On pastrami and Los Angeles

Here at LA Observed we like to be thought of as getting to the meat of many issues. So, following up on last week's birthday for Langer's, here's an excerpt from author Christopher Meeks' Maplewood Mirror e-mail newsletter for June:

I’ve always hated pastrami much in the same way that my stepdaughter, Ellen, age eight, now hates many foods including eggs, peas, and my favorite, artichokes with hollandaise. The other day when my wife, Ann, came home with sausages stuffed with mango, Ellen’s response: “No way.”

Thus when I was driving around Los Angeles recently and I saw yet another sign promising world famous pastrami, I had to ask myself why did I hate pastrami?

To me, pastrami has always been just cheap fatty meat injected with so much pepper and spices that its natural color has been leached to look like pink Play-Doh. When I’ve eaten pastrami in the past, I’ve felt jittery from all the additives the way I do in eating cut-rate hot dogs or driving through the City of Industry on a smoggy day. In fact, pastrami seems to me like vivisected slices of unexercised cow run through dry cleaning fluid—but that’s just me. Clearly there are people who love pastrami. Otherwise, why are there so many places promising the best? Hey, it’s world famous.

So, with echoes of my telling Ellen, “Eat just two bites—you might like it,” I decided to find the best world’s-best pastrami in this city. I’d try to keep an open mind. On the Internet, I found much discussion of where the best pastrami here is, including a thread on www.chowhound.com. With hundreds of opinions, three names kept popping up often enough: The Hat in Pasadena (and other locations), Johnnie’s Pastrami in Culver City, and Langer’s at Seventh and Alvarado downtown. I decided one of them had to hold the Holy Grail of Pastrami. Maybe I could come to like the best...

According to the Food Network, Los Angeles became part of pastrami history in the 1940s where, in an attempt to keep pastrami from drying out, people began to put the pastrami into a French roll and dip it in gravy. They called it a "Pastrami Dip."

Excerpt of one man's ratings after the jump. But, really, it wasn't close:

For $6.49, The Hat’s pastrami comes as a pastrami dip on a French roll with mustard and slices of pickle inside. Rye, wheat, or sourdough bread are optional. I bought it and bit into the hugely generous mound of meat in a very soft roll, and, hey, it wasn’t as spicy as I remembered. Still, part of me was saying, "Ugh. Pastrami."

[snip]

The next day for lunch, I drove twenty-one miles to Johnnie’s Pastrami in Culver City on Sepulveda, not far from Sony Studios. The place shares a parking lot with Tito’s Tacos, one of the more famous places in Los Angeles for tacos, subject for another article. For $9.75, I received Johnnie’s Famous Hot Pastrami on a French roll with mustard....The first thing I noticed about my sandwich was it was steaming, and I asked the waitress, “Is the meat boiled or steamed?” She pondered a moment and said, “It’s cured.” That made the man next to me laugh.

[snip]

Imagine the difference between the prime rib you get at Lawry’s and the roast beef you get at Arby’s. They’re both moist and come from the meat family, but they’re two different things. The same is true between Langer’s pastrami and its other two competitors’. If you want price, go to The Hat. If you want a cute ambiance—the outdoor patios are great—go to Johnnie’s (which is also open to 2:30 a.m. every day). If you want quality, you have to go downtown. The pastrami may be good enough to draw people from Temecula if not Tierra del Fuego.


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