"It's not much but it's ours"

Monday, January 11, 2010


A quick lunch with my new chum Brent, officially the coolest man in Los Angeles, saw us bundle up outside another long time L.A. institution, Johnnie’s Pastrami, in Culver City.

Open for over half a century, Johnnie’s claims that its fixtures and fittings, and indeed some of their servers, have been there since the day it opened. As the name suggests, the speciality of the house is the pastrami sandwich and although they have plenty of other things on the menu including hamburgers and hot dogs, Brent would have none of it telling me “I have never ordered anything else and I never intend to”

That then was very much that and five minutes after we had told our waitress what we wanted she returned with a tray containing two ludicrously large sandwiches, one order of fries, a light beer for Brent and a soft drink for me.

For those who have never been initiated into the beauty that is great pastrami, it is made from beef brisket, which is brined then sometimes seasoned with herbs and spices before being smoked. To date, the best I have sampled was at the legendary Katz’s Deli in New York City. The take on the pastrami sandwich here was a very different one from that at Katz’s, where hand carved slices of glistening pink meat were served between pieces of undistinguished and dry rye bread. At Johnnie’s the meat carried more fat and was a lighter shade of pink, suggesting it had perhaps spent less time in the smoker than the New York version. It had also been sliced into smaller wafer thin pieces, not a bad thing, but giving a very different texture to the end result. The sandwich can be served on rye bread, but we both chose to have ours served in a soft roll.

Brent removed the top piece of bread to give his sandwich what I was told was a pre-requisite slather of mustard and then skewered a slice of sharp pickle whose saltiness would counteract the fattiness of the meat. While the pastrami at Katz’s is more moist and richer in flavour, their wretched bread does let down the whole affair and, rather controversially, I think I preferred the overall effect of Johnnie’s attempt better. The fries are barely worth a mention, proving to be little more than a vehicle for Ketchup.

Fast food does not necessarily mean cheap food these days and our bill at Jonnie’s came to a sizable $40 between us including an L.A standard 20% tip. Expensive, but just about worth it considering that needing supper would be unlikely and my morning run would prove to be interesting to say the very least.

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Anonymous Nick said...

Agree with yr comments about Katz in NY and its execrable dry bread.
While you are in LA,what has happened to HP?Worried that there has been nothing from him for a few weeks now.Hope he is ok.
Safe trip back.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 11:26:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love dark rye - maybe the version in katz' is just not very good?

love the pics, but on another level that has nothing to do with the enjoyment of food or this blog, it does do my head in the way they serve food in the US.

i don't want a 20$ sandwich with half a cow in it, i want an 8$ one with much less meat. i know its all part of the feeling and enjoyment of indulgence that you get there, but it's one of the reasons people there are so overweight and its hugely wasteful on an environmental scale.

ok, boring, righteous opinion over. otherwise, i wish i was there.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 5:37:00 pm  
Blogger tim_g said...

what abt the (in)famous langer's??????

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 6:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Helen said...

I was going to make a comment about hoping that you are still into the running, considering the size of the portions I am seeing reported on this here blog of late. Since you've covered that however I am just left with a feeling of jealousy, and the overwhelming urge to make my own pastrami. Let's face it - I'm not going to get any decent action in London town. Any news on the London BBQ action?

Friday, January 15, 2010 7:15:00 pm  
Blogger Tom Armitage said...

I don't know why you went here when you could have gone to the legendary Langer's for amazing hand-carved pastrami on wonderful double-baked corn rye bread. Better than Katz's IMHO, and the best pastrami sandwich I've ever had -- and I've tried most of the contenders for this title.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:14:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Why would my going here make you assume I would not be going to Langer's in due course?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:58:00 pm  
Blogger Tom Armitage said...

Well, this is not exactly a fair analogy, but I use it to help you understand my comment. Going to L.A. and choosing to go to Johnny's for a pastrami sandwich is sort of like going to New Orleans and eating fried chicken at KFC. The question is, why bother? It doesn't mean that you wouldn't go to Willie Mae's Scotch House or another of the places in New Orleans that serve remarkable fried chicken, but why not go to one of those places first, if your time is limited? On the other hand, to argue against myself, I understand there's something to be said for experiencing a piece of L.A. history, despite the quality of the food. It's like going to the original Starbucks in the Pike Place Market in Seattle, even though there are many, many better cups of coffee in Seattle.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:55:00 pm  

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