Eat This Now

Dish of the Week: The Olajuwon at Kahn's Deli

It's one dream-y sandwich.

By Katharine Shilcutt October 9, 2014

The mighty swat of JJ Watt aside, Houston may not be quick to embrace modern-day sports heros, as in the curious case of José Altuve, the Astros second baseman who recently won the American League batting title. But do we ever lionize those who came before: the Earl Campbells, the Nolan Ryans, the Craig Biggios, the Hakeem Olajuwons. These are our Houston sports heros, the ones whose stories we'll tell our children as if these men had captured Cerberus or slain the Learnaean hydra.

Kahn's Deli
2429 Rice Blvd.

It makes sense, of course, that we name things after these men, too—whether it's the Nolan Ryan Junior High in Alvin or the Olajuwon sandwich at Kahn's Deli in Rice Village. As far as I can tell, there's absolutely nothing about the deli sandwich that is remotely Olajuwon-esque aside from its tremendous height. Further, I seriously doubt that Olajuwon, a devout Muslim, would be able to eat the knockwurst inside the sandwich. These facts aside, it's my favorite sandwich at Kahn's Deli for a variety of reasons.

First: you get two kinds of cheese, melted Swiss and cheddar. Second: you get tangy sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Third: you get more corned beef than one human could possibly ever eat. Fourth: you get Kahn's delicious, trademark, homemade Russian dressing slathered all over the French roll that houses the corned beef, sauerkraut, cheese, and knockwurst. Fifth (and most importantly): Kahn's goes to the trouble of slicing that knockwurst into little pink knockwurst spears that line the bottom of the sandwich like a pork trellis, resulting in a sandwich that's much easier to eat—if you can stretch your mouth around the entire thing, that is. This is an accumulation of all the things I love most about Kahn's in one paper-lined basket, pickle on the side.

Kahn's was notably quiet when I visited yesterday afternoon at lunch, leading me to hope the Rice Village mainstay isn't falling on tough times. The deli was first opened on Rice Blvd. in 1948 by New York City expat Alfred Kahn—as much a legend in Houston food as Olajuwon is in Houston basketball. Alfred's son Mike moved the deli across the street in 1984, where it's served roughly the same sandwiches that've made it a destination for over 60 years.

On tent cards perched at each quiet table, Kahn's encouraged its patrons to visit for dinner: "Same great sandwiches, better parking." Perhaps that's the ideal time to go experience the legend for yourself. After all, at dinner you can enjoy your sandwich with a beer from one of Houston's local breweries, including Saint Arnold—which, like The Dream himself, has now been playing in Houston for 20 consecutive seasons.

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