Johnnie’s Pastrami – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Pastrami

johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles, ca - pastrami sandwich
Life? Delicious.

Liberty? Not after tomorrow.

The pursuit of pastrami? In full force, baby.

Ok, not really, since it has been months, months I tell ye (!), since my last pastrami, and I don’t even want to know how long since my last confession. However, just to recap, it was back in May at Langer’s Deli.

Here’s the thing. Johnnie’s Pastrami is not new to me. A long long longlonglong (!) time ago, I was on a Johnnie’s streak. I was introduced to it by some boy who I have long since forgotten. Oh, who am I kidding? I haven’t forgotten. “Long since forgiven.” This girl might forgive, but she never forgets. Never.

Anyway, I was reintroduced to Johnnie’s Pastrami and…

I swear this happens a lot. You know how you have a short-term memory of something good? Like say, for HYPOTHETICALNOTREALRHETORICAL example, you had a luscious weekend fling with some semi-stranger during that time when you were having a Quarter-Life Crisis, and he was nice, and you were nice, and you had a nice time. Monday morning you totally regret it because that’s just the old-fashioned Midwestern values that were brainwashed into you, but then the real California free spirit adult you takes over and by Wednesday, the memory of it makes you *sigh*. It was nice.

It’s not like you think about it every single nanosecond of your life, but when you do, it makes you smile. And as time passes, each time you remember it, somehow the memory of it is better. Like by the weekend, for some reason, “he was nice and it was a nice time” has become “he was niiiiice” *eyebrows up and down* as you retell the story to your girlfriends over microwave popcorn and manicures. And then after two years, yes two years because that’s the kind of memory-clinging girl you are, after two years that weekend fling with a stranger who probably wouldn’t even remember that he was in that city at that time, has become this *sigh*-inducing omgitwasfabulous memory. Somehow the memory is built up and things like music playing in the background and an occasional fleet of doves fluttering overhead have now become part of the memory.

Doves?

This is just an example, I swear.

And then, out of the blue, two years later, he emails you and you get it because you have had the same email address for ten years and you have the memory again and you wake up in the middle of the night in some febrile frenzy and the next day you leave work early for an “appointment,” yes, an appointment at the salon, and spend three hours getting ready to meet this awesomeness that you remember, and you go to the bar where you first laid eyes on each other and you see him, and you’re like…

Pastrami?

Is that you? Johnnie’s Pastrami? All these years since the first bazillion times I went and it was all just a progressively embellished memory of delicious?

Somewhere between the last time I had Johnnie’s Pastrami, which was about eight years ago, and today, either Johnnie’s changed or I changed. Or both. Or maybe I did that ridiculous romantic buildup thing. Ugh. I hate when I do that.

It really was an example, I swear.

My sister’s husband brought Johnnie’s home for dinner (I very conveniently camped out at her place until dinnertime). The enormous logs wrapped in white paper held so much promise, and as I grabbed my shared half with my sister, I was anxious. It had been such a long time, and as I have said, my memory of it was that it made me *tingle*.

I unwrapped the sandwich slowly, sort of letting the memory come back and wash over me the way a memory of spiced, cured meat aways washes over you, as long as it’s not Spam. *crinkle* The first layer of paper fell to the plate. *crinkle* The inner layer of the paper dropped onto the plate. I was holding the barenaked sandwich in my hands.

johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, pastrami sandwich
behemoth of bread and beef

As I held the behemoth, the French roll bread crushed into a thin carbohydrate pipe, clogged with a tangled, peppered mess of fatty pastrami, I had the faintest feeling of confusion mixed with uncertainty. Johnnie’s French-dip style pastrami sandwich was so big and so thick and so big (!) that I didn’t know how to eat it. I never thought I would ever say this, but there was too much meat.

I was overwhelmed by the meat.

Normally, I pull sandwiches apart simply because I am not a sandwich girl to begin with and I eat the bread and fillings separately. I’m just weird that way, and it has absolutely nothing to do with politely using a fork and knife. I just eat the cheese, vegetables with my hands. But for Johnnie’s pastrami sandwich, I pulled apart the two halves of the French roll not only because I wanted to, but I had to.

johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, pastrami sandwich
tangled plug of pastrami
johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, pickles and peppers
peter piper would have been proud

The meat is sliced paper thin, and wadded up into hundreds of flavor-holding folds of fat and flesh. It was decent, but made even better with the generous addition of mustard and either a pickle slice or a tiny pepper (or both) with each bite. I may not be a sandwich girl, but I am most certainly a Qondiment Queen. My sister had requested specifically from her husband that he make sure to bring home the mustard, which made me think it was some golden god of mustard. However, I has to laugh when “the mustard” turned out to be nothing more than neon yellow ballpark mustard in condiments packages. But she was right, the simple bread-and-meat pastrami sandwiches would have been like a donkey in a peacock costume if the mustard was fancy. There weren’t enough pickles. I love Johnnie’s pickles.

johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, chili cheese fries
suffocating under chili and cheese
johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, chili cheese fries
few can escape The Flood

So my built-up expectation fueled by a long-ago memory didn’t quite live up in terms of Johnnie’s pastrami, but when it came to the Chili Cheese Fries, it was like I was 21 all over again. The mountain of crinkle-cut French fries was drowning in chili. In the valleys where French fry met French fry, tiny shimmering pools of grease had collected, sourced from both the liquid lard that just couldn’t be absorbed by the chili beef and the oil that had perspired out of the melted cheese. I pulled a French fry by an end that had barely escaped suffocation by chili and cheese, but still had not been spared the red-stain. It was good. After that, I dove in to eat chili, cheese, and fries togather. I think I might have come up for air once or twice

johnnie's pastrami, culver city, los angeles ca, onion rings
battered is better

Unfortuantely, the Onion Rings were the only true disappointment of the meal. I had no expectations because I had never eaten onion rings frm Johnnie’s before. The rings weren’t horrible, for they are onion rings, after all, but I am finding more and more that my preference is for battered onion rings, which tend to be crisper, rather than bread-crumbed onion rings, which have a thicker, sturdier texture but end up falling apart anyway. Still, an onion ring is an onion ring.

Johnnie’s Pastrami isn’t bad. The pastrami by itself tastes pretty good, particularly with its accompaniments. The bread soaked with meaty juice by itself tastes pretty good, too. However, together as Johnnie’s French-dip pastrami sandwich, it was just too big and not everything I hoped and remembered it to be.

But hey, email me in two years. Include the Chili Cheese Fries and I’ll get all hot and bothered again.

Johnnie’s Pastrami
4017 Sepulveda Blvd (@ Washington Pl.)
Culver City, CA 90230
310.397.6654

on MenuPages

** a year ago today, we said good-bye, good luck, and good riddance at nanbankan **

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  • Malin

    WOW, now that really is pastrami porn. Must have pastrami for lunch today.

    Sarah, I know you’ve mentioned this before, but what kind of camera do you use for your foodie beauty shots?

  • sarah

    malin: if you have pastrami, gotta share where! and i don’t use anything fancy to take pictures. just my canon sd500 :)

  • Craig

    Now you are talking, its amazing no matter who I meet, if they spend anytime in Culver City, Johnnies Pastrami comes up.

    I still need to do the Red Line trip to Langers.

    Is Titos or Angelmaid Bakery next?

  • Chubbypanda

    I know exactly what you mean. Only make it an ex-lover instead of a one night stand, and decrease the amount of time required for short-term memory loss.

    “I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. If it keeps hurting me, why do I keep going back? I’ll only get my heart broken again. And yet…”

    It’s ’cause I’m stupidly optimistic.

    – Chubbypanda

  • joanh

    yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sadly, I have not found any place decent in Taipei for pastrami sandwiches and chili cheese fries.

    But I have had Johnnie’s pastrami and it is good.

    PS you’ve had the same email for 10 years? i’m traumatized because i have too many accounts and forget to check and then it gets wiped out and all my old email love letters are gone forever.

  • joanh

    yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sadly, I have not found any place decent in Taipei for pastrami sandwiches and chili cheese fries.

    But I have had Johnnie’s pastrami and it is good.

    PS you’ve had the same email for 10 years? i’m traumatized because i have too many accounts and forget to check and then it gets wiped out and all my old email love letters are gone forever.

  • Jeanne

    OMG, total pastramiporn! I do not know how any living being retains an approximately normal shape and size in a country that knows how to make pastrami and corned beef sandwiches like this. I had my first in New York last month and I’m totally hooked. Damn – if only I’d known about this place when I visited LA last year!!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve gotta try Johnnie’s.There’s this place I go to to in Pasadena sometimes called The Hat and their pastrami is awesome and they have that local feel(they make their own cherry coke,plus they have the spicy carrots and peppers).Another place I like is called Everests. The local-er, the better!

  • sarah

    craigm: i have had tito’s. i like their tacos. i hate their salsa. it is gazpacho.

    chubbypanda: “stupidly optimistic.” everyone should be as such, don’t you think?

    joanh: BUT who needs pastrami when you have hello kitty buns!!!

    jeanne: you will have to come back.

    robyn: oh, the hat is on my list! there is one near my parents’ house in orange county, but i don’t know how i will get my parents to eat pastrami for dinner…

  • Anonymous

    hello kitty buns no more!!! i went back a few weeks ago and to my horror, the hello kitty bakery was replaced by a weirdly located furniture/accessories store. i ran back in shock to my friend to exclaim that the store was gone, and he didn’t believe me either. ah well. it was fun while it lasted.

  • Anonymous

    Oh…My…God…The history of my life can be told in many ways, but one of them is the search for a great, thin-sliced, roasty crispy-tiped pastrami with plenty of mustard and provalone. It started with Delisi’s in Thousand Oaks, and so far the only place left has been Alpine Deli in Thousand Oaks. I am so excited to go try this now that I live in L.A. Its just to f-ing far to go to good old Thousand Oaks for a decent (non-new york style) pastrami. I cannot thank you enough!!!

  • sarah

    joanh: that is a MAJOR bummer. i guess that means we will have to buy a hello kitty toasted with hello kitty imprinted stainless steel plates that will burn the little kitty onto a slice of bread. :)

    anonymous: i love how the history of your life can be told surrounding pastrami. everyone should be so lucky as to have a goal is life. :) and when you try johnnie’s you muct let us know how it is for you!

  • sarah

    joanh: that is a MAJOR bummer. i guess that means we will have to buy a hello kitty toasted with hello kitty imprinted stainless steel plates that will burn the little kitty onto a slice of bread. :)

    anonymous: i love how the history of your life can be told surrounding pastrami. everyone should be so lucky as to have a goal is life. :) and when you try johnnie’s you muct let us know how it is for you!

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