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Waikiki Eats: Giovanni Pastrami

This past week, we celebrated a birthday lunch over at Giovanni Pastrami, located at the still fairly new Beach Walk Waikiki on Lewers street.

In a past Honolulu Advertiser review of this establishment, restaurateur Bob Bach described Giovanni Pastrami as “a high end deli, pizzeria with live sports”. While in appearance there’s hardly a hint of it being a deli or pizzeria, you will sense the “high end” part of the equation upon being greeted by the warm wood tones, rich textures of the Peruvian glass tile walls and clean, contemporary architectural style that makes up the space.

You really don’t sense it’s a sports bar until you walk upstairs to the second level, where you’ll find a more exclusive space surrounding a bar and a roomful of flat screen TVs.

The lighting is warm and ambient, without being obnoxious.

Witness the polished concrete countertop

This upper-level sport bar/dining area is also where the kitchen is located, within view behind a clear glass picture window.

Here you see the other half of Giovanni’s, which is comprised of the main dining room on the ground level, just inside of the main entrance…

While the decor is upscale chic, the menu selections for the most part are what you’d find at any other sports bar, from buffalo wings to pizza and burgers, to signature sandwiches piled high with meat, like every good sports bar should. There’s also an open-’til-close breakfast menu to choose from.

Those signature sandwiches were exactly why we were here, and with high expectations at that considering the high-end prices they were tagged with, along with just about everything else on the menu.

Time to eat piles of meat! lol

Diner E got dibs on one of the most defining of deli sandwiches in this genre, ordering the The Reuben…

The Reuben – A mound of hot corned beef, pastrami, or turkey piled high with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and grilled to perfect, $15.95

As the menu states, “All Deli sandwiches are served on rye bread or unless otherwise specified or requested. Served with your choice of potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, or french fries.”

There’s one thing missing on Diner E’s Reuben plate that I’ll get to a little later.

Diner A ordered what Giovanni’s nicknames “The Banker”…

The Banker (Double Deck) – Hot Pastrami, Turkey and swiss cheese with ripe tomato and russian dressing, $15.95

Yours truly ordered “Chelsea’s Treat”…

Chelsea’s Treat (Double Deck) – Hot corned beef, pastrami and swiss cheese with ripe tomato and russian dressing, $15.95

As you see, Diner A and E opted for fries, while I wanted some green to go along with the mean (meat), requesting the cole slaw as my side.

Diner C ordered the Hot Pastrami.

Unfortunately, since I’m still new with my Sony H5, I inadvertently had my image stabilizer OFF (along with a bunch of other settings) during all the picture taking while we were in Giovanni Patrami, blowing over half the shots I took. Ack! That includes the shots I took of her Hot Pastrami. Oh well.

There really wasn’t much different to see than the others, anyway. Just imagine the same non-grilled rye bread piled high with pastrami and that’s it. No tomato, sauerkraut or dressing. Her hot pastrami was accompanied with a tossed salad comprised of romaine lettuce, tomato and cucumber with Thousand Islands Dressing.

Diner AC had been here before, and having already had their Reuben, this time she decided to try out something completely different, going for their Eggs Benedict off the breakfast menu…

Eggs Benedict – Two eggs poached and gourmet bacon or ham on english muffin with hollandaise sauce, $15.95

Since the dish includes two eggs benedicts, she made a special combo’ request of one with Lox and one with Pastrami, as you see in the photo (sorry about the poor lighting).

Well how was it?

Let’s have a closer look at that Reuben…

The Reuben

Remember I mentioned there was something missing on Diner E’s plate? That would be THE PICKLE! Diner E was very distraught about that. lol Luckily Diner C isn’t a pickle fan and gladly donated her pickle to a worthy cause, making this Reuben sandwich “complete”.

I see his point. A pickle isn’t just an afterthought, but an absolute REQUIREMENT with these type of deli sandwiches, acting as an effective palate cleanser and buffer in between bites. Otherwise all that rich and somewhat greasy heap of meat can turn into overkill, for lack of a better term, no pun intended. In fact, pass me another pickle… just one isn’t enough for all that sandwich!

Getting back to The Reuben, Diner E was very favorable of it, awarding it a solid 3-SPAM Musubi rating in overall execution. He notes the pastrami tasted fresh-made, unlike other Reubens he’s had where the pastrami tasted store-bought. The sauerkraut tasted store-bought, as did the Thousand Island-based “Russian Dressing” condiment side dish it came with, but not in a bad way, yet worth noting.

He still swears by Kenny’s (“in the Kam Shopping Center in Kaliiiiiii’hiiiii”) as having the best Reuben he’s had yet. Go figure. Sometimes the most unsuspecting places excel at dishes you’d never expect them too!

Diner A was also favorable of his “Banker” sandwich, giving it another solid 3-SPAM Musubi rating.

Finally we have my sandwich, “Chelsea’s Treat”…

Chelsea’s Treat

This sure is a handful to shovel in your mouth. I’d recommend doing mouth and jaw stretches before eating here. lol The thick layer of chewy, peppery corned beef along with the more “beefy” pastrami is quite a punch. That’s where that pickle comes in handy, balancing it out with acidity and crunch. The pastrami and corned beef is very tasty though. While I’m no expert on New York style deli meats, I’m inclined to think these here from Giovanni’s are worthy of respect to those that are.

The rye bread was supple, fresh, characteristic and flavorful, but a bit too soft, pliable and thinly-sliced, just barely making it substantial enough to hold the multi-tiered greasy cargo.

The coleslaw was standard fare, yet pretty good, almost tasting “KFC’ish”, except with the cabbage not chopped fine like that. Hey, what’s wrong with KFC’s coleslaw? That’s good stuff!

I got to try some of the fries from Diner A’s plate, which were done perfectly. Nothing extraordinary, but just cooked right and salted right.

If I could modify this sandwich, I’d add one more slice of swiss cheese, one more layer of tomato, and I’d GRILL (or toast) the rye bread. Plus I’d throw in one more pickle and perhaps a carrot stick. For me, that would make it fantastic.

As is, right off the menu here, I give this “Chelsea’s Treat” a 2-SPAM Musubi rating.

Diner C rates her Hot Pastrami sandwich 1 SPAM Musubi, almost as a stretch. She notes the pastrami was a bit overcooked and dried out, which may have been compounded by the fact that the Pastrami sandwich doesn’t include any dressing, vegetables or cheese in it. All it is is meat and bread, with a toothpick holding it together.

Diner AC gave her Eggs Benedict a rating in the negatives, so no need go further in writing about her dish. You can figure it out. I will say the Hollandaise (requested on the side) tasted more like a light brown gravy than it did hollandaise sauce. The country fries paprika-seasoned (kinda’ weird) country fries also needed plenty of help, having a texture like they were microwaved.

It must be noted that Diner AC had a favorable experience previously trying their Reuben sandwich, which led her to encourage us in trying this place out.

The service was a mixed bag. While our server was attentive, some folks on our table felt there was some “attitude” and tacky mannerism going on. The food arrived fast and glasses kept filled, and that’s all that mattered as far as I was concerned.

The prices were perhaps our biggest problem. Not that we aren’t willing to pay that much for a fantastic New York Style deli sandwich in an upscale establishment. That’s why we were here. Just that the food didn’t live up to the expectations of such a lofty price tag. Location and environment aside, $16 is a lot of coinage to fork over for a sandwich. $10 to $12 each for what we got (and where we were) would have been acceptable, but $16? No way.

Overall with all things considered (food, service, price), our party unanimously agree in giving Giovanni Pastrami 1 SPAM Musubi.

Parking is available in the Wyndham Hotel, where you enter from a Helemua (access) road on the left side of Lewers street. It’s valet only at a rate of $3 every half hour, plus tip.

Giovanni Pastrami

227 Lewers Street

Honolulu, HI 96815

923-2100

www.GiovanniPastrami.com

The Tasty Island rating:

Beach Walk Waikiki on Lewers street (looking across the street from Giovanni Pastrami)

12 thoughts on “Waikiki Eats: Giovanni Pastrami

  • October 18, 2008 at 7:35 am
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    Good as it looks, and probably tastes ono, but I find it hard to spend $16 on a sandwich.

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  • October 18, 2008 at 9:19 am
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    aloha pomai….let me tell you i’ve been to my fair share of jewish style delis around here, and they charge you an arm ‘n a leg for that kind of stuff……but i’ll be the first to admit also, that i’m a a huge fan of pastrami!!!! been to Carnegie deli in NYC last year…been to Canter’s and Langer’s in LA, also Izzy’s deli in Santa Monica….and right here near my alma mater…Saul’s Deli in Berkeley. ahhh man…the prices are too crazy…but every once in awhile…it’s a tasty treat :) i guess if i’m in the islands and want a hankering for a pastrami–looks like i’ll know where to go! cheers! -raph

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  • October 18, 2008 at 4:36 pm
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    Wow. Those sandwiches look good, but how can the bread *not* be grilled!? Okay I guess I fancy myself an expert living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which desperately wishes it were on the East Coast and is home to Zingerman’s (which honestly I haven’t been to yet) and Amer’s (the perfectly good half-price Zingerman’s as far as I’m concerned), but grilled bread seems like a no-brainer.

    Also, I know you didn’t go for this reason but a high-end sports bar makes no sense to me. Seems like this place would attract the worst clientele–rowdy folks who think they are entitled to do whatever the hell they want.

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  • October 18, 2008 at 5:45 pm
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    Well the pictures great of food but feel it a sport bar mainly guys place not for me. I will tell my boyfriend of it for himself and his friends to try it out.

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  • October 18, 2008 at 8:48 pm
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    Hey this is not bad of a hangout for me and friends. Awesome sandwiches.
    Women maybe or not. Regular restaurants is fine.

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  • October 19, 2008 at 5:05 am
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    I’ve been jonesing for a good Reuben for a long time. This has turned my craving up a notch!

    $16 for a sandwich is a bit much, though. Is that the price of having a newly redesigned “Beach Walk”?

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  • October 20, 2008 at 2:13 am
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    Wow, those are some pretty hefty prices for sandwiches that don’t rank a 4- (or even 3-) musibi ranking. Do you think the location and the fact that you weren’t high-spending tourists had anything to do with the attitude some of the people in your party mentioned?

    I love a good pastrami sandwiche and have been spoiled by the ones ordered in plain corner delis in Manhattan. (Wish I could return soon.) I haven’t been able to find any sandwiches I like as much elsewhere, even here in Seattle. It’s been my observation (just a personal, unscientific one, of course) that the terms “New York Deli” and “upscale” never result in anything great.

    But I keep searching…. :)

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  • October 20, 2008 at 8:20 pm
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    Jenny, this place certainly certainly tries to attract the high-spending Japanese tourist crowd, with all their signage and menu listings including Japanese subs. That said, at least 70% of the diners in there during our visit were Nihongin (Japanese nationals). I’m guessing Giovanni advertises agressively in Japanese tourist publications as well. Perhaps New York style Pastrami and Corned Beef deli sandwiches are the latest American food craze to hit Japan.

    launate, no doubt the rent along the newly redeveloped Beach Walk corridor must be astronomical. While I haven’t tried the place yet, someone told me the Gelato (Italian ice cream) shop across the street is also over-priced. 2 melon ball-sized scoops (like a Costco sample) of Gelato costs around $5.

    Another indicator of high rent is the early closure of Holokai Grill, which was one of the the featured opening tenants. They didn’t last long at all.

    We’ll have to wait and seee how the new Trump Tower coming up just down the street is going to affect business and rent prices there (increased property value). It’s steadily climbing skyward (the building construction).

    Nate, you’re right, it’s ono, but the price detracts from that. At least we thought so.

    Keliki and Shelly, I hear this place does well during happy hour, when they offer a free slice of their Round Table pizza with every beer purchase.

    Raph, I wish I had places like you mentioned under my belt so I’d have a better gauge of how to judge Giovanni’s. That said, you really should give Giovanni’s a try yourself and see how it compares. Glad you pointed out the Jewish factor, which in fact the owner is. There’s a couple of items on the menu that are labeled as Kosher. Interestingly, the Pastrami isn’t one of them. For the asking price, you’d think it would be.

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  • October 21, 2008 at 9:20 pm
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    I haven’t heard much good about Giovanni Pastrami, but it’s nice to get a through review so I can check it off the list of places to try.

    Also, regarding Rubens, I can’t remember if it comes with the all important pickle, but I’ve been loving the Ruben at Kalapawai Cafe & Deli in Kailua. Though I will admit that I’m strange and ask for mine on Sourdough and with sprouts.

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  • October 22, 2008 at 3:46 am
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    Your food pr0n is always inspiring, Pomai! I’ve not been to this place and I missed going to Taste of NY before it closed, but I can recommend the turkey pastrami at This Is It Deli – Coral St? Cooke St? The owners used to own Hawaiian Bagel. In fact, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve eaten, both at Haw’n Bagel back in the day and at This Is It. Their bagels are boiled, the old-fashioned way, before baking. Sigh. I’ve got serious onos now, and am stuck here in Kaneohe. Better start cooking for da keeds.

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  • October 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm
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    Actually, parking there is quite a deal. As you said, valet is at the Wyndham located directly behind the restaurant, but Giovanni Pastrami validates a whopping twelve hours of parking for only $3. From 6am-6pm you pay that $3 flat rate no matter how long you’re there. After 6pm they validate for $6 for four hours. Not bad at all for Waikiki.

    Their happy hour is the best one I know: Drink specials from $3 beers to $7 Stoli martinis and 2 slices of free pizza with every drink purchase. Its Monday-Friday from 3-6pm.

    I think the place is original, especially for all the other big name chains in Beachwalk. My friends and I are all about it. We go for huge breakfasts and bloody marys during football games–they have the satellite sports packages for everything not on regular TV.

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  • October 29, 2008 at 10:54 pm
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    If you want something similar, but better both taste- and price-wise, go out to Brent’s in Kailua. It’s the original – Brent’s owner helped a guy open CJ’s at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, who then opened Giovanni Pastrami. Brent’s’ Reuben is $11.50, comes with cole slaw or potato salad, and they offer free pickles which come in a ceramic container – eat all you want. IMHO, the pickles aren’t that great, but they’re there at least.

    I used to go out there almost weekly to get my fix of corned beef (which is the original and ONLY way a Reuben should be made, BTW), sauerkraut and swiss cheese on rye. Yum!

    Reply

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