Long Live Langer’s Deli!

Langer’s Number 19 Pastrami Sandwich

This article appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times – Nicholas Goldberg says it more perfectly than I ever could, so enjoy his ode to 75 years of the institution known as Langer’s Deli!

They’ve been making the world’s best pastrami sandwiches for 75 years. Can they keep it up? BY NICHOLAS GOLDBERG | COLUMNIST JUN 20, 2022 | 3:00 AM LOS ANGELES TIMES

The long, slow decline of the Jewish delicatessen has been bemoaned and lamented for many years. In the early 1930s, there were more than 1,500 kosher delis and many more non-kosher ones in the five boroughs of New York alone, according to city records. In recent years, the estimate fell to 150 in all of North America. That’s why it is a cause for celebration that Langer’s delicatessen, the venerable pastrami emporium on 7th and Alvarado near MacArthur Park, marked another milestone birthday this weekend. The restaurant, which opened with space for 12 customers in June 1947, is now 75 years old. Langer’s is, of course, a Los Angeles institution. In 1991, Jonathan Gold wrote in The Times: “The fact is inescapable: Langer’s probably serves the best pastrami sandwich in America.” In 2002, Nora Ephron went farther, declaring unequivocally in the New Yorker that Langer’s made the finest hot pastrami sandwich in the world. She described it as “soft but crispy, tender but chewy, peppery but sour, smoky but tangy.” And, if I may be so bold, my recent lunch of matzo ball soup and hot pastrami on rye with sauerkraut confirmed — to my satisfaction, anyway — that those assessments still hold. Of course, if you don’t want pastrami, there are alternatives. You can have the corned beef (Mimi Sheraton called it “excellent” in a 42-year-old review that still hangs, fading now, in the restaurant’s window). Or blintzes, kasha varnishkes, latkes, a bowl of borscht or a knish with gravy. For dessert, noodle kugel. I guess you could also order the hamburger or even — don’t tell the ancestors, please — a ham and cheese sandwich. But that would be foolish. Ephron was snide about the decor. “It is decorated, although ‘decorated’ is probably not the word that applies, in tufted brown vinyl,” she wrote. That was 20 years ago, and that’s pretty much how it still looks today. She noted that Langer’s always seems to be just barely hanging on. That’s also still true. The sufferings of Jewish delis over the years have been legion, the challenges monumental: There’s the passing of the shtetl generation and its children. The assimilation of its grandchildren. The dispersal of the Jewish population from the cities to suburbs (and, in the case of Langer’s, from Westlake-MacArthur Park to the San Fernando Valley and the Westside). Rising rents. The climbing costs of ingredients. The tut-tutting of cardiologists everywhere, what with all the fat, carbohydrates and salt. More recently, the COVID closures. And now, a new burst of inflation. The price of a pastrami sandwich at Langer’s rose recently to $22, a number that even its owner, Norm Langer, concedes is meshuga. “Is half a pound of meat, two slices of rye bread and a pickle worth $22?” he asks. “I don’t know. But I’ve got to make ends meet.” When the restaurant first opened, a pastrami sandwich cost about 35 cents. When The Times mentioned the deli in 1973, the price had risen to $1.75. In 2002, it was $8.50. Langer is 77 years old. He says he has no plans to retire. “I get up in the morning, I’ve got to go somewhere,” he says. “Everybody needs a place to go.” The restaurant was opened by his father, Al Langer of Newark, N.J., who’d gotten his start in delis years earlier when his mother sent him to work to raise money to help pay for his $35 bar mitzvah. In 1947, Al was living in L.A., was recently out of the service and had saved $500. He borrowed a few thousand more. In those days, the Westlake-MacArthur Park neighborhood had a big, middle-class Jewish population. At one point the restaurant had so much business it stayed open nights until 3 a.m. Now it closes at 4 p.m. In the 1980s, The Times wrote endless stories about the troubles facing the deli because of the changing neighborhood, including one histrionic article about MacArthur Park headlined “Winos, Dopers, Crime Overrun City Landmark.” But Langer’s hung on. The restaurant got a needed boost in 1993 when Metro’s Red Line opened, with a subway station just a block and a half away. Crowds flocked in from downtown. “I saw 500 people lined up to get into Langer’s and I told Norm, ‘It was worth spending $1.2 billion to keep you in business,’ ” said then-County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a regular. In L.A. today the delis that still exist include Canter’s, which opened in 1931 in Boyle Heights and only later moved to its location on Fairfax. Also Art’s Deli, Nate ’n Al’s and Wexler’s. There’s Brent’s Deli. To name just a few. But they keep closing down. Izzie’s in Santa Monica shut its doors in May. Greenblatt’s in West Hollywood closed in 2021 after 95 years. New delis have opened, in some cases with modern, sustainable or health-conscious twists on the classic cuisine. Less shabby, less irascible, they’re gambling that deli food can be gentrified and rejuvenated. But pastrami, let’s face it, is an acquired taste. So are creamed herring, chicken liver, tongue, whitefish salad and other old country staples. The bagel may be firmly embedded in the American food pantheon, but traditional Ashkenazi deli fare of the sort that flourished in the years after the great Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe is unquestionably endangered. And with it a tangible link to the culinary past. A connection to the forefathers. A piece of the collective culture. The good news is that reports of its extinction have proved premature so far, as Langer’s demonstrates. So rather than rend my garments, I’ll make the most of it while I can (and hope my heart holds out).

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Best Thing I’ve Ever Had at Islands!

I ate something great when I met my husband for a rare weekend lunch out at Islands yesterday.

cheddarfriesThey boast, and truly do have, the #ColdestBeerInTown and they’ve got an amazing menu of burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, tacos, and some truly sinful appetizers.  If you can skip the fries covered in melted cheese and crispy bacon you have far more willpower than I do! #ThisGirlLovesToEat

I sat down at the bar, ordered an ice cold Kona Longboard from the tap,KO_LBL_Pour-with-Bottle_web_204X3771 and glanced at the menu, but was drawn to the bar top menu announcing their limited time specials: Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich and it’s spicy brother  Moa Mauna Loa Crisp the difference between the two being the Moa Kaneohe has bacon, Swiss and a cream cheese ranch spread, while the Moa Mauna Loa has blue cheese crumbles, and Buffalo sauce on it.

What really appealed to me about these chicken sandwiches was that the chicken breasts weren’t just the usual breaded in flour, dropped in oil, & fried, chicken breasts.  These chicken breasts were battered in a lighter tempura batter and then double fried.  I love tempura!

I like blue cheese dressing occasionally, but not on my burgers, and not even with my Buffalo wings.  But a girl can always ask the waitress for some accommodations to her order, right?

So, I ordered the cheddar cheese fries with bacon #IHaveZeroWillPower and then ordered the Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich with it’s crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, chopped red onion, Swiss cheese, cream cheese ranch spread and substituted the spicy chicken breast used in the Moa Mauna Loa: battered in a spicy tempura batter and fried, then added to the sandwich without the blue cheese crumbles, but with an added drizzle of the Buffalo sauce.

islandssandwich

It came out and people around me asked what I was eating…it was pretty darn impressive. Trying to figure out how I was going to get my mouth around it, I cut it in half and found that the breast was incredibly tender and juicy. Not only was it impressive to look at, it was cooked perfectly, and it was the right combination of fresh, creamy & spicy!

The manager was serving tables and stopped to ask if I liked my sandwich.  I told him I was loving it and commented it should always be on the menu.  He said they actually fry the breasts twice, which is why the sandwiches stay on the menu for such a limited time, the cooks complain they have to spend more time on them.  Knowing that, I’m even more impressed that they can keep the breasts from overcooking.

I give #2BigThumbsUp to the Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich and Moa Mauna Loa Crisp Chicken Sandwich at Islands Restaurant.  I’m not sure how much longer they will be on the menu, but if you get a chance go to Islands and try them!

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Great New Irvine Restaurant

konagrilllogoThe giant space that the Irvine Improv formerly occupied, next to the Yard House in the Irvine Spectrum, has been vacant for, what feels like, forever!  There has been a giant green construction fence with a poster proclaiming, “Coming Soon Kona Grill” and I have been dying for the new restaurant to open.  This week my wish was finally granted.

Described in the press as having a “global menu of contemporary American favorites, award-winning sushi, and specialty cocktails – all freshly prepared in a scratch kitchen,” this is a restaurant that sounds like it would be right up my alley.

Their lunch menu was HUGE:  A full sushi bar with a very big and diverse variety of rolls (unlike other local sushi restaurants, NOT ALL BASED ON TOP OF A CALIFORNIA ROLL!),  creative appetizers, the dish everyone who works here seems to like: Macadamia Nut Chicken, to Spicy Shrimp Tempura, BBQ Chicken Flatbread, burgers, sandwiches, pasta and even steaks.  They also have separate menus for Vegans, Vegetarians, Children, and those with Gluten intolerance.  Do be prepared when you get the check – it was pretty pricey for lunch.

The restaurant is very open with lots of TVs scattered about so you don’t miss the latest sporting events, 3 big fish tanks, a fully visible kitchen & sushi bar behind glass, fire places, a patio and very well designed bar. Both the General Manager and Manager stopped by our table to check in, chat about the Angel game that was on TV, and even talk about hockey as the GM’s Philadelphia Flyers and my Los Angeles Kings are both currently in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The wait staff was friendly, attentive and efficient and I will definitely be back.

cucumbermojitoDid I mention the cocktails yet? They have the traditional cocktail selections, martinis, mojitos, beer, wine, and Sake, but I was really impressed with their variety of specialty cocktails.  I went with a very refreshing (very tall) mojito made with cucumber, mint and Effen Vodka.  It SO hit the spot that I texted a picture of the drink to two girlfriends who joined me after my business lunch and we threw back a “few.” With happy hour from 3:00 – 7:00 and again from 7:00 – 10:00, this will definitely be a happening cocktail spot!

My only complaint about the restaurant was that, although I checked in for my reserved table and was seated by the hostess, they reported to OpenTable.com that I was a no-show for my reservation.  If that’s the only bad thing someone can say about a new restaurant, then I think they’ve got a great shot at making it!

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Lunch at Brio Tuscan Grille

brio-3-color-logoI love business lunches and today’s was one of the best I’ve had in quite a while!

Because I could make a reservation ahead of time (and earn more points toward free dining) using my OpenTable App, I tried a restaurant that I’ve never been to before, Brio Tuscan Grille in the Irvine Spectrum entertainment, shopping and dining center in Irvine, CA.

The restaurant was a great choice because they are located near the valet, on the outside edge of the center, have a wide variety of  foods to choose from, a daily chef’s choice menu, a gluten free menu, as well as a selection of lighter Italian dishes so we all could enjoy our meals completely.

I started with a glass of Zig Zag Zinfandel to toast the partnership we were celebrating.  The nose was a warm welcoming plum with a touch of vanilla.  The body and flavor were bold but not too overpowering for my lunch selections.

I was a really good girl and stayed away from the bread basket that taunted me with the intoxicating scent of warm sourdough baguettes, breadsticks and cheese crisps.

My first course was the 150 Calorie Chopped Salad.  I only ate half of it, but I loved the lightness of the chopped greens, cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, Feta cheese and lightly dressed with Italian vinaigrette.  I didn’t want to overeat, having ordered the main course off of the Light Menu that our waiter highly recommended:  Shrimp Mediterranean.

I devoured every last morsel!  Atop a bed of orzo farro pilaf, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, plum tomatoes, and Feta cheese lay 5 perfectly grilled large shrimp that were drizzled with a delicious pesto vinaigrette.  Magnifico!!

At 470 calories with 17 grams of fat, 43 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fiber and a whopping 35 grams of protein, I was satisfied, but not uncomfortably full.

Others I dined with ate from the light menu (Grilled Salmon Fresca) and the gluten free menu (Pasta Brio) and gave very enthusiastic thumbs up reviews to their choices.

A well deserved shout out to the bartender is in order as well.  One of my companions ordered the Raspberry Mojito.  The drink was beautiful and the raspberries that were skewered atop the drink were huge, ripe and delicious (I got to eat the fruit!),

If you have a Brio Tuscan Grille near you, it is definitely worth a visit.   Lunch for 4 with 3 of us having 1 drink plus iced tea all around came to $162.  Not a lunch for those dining on a budget to be sure, and I would expect dinner to be half again as much per person, but certainly worth a splurge when dining for a special occasion or if you are looking to impress someone with great food, great service and a fun atmosphere.  One drawback is that the high ceilings and echo off of the hard surfaces make the restaurant quite loud during it’s busiest hours.

2014_brio_nkh_fb_cover_image_v2Another definite plus for dining at Brio Tuscan Grill is their participation in and support of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America.  Their Founding Chef Phil Yandolino and the entire Bravo-Brio Restaurant Chain participate in this very important charitable organization.  You can follow #TeamNKH on Twitter @nokidhungry.  For a list of restaurants participating in September #dineout month in support of No Kid Hungry visit http://www.nochildhungry.org.

Not only did I enjoy a great meal, but I contributed to the cause! #TeamNKH

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