatftl.com.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.

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