TO LIVE & DIE IN LA: JOHNNIE'S PASTRAMI. THE KATZ'S KILLER?
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.