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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Artichokes With Roasted Garlic Wine Dip

home-artichokeI love living in Southern California where there is the availability of local fruits and vegetables in the stores, as well as what is trucked and flown in from around the country and from other parts of the world, pretty much year-round.  It really makes cooking and eating fun! #ThisGirlLovesToEat 

One of the few things that I do have to be patient for are artichokes.  Nowhere grows them as big and meaty as we do in California.  In fact, 99.99% of all commercially grown artichokes are grown in California. 

CAF_fest_logo-2017Since I happen to love them, it’s a pretty good thing that Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom named artichokes the Official State Vegetable of California on April 10, 2013.  Artichokes from California are so fabulous that they’ve had their own festival for the past 56 years: Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival.

Some people dip their leaves in mayonnaise (which makes me want to gag), others in various aiolis, dips or other concoctions, but I’ve been a ridiculous creature of habit for as long as I can remember, eating my artichokes one way and one way only: dipping each succulent leaf into a bowl of melted butter.  Occasionally I may deviate in the preparation of the steam that surrounds my artichoke, adding some white wine, maybe some garlic or some lemon to the water, but I never deviate on my buttery leaf bath.  Until now.

This long forgotten recipe I’d clipped from the May 2007 edition of Cooking Light Magazine convinced me to change my ways (at least temporarily).

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Artichokes With Roasted Garlic Wine Dip

  • 2 whole garlic heads
  • 4 medium artichokes (about 3 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup organic vegetable broth (such as Swanson Certified Organic)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  1. Preheat Oven to 400° F.
  2. Remove white papery skin from garlic heads (do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap each head separately in foil. Bake at 400° F for 45 minutes; cool 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.
  3. Cut off stems of artichokes, and remove bottom leaves. Trim about 1/2 inch from tops of artichokes. Place artichokes, stem ends down, in a large Dutch oven filled two-thirds with water; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until a leaf near the center of each artichoke pulls out easily. Remove artichokes from pan.
  4. Combine half of garlic pulp and wine in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes. Add broth; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 8 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in butter and salt. Pour mixture into a blender; add remaining half of garlic pulp. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Sprinkle dip with parsley, if desired. Serve dip with warm artichokes.

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Ceviche Style Shrimp Cocktail

cevstyshrcockIt may be starting to look like fall in the East, but here in Southern California, we’re getting ready for another 80°+ weekend.  It’s late September, and I’m not complaining.

With any luck, I’ll be out of my cast (fingers crossed), my stitches will come out of the four incisions on my foot, and I’ll be able to spend all day Sunday floating in my pool, catching some rays and we’ll BBQ a steak, some fresh asparagus, and some sweet potatoes for dinner.

Well before dinner though, I’m absolutely going to have a couple of these shrimp cocktails (thanks for the recipe Pampered Chef) prepared and ready to have for lunch while I’m lounging!

Ceviche Style Shrimp Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 1 pound shelled, deveined, large cooked shrimp, diced (21-25 per pound)
  • 1/2 medium seedless cucumber, diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced and quartered red onion
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium avocado
  • Coarse salt, lime slices and whole shrimp (optional)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
 Directions
  1. Combine shrimp, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeño pepper and salt in mixing bowl; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate up to 1 hour before serving.
  2. Immediately before serving, dice avocado and fold gently into shrimp mixture. If desired, rub the rims of four margarita glasses with one lime slice, then dip into shallow dish of coarse salt; spoon salad into glasses. Garnish with lime slices and whole shrimp.

Tip:

 For the best texture, do not prepare this recipe more than 1 hour in advance. Once combined with the acidic lime juice, the shrimp will begin to firm up and eventually become tough and rubbery.

Nutrients per serving:

Calories 200, Total Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 1.5 g, Cholesterol 220 mg, Carbohydrate 8 g, Protein 26 g, Sodium 550 mg, Fiber 5 g

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Poolside Valentine’s Day BBQ

elm-131167-Valentines-Day-1
Happy Valentine’s Day From Sunny Southern California

The threats and warnings of the “Fury” and strength of the approaching El Nino has, so far, failed to materialize in Southern California.  A week and a half ago we were seeing colder than normal temperatures in the mid-50’s followed by last weekend’s mid to high 70’s and then this week’s high 80’s to mid 90’s.  I had barely gotten the dust off of my boots & sweaters and had to dig my spring clothes back out to keep from sweating my ass off while visiting customers this week!

I am neither gloating or complaining, I would just really like the weather to make a decision.  I have a great fireplace in the living room (and another one out by the BBQ island), but it just hasn’t been cold enough to justify lighting them.  In fact, it’s been so warm and sunny that I turned the heater back on in the pool and invited a single girlfriend & her kids over to catch some rays and barbeque by the pool for Valentine’s Day.

Instead of making reservations for brunch we put together a menu that would need minimal prep, have no gluten and be able to be cooked & served in the backyard.

Backyard Bloody Marys:

  • Pour 1 1/2 to 2 ounces Tito’s or Smirnoff 21 Vodka (both are Gluten Free) into a glass (or in this case, red Solo cup) filled with ice
  • Fill the rest of the cup up with a homemade mix comprised of: Low Sodium V-8, a splash or two of juice from a jar of martini olives, a dash of your favorite hot sauce (we used Frank’s Red Hot), a dash or two of Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, a bit of fresh-full strength horseradish, an a dash of A-1 Steak Sauce.
  • Garnished with a slice of crisp bacon, a stalk of celery, a peeled mini carrot, a thick ring of red bell pepper, and a skewer with sweet peppers, onions, and pepperocini

The BBQ was kept busy with:

Two simple side dishes allowed us to spend a couple of hours absorbing some natural Vitamin D, courtesy of our friend The Sun!

  • A salad of sliced English cucumber, halved plum tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, 2 TBLS light sour cream, a dash or two red wine vinegar, freshly ground pepper and some garlic salt
  • Chunks of cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple, thinly sliced Kiwi, fresh blueberries and a few whole strawberries

All in all a great day!

Weather forecasters promise that we will still be seeing the long promised “Godzilla” rain storms of El Nino, the storms are just taking their sweet time.  Weather experts are “expecting a conveyor belt of squalls to enter stage left in late February and continue through March, possibly into April. This is a month or so later than original predictions for heavy rains.”  In the meantime I will enjoy a few more days with the top down on my car and the ability to tan myself back from the brink of pale-dom before I have to hunker down in sweaters and rain boots.

Are you on Facebook?  You might be interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to: recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water. I may not write a blog post every day, but there are daily updates to my This Girl Loves To Eat community at: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood