A Chef-Driven, Neighborhood Pastrami Stand - Johnny's West Adams (+ Impromptu Pastrami Battle! Langer's vs. Johnny's vs. Brent's Deli vs. Ugly Drum) [Thoughts + Pics]
Edit: I guess I’ll stick to Langers if I want pastrami. That knish does look good! That is also one good looking salad too! For smoky flavor though I think Ugly Drum is really good and most exemplify this style (Texas BBQ meets Jewish Deli?).
Thanks for the report!
WOW! Pastrami is one of my faves so I was curious about Johnny’s, but I think your two visits there convinced me to stick to Langer’s.
Your posts always make me feel like I’ve gone on an incredible food journey. Your dedication is much appreciated!
I would say if you were in the area, definitely give Johnny’s a try. But for the Texas BBQ meets Jewish Deli-style that you’re talking about, yah, Ugly Drum’s last version we tried at Smorgasburg (with Bub and Grandma’s Sourdough Bread (made fresh that morning)), was definitely better. If Ugly Drum reverts back to using that terrible Bread they used early on, then Johnny’s is better for that style.
But if you just want great Pastrami and had one place to go?
Wonderful write up and pictures as always! I love that you give places a number of trials before your verdict.
You are correct in your assessment of butter not belonging in a matzo ball. The traditional fat is schmaltz.
Thank you! I would say if you love Pastrami in general and want to seek out different places, then give Johnny’s a try. Otherwise if you just want to stick with the best, then stick with Langer’s.
Johnny’s is a very rich, heavy, fatty version that if you can handle it, will probably be enjoyable. But, even as it is now, Johnny’s is probably a Top 5 or Top 10 Pastrami in L.A.
Old school Jew here (except for my love of Christmas and pork)
@Chowseeker1999, since you tagged me I’ll throw in my 2¢
I am definitely not a fan of heavily smoked pastrami. @JeetKuneBao has it correct saying it’s Jewish meets Texas. That was my whole problem with Wexler‘s. I’d have to go in pretending I’m having smoked brisket.
Brent’s, I had a takeout sandwich once and decided from then on, hot sandwiches are eaten there. Their fries have always been perfectly cooked… dining in. I am a bit surprised you say their bread was dry because I have never found it like that at all in any of my hot sandwich orders.
Love knishes. potato knishes aren’t my favorite, but i have yet to find a decent one in LA. I prefer kasha or meat. I like the taste of Brent’s meat knish but the pastry is just not quite right.
And as for your question about butter in the matzoh ball. That is totally a sin. For your oil you either use chicken schmaltz, or some neutral flavor oil. I can see butter being extremely offensive. I would be curious though to hear if their matzo balls are always hard. My mother who was a matzoh ball expert, occasionally had batches were they came out just too dense. It wasn’t often but it did happen. Me, I found the secret to never having a dense matzoh ball.
Dill, when used in Jewish chicken soup is used only to enhance. Shouldn’t be a prominent flavor. I know they are trying to elevate… but… no.
Thank you for the report!! Over how many days did you eat at these places (nevermind, I’m sure you do not want to give away your trade secrets) ?
Thanks! You are too kind.
Thanks for the info!
Yes, that’s a great way to put it! We definitely felt like we were eating Texas-style BBQ instead of a traditional Pastrami Sandwich.
For Brent’s, oh, yah, we were surprised as well! We always dine in at Brent’s, but this was our first time doing Takeout, and it seemed like they were just overloaded (but a blessing as well), there was a line of customers (socially distanced) waiting for their food.
So I’m going to chalk it up to an off day / super busy. When we dined in at Brent’s (the 4 - 5 times we’ve been), the Rye Bread has been softer and not dryish like this visit.
Have you been able to get their Black Pastrami Reuben for Takeout yet? I’m wondering if yours came out freshly toasted (not steamed by accident in the Takeout container)? I’ll definitely be back to enjoy Brent’s dining in when it’s safe again.
Re: Matzoh Ball Soup - Thanks for the insight! Yes, I figured that was the cause. While I didn’t grow up eating Kosher, hanging out with my Jewish friends and other friends around L.A., I’ve never had a version with Butter and it really tasted wrong. It was so unnecessary and the flavors just felt off.
I hope you get to try Langer’s Deli one of these days (and it’s near Superfine Pizza)!
I won’t get toasty or grilled hot sandwiches to go unless I can eat them immediately, I stopped that a few years ago as you experienced they just don’t travel well. I may have to make an exception for Langers.
My wife went to Brent’s after the lockdown started and got a pastrami Reuben and corned beef rueben. They were not doing sides and only giving the cole slaw and charging the same price as usual… She said hers didn’t travel all that great, the kid doesn’t care as long as there’s meat LOL. She agreed we wait until we can dine in… someday.
BTW, Brent’s does a pretty good stuffed cabbage and their fish platters are awesome. Those travel well.
Man, that would be an insane bang x2. Damn… I know, I know.
BTW, @ebethsdad and I have discussed our love for schmaltz. My grandfather, olav ha-sholom, would spread it on rye ends like butter LOL!
I digress. There’s nothing better for matzo balls. When I make stock or soup, I refrigerate overnight to skim the hardened schmaltz and freeze in baggies for sautéing onions for kasha or making matzo balls.
Using butter is a shanda.
That sounds amazing! Spreading schmaltz on Rye like it was butter.
Thanks for the tips on Brent’s other dishes. And yes, maybe you can make the drive to Langer’s before schools and sports come back to make traffic even worse.
Oh crap. You don’t realize how much we goyim love Jewish culture! I save the fat and skin from whole chickens to make schmaltz - and gribenes. Gribenes sprinkled on salad…heaven.
My grandfathers were named Harry Else and Francis Goodrich. Can we just admit that Olav Ha-Shalom is a little more poetic?
My friend, Peter Reinhart, rhapodizes about the schmaltz on rye bread with corned beef he had as a child. I never tasted schmaltz until I was in my 50s.
BTW rendered chicken fat makes much tastier schmaltz than that skimmed off a stockpot.
At any rate here is a great matzo ball soup recipe, The Best Matzo Ball Soup Recipe
You should know Olav Ha-Shalom ( Olav Hadhalom) is something you say when speaking of the deceased. It’s like saying “may he Rest In Peace.”
My grandpa’s name was Lou
My grandmother and mom would’ve shot me if I used baking powder. They would consider that a cheat LOL. That’s for delis to use.
My trick that I’ve learned over my many years, is I separate the yolks from the whites and beat the hell out of the whites until they’re stiff. I fold them back in as last ingredient.
I love that you eat gribenes!!!
Okay I don’t know Yiddish. It is the most onomatopoetic language ever.
I don’t use baking powder.
I love gribenes!
!!! It took me a second to realize Gribenes = Crispy Chicken Skin, and you put it on a Salad! That sounds wonderful.
Do you have a recipe for Gribenes and Schmaltz? Thanks.
I use the technique from Michael Ruhlman’s book, “The Book of Schmaltz”, https://www.amazon.com/Book-Schmaltz-Love-Song-Forgotten/dp/0316254088/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2BNIBFEGIUZBB&dchild=1&keywords=the+book+of+schmaltz&qid=1593977547&sprefix=the+book+of+schmal%2Caps%2C314&sr=8-1. I can’t really call it a recipe.
Chop chicken fat and skin finely (it helps if it is almost frozen). Add a little water and render it down. When all the moisture has evaporated add a little chopped onion. Continue rendering until the solids are nicely browned, but the liquid fat is still yellow. That’s it.
Both gribenes and schmaltz can be frozen. The schmaltz will keep for some time if not frozen but it loses the lovely overtones of onion after a few days.
There are some videos on YouTube that show the process, but I can’t really recommend any of them.
Thanks so much @ebethsdad!
Lastly, do you have any local recommendations on where to pick up chicken fat and skin? I don’t remember seeing this at, say, Whole Foods. Or do you just take it from a whole chicken (and cook the rest of the chicken in other recipes)? Thanks!
I use trimmings from whole chickens and save it in the freezer until I have enough to make it worthwhile as the process of making schmaltz is easy but time consuming. I don’t know of anyplace to just buy skin and fat, although you might be able to ask a butcher to save it for you.
Good luck with it and please post about it when you do make some!
My recommendation is to get a pack of Chicken Thighs. They usually have extra skin & bits of fat on them and are easy to “peel”. Also there are butchers and Jewish markets that do sell schmaltz…