sorry, Katz

I have often read about, heard about, but never actually eaten at LA landmark Langer’s Deli near MacArthur Park. I knew it was an institution, serving up hearty breakfasts and old school deli sandwiches since 1947. I even lived a few blocks away for a few years but have never taken a gander inside. But after whetting my appetite for a good pastrami sandwich while reading about my beloved Katz’s Deli’s west coast appearance this weekend at the Great American Food and Music Festival down in Mountain View, I was a-hankerin’. I also wanted to take my parents out to an old school restaurant they haven’t been to in a while so Langer’s was the obvious choice.

The MacArthur Park area is historic (formally called Westlake Park before WWII) and really quite beautiful and lively in the day – people picnicking in the park, couples milling about the lake, street vendors selling corn on the cob with mayo, and fake ID cards, store fronts hawking colorful t-shirts hanging in the windows like pinatas (and actual pinatas, too), families out shopping crowd the sidewalks, ethnic foods permeate the air. But at night, the sinister comes out. When the sun goes down, MacArthur Park turns into a haven for drug dealing and gang activity. When I lived in that hood, I dared not venture outside alone at night. Police helicopters buzzing by our loft was a nightly occurrence. Sirens blared and blended in with the sounds of buses, car horns, and mariachi music. And for these reasons I can only assume, Langer’s closes at 4:00 PM daily, open only for breakfast and lunch.

Once you step off of bustling Alvarado Boulevard and into the oasis of the deli, there is an immediate sense of brightness and calm. You suddenly feel like you’re not in downtown LA. You could be in a deli in Santa Monica. Or Encino. (But definitely not on the east coast.) Management has kindly put a large Purell dispenser by the front door, in case you feel the need to clean the street off your hands. The host smiles and greets you. The wait staff in their crisp white dress shirts all seem happy, chatting with the customers and amongst themselves. The tables, booths, and floor look squeaky clean. We sit down and peruse the extensive menu, though I already know what I want – the #19 – pastrami on rye with cole slaw, swiss cheese and “Russian-style” dressing. Dad orders the French dip pastrami, Mom gets an omelet.

Within the next few minutes after our food arrives, three things happen that absolutely floor me – grabbing the rug right out from under me and knock me on my butt.

  1. Dad sprinkles black pepper on his bowl of cottage cheese.

  2. Dad places an order of Hungarian goulash to-go.

  3. #19

Now, I have known my dad for over 40 years. All my life, in fact. I must have seen him eat cottage cheese a hundred times. But I have never, EVER, seen him put pepper on his cottage cheese. “I do it all the time!” he said, after I questioned him about his choice of seasoning a dish I would never think to season in the first place. (Later after regaling a few friends of this, I found it to be a perfectly normal way of turning simple cottage cheese into something savory. Who knew? I certainly didn’t.)

Along the same “Dad, I never knew!” lines, I don’t ever recall hearing him mumbling the word, “Hungarian,” let alone “goulash,” for that matter. Ever. “I love it! Restaurants just don’t have it on their menu so I never get to order it.” Okay, good rationale. But still…

Lastly, if you know me or have read my writings, you know how much I adore Katz’s Deli in New York. Their pastrami to me is heaven on rye. Never a NYC trip goes by without a visit. From the moment I step off of Houston and into this infamous deli, I swoon. Eating Katz’s pastrami has always been a religious experience to me. It is (okay, was) the end all, be all, of sandwiches. No other came close to giving me pure cured meat eating pleasure. Until I met #19. A sandwich is only as good as the sum of its parts, and let me tell you, stacking their seasoned, juicy pastrami on top of crunchy cole slaw layered with a thick slice of swiss cheese between soft rye bread that’s been slathered with Russian dressing, equals the gawd damnest bestest pastrami sandwich, quite possibly, that will ever pass these carnivorous lips. Meat by meat, the two delis’ are quite the same on my tastometer, and although I’d take Katz’s light rye over the Langer’s standard, putting together all the ingredients, the  #19 forges ahead as gfork’s Sandwich King.  Sorry, Katz’s.



3 Comments on “sorry, Katz”

  1. Howard June 22, 2009 at 15:40 #

    Cheese on a pastrami sandwich? That’s just not kosher. You goyim are weird. Rye bread, deli mustard, pastrami, deli mustard, rye bread. It’s like a palindrome. Okay the cole slaw does sound good I’ll admit, but still..

  2. Den August 28, 2009 at 9:15 #

    Okay, now I must go to Langer’s immediately. Too hungry, can barely type.


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