Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Venerable Pastrami Sandwich



 Most New Yorkers think those of us over here on the West Coast, and California in particular, don't know from pastrami, and maybe they're right. In California, nine out of ten times, when someone mentions the word pastrami, the first thing that pops into his or her head is a big fat French roll filled with mounds of sliced pastrami, mustard and pickles, and of course the roll is soaked with the juices and can be quite messy. A New Yorker would just as soon jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, into the East River, in winter, than eat a pastrami sandwich in any thing other than good honest rye bread. Still, this is how we like them in the Los Angeles area, and this is the way we get them at places like Rick's, Arry's and the Hat. Then there is The Grinder Haven, a little further east in Ontario, where their pastrami is served up as a grinder/hoagie sandwich and has a taste all it's own.

Maybe the truest Jewish deli pastrami can be found at Langer's, in the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles or Cantor's in the Fairfax District, or Art's Deli over in Studio City which is reputed to have the best pastrami sandwich in Southern California.

Now I don't claim to be an expert in all things pastrami and I grew up eating the typical California pastrami, which is a beautiful thing but I have also come to love the deli version - maybe I'm just easy - and maybe it's just a matter of taste. I am, at best,  what you would call an highly enthusiastic eater or a lover of good food. I have been to New York only once and I have had a pastrami at Carnegie’s. I understand that the best place to get a pastrami on rye is at Katz on Houston St. I never made it past Carnegie’s. To this day, Carnegie’s pastrami is the best and the biggest I've had. I have been searching the west coast ever since.

Why do I bring all this up? A few days ago my wife Jeri and I were walking along Harbor Blvd in downtown Fullerton, looking for some antique shops that we had been to a few years back. They were either closed or gone. Now, I should tell you that when it comes to food I have a built in radar system that scans the area all on it's own and immediately detects the foods that I love, either for future reference or immediate consumption, which as you probably know by now, pretty much covers everything.

I saw a sign that said Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen and I immediately walked up to the window where a menu was posted and saw these words “World Famous New York Pastrami”. Well, you can Imagine my reaction! I began salivating as I scanned the menu. Everything just sounded so New York. My wife says to me “Do you want to eat here?” I smiled and said “Only if you do!” I was lying of course, I was going to go in no matter what. I ordered the “I Love (Heart) New York” Sandwich (pastrami and corned beef) on rye and a macaroni salad. Jeri got a Nathan's hot dog.

I could not contain myself but still I sat down and waited.  A little while later my patience was rewarded when my sandwich was placed in front of me. I removed the wrapper from my sandwich and … and .. Huh!!  The oddest looking rye bread was grilled as in a Reuben Sandwich, which is fine if I was eating a Reuben sandwich. I looked over at the menu and there was nothing to indicate the bread was going to be grilled. The meat - there was not much meat - looked over cooked and burnt on the edges. I was not hopeful. Still, I am by nature an optimistic person and took my first bite. The meat was overly salty and otherwise tasteless.

Okay, I was disappointed but said nothing. Jeri looked at me and asked “How is it? Still trying to be upbeat and optimistic I said “It's okay”. How's your hot dog?” I asked her back. “It's okay”. So now I'm thinking, is she trying to be upbeat and optimistic too? Remembering the old rating scale from the days when I regularly wrote reviews for, I asked her “On a scale one to five, where would you place it. “A  four, definitely a four.” A few seconds later, no a three” “You?” she asked “I'll give a three. I continued eating but now I was getting irritated. “No! I'm giving it a two” I took another bite and downgraded it to a one. I'm ashamed to say that I ate most of it but I did.

Walking back to the car Jeri hears me mumbling, “You need to stop cussing!” I'm not cussing I’m mumbling to myself!” “Well you need to stop. You need to let it go!”

The venerable pastrami sandwich. I think both California and New York took a hit on this one!

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