A corned beef Rueben has about a pound of meat...

A corned beef Rueben has about a pound of meat at Five High Marketplace in Huntington on March 19. Credit: Newsday/Priscila Korb-Kane

How did a pastrami sandwich become the biggest food buzz on Long Island? It all started in Huntington, at the new convenience store Five High Marketplace.

Beyond the bare-bones racks of potato chips and soda fridges a wooden block on the front counter has a hunk of what looks like Texas barbecued brisket. It's actually pastrami, prepared from a 120-year-old Polish and Romanian recipe that was passed down to owner Ben Zelouf. 

The 36-hour process includes brining, pickling, smoking, steaming and boiling the navel of the cow.

“The meat is treated very well before it's served,” Zelouf said. “There's a lot of love that goes into it, a lot of labor, a lot of work.” 

Five High Marketplace owner Ben Zelouf makes his pastrami fresh...

Five High Marketplace owner Ben Zelouf makes his pastrami fresh every day. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

Zelouf, who described himself as Jewish of Middle Eastern descent, grew up in Great Neck and pursued a career in finance in Austin, Texas. On a recent trip back home to Long Island, he and a friend were hanging out at Besito Mexican restaurant up the street and stopped into the previous convenience store. Zelouf made a disparaging comment about the store's appearance and the former owner, overhearing, challenged him to take it over. 

“He's like, 'If you think you could do it better, come and take it from me,' ” Zelouf said. “So we pretty much bought it, but it happened by accident.” 

Zelouf moved back home to renovate the shop in December with the idea of turning it into an upscale convenience store with a salad bar and fresh smoothies. A family friend gave him the pastrami recipe, and he decided to try that out and see what happened. It was only a matter of time until the social media influencers caught on thus began the onslaught of viral pastrami reels on Instagram. 

Zelouf's sandwich ($22.95) is a looker: The pastrami is so tender that it can't be put through a slicer, so it's hand-carved for each customer's preference of fattiness and width. The pieces are much thicker and juicier than typical pastrami, with a more pronounced bark.

Eating the sandwich is messy, as the rye bread doesn't do a great job of holding it all in, so pieces will fall out and get fat and mustard all over your hands. Not to mention, the place doesn't have any tables, aside from a small bar counter with a few chairs by the front window. Still, it's a standout pastrami with some of the most tender beef to be had. 

Zelouf also prepares his own corned beef, which you can get on a Reuben sandwich ($22.95), but its meat is leaner and less complex in flavor than the pastrami. There are also Italian sandwiches like the Alfonso's Hero ($14.95) with Italian cold cuts and fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers. A decent sandwich but not destination-worthy. 

Despite the higher price tag that initially led some customers to scoff, Zelouf said he's been having trouble keeping up with demand. 

“The guys are showing up at 4 a.m. to start cooking for lunch. I can't make it fast enough during the day. It takes so much time,” he said. “During lunchtime, we're in the kitchen as well, cooking some more for dinnertime. I could sell out two times in a day, easily.” 

Five High Marketplace, 5 High St., Huntington, 631-377-5444, instagram.com/fivehighmarketplace. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 

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