For a short time, there was a debate regarding the "Livingston deli's"...and that's fine. I like differing views, opinions, etc., and ultimately it means "more" good food (you would hope, LOL). The Irving's vs. Eppes Essen was the smaller, NJ version of Carnegie vs. Stage (although neither of the NJ establishments are truly an "institution" -- although I think EE is certainly close to it).
When Irving's first opened -- yes, it was "hot" -- it was "the place" as far as deli's go, but Eppes Essen had been around longer, and had an excellent following. I traveled approximately 30 minutes each time I wanted to go to Irving's, and it was worth it...when they first opened. I still went to Eppes Essen though. I could certainly see Irving's taking business from Eppes Essen...again, when Irving's first opened. Based upon Irving's "slipping" and being that it "jumped the shark" so to speak...no, it's not taking business from EE, not any longer, not in my opinion. I don't remember when, but I am going to say somewhere around 2010 or so, Irving's just slipped. I don't know if they "cut corners" or what -- but it changed, and not for the good. Service was cut, quality took a hit, etc. I have not been back to Irving's in a couple of years as the last 3 or 4 times I went, in my opinion, it slipped and suffered.
OK...so on to Eppes Essen...it was excellent...like I said, the best pastrami this side of the Hudson River...We ordered a variety, but I will stick to the standout, popular items, etc.
We started with a potato pancake and the kasha varnishkes...both excellent. My only gripe -- the kv -- while it was very good, those of you who know me, know I don't complain or make an issue about price. Expensive is a relative term. But value is something I do think about. If my memory is correct, the kv, was on the "appetizer" section of the menu, and it was either $11.95 or $12.95...so, like I said, it was very good, but the portion size was small! Very small. For that price, it wasn't enough for two people. I could have easily finished it myself, and still been able to finish my pastrami sandwich as well. Upon placing it down on the table, I was disappointed. It was served with some very good brown gravy. The potato pancake was also very good -- good size, good balance, substantial, and good taste.
On to the main show...the pastrami...it was excellent. In my opinion, you are not finding pastrami this good on this side of the Hudson. I ordered the "extra meat" which I think was $3 more. I don't remember. I don't care. It doesn't matter. LOL. It was superb!!! Absolutely, tastes and likes differ and if you tell me you like Hobby's better, OK, that's fine. Like I've always said, some people like chocolate and some people like vanilla. This pastrami was a "rich" and "red" meat, not overly smokey or greasy. It was an excellent example of what pastrami is in my opinion. It had substance, and was not cut thin at all, yet was like that "melt in your mouth" type of meat. Yes, this was the real deal pastrami. Tell me that they "buy it" from somewhere or someone else, that's fine -- but whatever they are doing from the time it arrives, to the time it hits my plate...they are doing it and doing it right! This wasn't overly fatty, dripping with fat, or stringy, but the fat content gave all the flavor I needed and wanted. It was "done right" in my opinion.
Side notes -- their pickles, both the sour and half sours were very good. The cole slaw was the best I've had in a long time. Both are brought out for the table, and they'll keep bringing it if you want it, LOL. The cole slaw was "fresh" and was a perfect balance between slaw, juice/dressing, etc. Excellent flavor and balance. I really enjoyed it.
After the meal I looked around the deli section -- beautiful cut pieces of turkey were displayed -- the entire breast just cut off, and also more of a quarter size turkey, the breast, leg/drumstick, etc. all in one piece, just sitting out displayed. They looked excellent, browned, done perfectly. Nice selection of cookies, cakes, etc. They had some whole pastramis displayed as well. The corned beef, pastrami, brisket, etc. sell well here -- both in the restaurant and in the deli. I am looking forward to trying the brisket and will talk someone into getting the turkey just so I can try that as well, LOL. The brisket looked excellent and some nearby tables raved about it.
Eppes Essen is probably a 30 minute drive for me...and it doesn't matter...I will go back...often. In my opinion, this is the best deli in Northern NJ, perhaps all of NJ. I still like Hobby's, which is a different experience, and a different kind of pastrami. I still like the Kosher Nosh (which is real deal Kosher) and it's local and convenient for me. But EE is the real deal and I am going back!!!