It was surprising to open Los Angeles magazine in October 2007 and find Patric Kuh’s list of the Top 10 Delis in Los Angeles. It’s a nice concept, and Kuh is obviously a talented writer, but the idea that there are ten L.A. delis worth recommending is a serious stretch.
Brent’s Deli and Langer’s Deli both have their supporters as the top deli in Los Angeles. Kuh prefers Brent’s. It’s certainly no worse than #2 on my shortlist (two delis long), and is without a doubt worth a trip to the heart of the West Valley.
Ron Peskin and wife Patricia purchased Brent’s in 1969, two years into the deli’s existence. Ron is still involved, and was at the front counter to greet customers today. He still runs the Northridge original, and the Westlake Village spinoff, with help from son Brent, daughter Carie and son-in-law Marc. According to Kuh’s interview, Peskin has been working in delis since he was a teenager, when his uncles owned Linker’s in Sherman Oaks.
We were torn between the “one and a half” ($18.75) and the Black Pastrami Reuben ($13.95). We went with the latter, served on grilled rye with melted Swiss, hot sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The thin-sliced pile of beef is lean and subtly spicy and the accoutrements help to create an incredible balance. Brent’s Reuben comes with definitive containers of cole slaw and potato salad.
Since no deli meal is complete without both pastrami and corned beef, we added a half a corned beef sandwich on rye ($8.95). The thin-sliced meat was luscious, fattier than the pastrami. Somehow green food found its way onto the plate. Thankfully, it was perfectly inoffensive, a refreshing salad of marinated cucumber, onion and bell pepper.
Potato Pancakes ($6.75) were fried until golden brown. The duo was a little dry, but the crisp crusts were terrific. The side was served with containers of sour cream and cherry applesauce. I’m not sure the applesauce was actually improved by the addition of tart cherries, but it was good.
It was disconcerting to have to ask for pickles and mustard. That should be automatic at a Jewish deli. Our waitress said the busboys were still in breakfast mode. When the pickles spears did arrive, they could have been crisper.
As for the mustard, we received plastic squeeze bottles of Beaver deli mustard with horseradish root and Gulden’s spicy brown mustard, but we opted for Brent’s Sweet Hot Mustard, “rich with honey” and seasoned with garlic, paprika and turmeric.
In an inspired marketing maneuver, the Peskins placed a bakery case in front of the register, where customers have to bring their checks to pay. There was a 3-pound black-and-white cookie on top of the case, but we went for the smaller six-inch version ($2.25), a soft yellow cookie that was alternately slathered with vanilla and chocolate icing.
Is Brent’s really the best deli in Los Angeles? Langer’s probably gets the slight edge, but Brent’s is still very good. One thing’s for sure: almost any city in the country would be thankful to have the same choice.