Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. Prices: It's hard to find anything over $2.25.
Somebody should enshrine Pastrami Scott's in the Smithsonian soon, before a new office building flattens it. Not because of the food -- for that can you really say about the food, these two-buck grilled cheese and BLT sandwiches and hamburgers and chili? They're okay, as far as they go, nothing memorable -- but because Pastrami Scott's is a cultural landmark.
This place has been a local institution of sorts (under one name or another) for at least 27 years, judging from the fact that Fran, the round cook, says she's been cooking here at least that long -- considerably longer than her son and nephew, who help behind the counter, seem to have been alive.
Everybody knows her; they could tell we were strangers not so much because they hadn't seen us before but because we didn't know her name.
The restaurant used to be a gas station, which explains why you have to go outdoors and turn left when you want to go to the bathroom. But at heart it's a diner, with reddish-pink plastic counter and red vinyl-covered stools, a half a dozen booths and dark wood-paneled walls. There's an eclectic assortment of decorations, including framed New Yorker magazine covers and football pennants and farmer-type caps. A pot holder next to the kitchen says Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted. On This Spot in 1897, another proclaims, Nothing Happened.
As for the food, it isn't exactly the sort of cuisine you can describe with poetic metaphors and similes. The menu has less than two dozen possibilities, ranging from very good, crunchy potato salad with celery seed (cheapest item, 75 cents) to sirloin strip steak and cheese sandwich (most expensive item, $4.75), a too-thin but crusty sandwich steak piled with plenty of fried onions.
Best choices: the $1.95 bowl of chili, with lots of beans and a nice tang, which you should order with, and slather all over, a long $2 "Nathan's" hot dog; the sirloin cheese bacon burger, which you should order rare or it will be too chewy, covered with a handful of thick slabs of bacon; Texas Beef Bar-B-Q, little tender chunks of pork on a soft hamburger roll with coleslaw; and Pastrami Scott's namesake, a warm pastrami sandwich on crusty dark rye. Tastes good, but the pastrami has too much fat.
If you have any sense of tradition, you'll order a Tall Neck Lone Star from among the surprisingly long list of beers (which also includes Moosehead and Beck); otherwise get a cheap pitcher of draft (there's wine too).
Fran doesn't make the desserts here but there's a very dark, very moist chocolate cake, with a fat ribbon of chocolate frosting in the middle; tradition says you have to down it with a big carton of cold whole milk.
Pastrami Scott's serves breakfast every morning except Sunday from 8 to 11, with plenty of cheap grits and chip beef and home fries and country ham. If we lived closer the place might become a habit.