Langer’s Deli – Unplugged from Progress Around 1972

langer's deli, los angeles, ca - pastrami reuben
I went to Langer’s Deli on a mission. I went there “ISO.” I went to Langer’s Deli in search of The Sandwich of My Yute (that’s “youth,” for those who don’t have a Cousin Vinny).

Back in elementary school, while other moms were humming away happily in the kitchen making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, my Mom was dragging us to the Country Club, setting us down in the Clubhouse Cafe with our homework, and running off to sweep the Ladies’ Tournament. When she came back victorious (her badass athletic ability, unfortunately never expressed itself in my gene pool), we would put away our pseudo-Sanrio pencil boxes that are cool now because everything-Asian-is-trendy, but sorely embarassing back when it was “oriental.” We would have lunch, and since Mom was Mom and didn’t know what normal American children ate for lunch, she would order pastrami Reubens for us. I was seven years old, eating a pastrami Reuben.

I never ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was old enough to babysit the neighbors’ kids and made them there. The sandwich of my yute is a pastrami Reuben, piled high with pastrami, exploding with sauerkraut probably because it reminded Mom of kimchee, and drenched in a secret sauce that at the time, was just “secret sauce.” Now I know it’s Russian dressing.


iso “the pastrami of my yute” at langer’s

I found my yute at Langer’s, but not the pastrami Reuben.

Sometime during 1972 (which is still way before my time, mind you), or possibly earlier, one of the waitresses at Langer’s tripped over a wire in the stockroom while searching for A-1 on the back shelf and unplugged Langer’s from the electric circuitry of progress. Life all around Langer’s progressed. Rather, time progressed, and the environment, sadly, regressed.

(So yes, the 1970s was my yute, but don’t try to guess how old I am. My birthday is coming up and I am sensitive and cranky about it. Let’s get back to Langer’s, shall we?)

Alvarado and 7th in LA is MacArthur Park. I might get a rusty nail thrown my way for saying this, but MacArthur Park isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s ugly, scary, ghetto-ville. UGH-lee. I don’t mean to be offensive if you live in or around MacArthur Park, but hell, if you live in or around MacArthur Park, you’re actually homeless, so how did you find your way to my laptop?!?

We went to Langer’s for lunch, partly because the pastrami Reuben of my yute is associated with lunch, and partly because Langer’s closes before dinner. I am not absolutely sure why Langer’s closes at 4 pm, but I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that no one in her right mind would hang out in and around the area of Langer’s after dark. Besides, why would Langer’s stay open that late? Langer’s is frozen in an era when people didn’t go out for dinner because everyone was at home gathered around the dinner table eating pot roast and listening to the Ed McMahon Show on the radio. Or something vaguely anachronistic like that. Hey, don’t ask me. I never choose “pink” or “brown” on Trivial Pursuit.

Langer’s is in Los Angeles, but there is no valet parking. Crazy, huh? Normally, I hate valet parking. Yes, yes, I could say that I am “uncomfortable” with other people being in my car, or that I “don’t trust other people with my precious car,” but the truth of the matter is, I’m cheap. I’d rather spend that $12, tax and tip included, on a cocktail, tax and tip not included, because like I said, this is LA. However, at Langer’s, valet parking would have been nice. It was a little scary parking the big shiny luxury sports car (obviously, not mine) in the lot a block away and then walking to the restaurant through the throngs of scarypeople. Then again, I’m not sure how much I’d trust my car with the valet in MacArthur Park.


brown is the old brown

like my parents’ basement rec room

When we walked into Langer’s, it was like I had just walked into that same Clubhouse Cafe back in 1981. (Don’t do the math! Don’t do it!) The decor was all-out late ’70s, early ’80s Denny’s-before-their-rebranding-as-a-Diner brown – dark wood veneer everywhere, brown pleather booth seating, faux wood formica topped tables, tiny beige lampshades on the ceilng lights that hang from popcorn-textured ceiling tiles. It must have been the same waitstaff too, only back then, they were hot young 30 year olds (30 is young. it is, okay?). Now they’re, well – you do the math.

langer's deli, los angeles, ca - railing
cell bars?

We squeaked our butts across the vinylicious seat of a booth against a window that faces Alvarado. Through the carved Colonial drumstick railing, and just over the faux decorative ivy, I could see the landscape of the park. I quickly turned my attention back to the task at hand – the menu.

Truly, investigating Langer’s menu is a task because it is huge, just like every other deli’s menu. There are sandwiches, of course, plus soups, salads, deli-style entrees like liver and onions, steaks, breakfast eggs, etc. For sandwiches, rather than simply listing each of the available breads, meats, cheeses, and other adornments for sandwiches (which they do anyway), Langer’s has created a number of typical combinations, which they call the “numbered combinations.” Number 19 is highlighted as the popular choice – pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing. Number 19, however, is not a pastrami Reuben. Close, but no cigar. I scanned the offerings and there was nothing on the menu called a “pastrami Reuben.” In fact, there was nothing called “Reuben” at all.

Where is the Pastrami Reuben of My Yute?

Good question, but the real question that burned in my mind is…
Why do the Numbered Combinations skip? What happened to combinations #12 through #18? There are whole series of nine numbers that are missing. There’s a #55 – Corned Beef with Cole Slaw and Russian Style Dressing, but then nothing for nine numbers until #65 – Hot Pastrami with Cream Cheese and Sliced Tomato. Where are #56 through #64? What were they? Were they just thrown out because no one liked them? Was Hot Tongue with A-1 and Anchovies just a passing idea? Did Langer’s really have 89 numbered sandwiches at one point?!?! I want to know what all my options could have been, and Langer’s snatched them away from me before I even had the chance.

The closest Langer’s comes to the Pastrami Reuben of My Yute is #44 – Hot Pastrami, Sauerkraut and Nippy Cheese Grilled on Rye. I had to wonder…Did the Pastrami of My Yute used to be there, as #43 or perhaps #45, and someone just decided to strip it off the menu to play with my emotions? And what the hell is Nippy Cheese?

Our server, who really should be called a waitress (because back then they were waitresses and stewardesses, not servers and flight attendants), explained that Nippy cheese is American cheese. I recoiled in horror and empathetic shame for Langer’s. American cheese on a hot pastrami sandwich is blasphemy. I asked for #44 with Swiss cheese and a side of Russian dressing. Langer’s doesn’t have a pastrami Reuben so I have to make it myself.


promise of pastrami reuben

isn’t it really thousand island?

The sandwich came out and at first glance, I had hope that my ISO had come to an end. The bread had been buttered and grilled dark and crunchy, like a crouton on the outside. I pulled the two halves apart and they clung to each other through a single thread of melted Swiss cheese. It was promising. I opened the sandwich and like an albino with SPF 50 getting ready for beach volleyball, I slathered the Russian dressing all over the cheese that had welded itself onto the bread, into every fatty, grisly nook and cranny of the thickly cut, peppery pastrami. It was ready. I was ready. I took a bite.

It wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, it also was not The Pastrami of My Yute. The sandwich had been piled high, not necessarily with pastrami, but with a little too much sauerkraut. Too much sauerkraut for someone who eats pickled, fermented cabbage on a regular basis? It means that there was way too much. I had to remove some of the ‘kraut. For some reason, cheese on both slices of bread didn’t seem enough, and I realized that the balance had been thrown off because the pastrami was sliced too thickly for my personal, picky tastes. I also am never adverse to fatty meat, so I find it hard to believe that someone who plucks up the chicken skin and eats it, leaving the meat behind, is writing this, but the pastrami was unusually fatty.

Langer’s was, in the end, just okay. The restaurant itself took me back to my Clubhouse days, but the sandwich, sadly, disappointed. And as deeply frozen in a faraway era as Langer’s is, the prices have jettisoned at warp speed to 2010. The pastrami Reuben was almost 12 dollars. Add tax, tip, gas mileage from the Westside, and of course, the emotional damages of MacArthur Park, and I think I’ll go back to Johnnie’s Pastrami. Or maybe try The Hat.

Langer’s Deli
704 South Alvarado
Los Angeles, CA 90057
213.483.8050
www.langersdeli.com

** a year ago today, reader david guest-blogs about dduk from san soo dang **

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  • djjewelz

    Sarah’s making her way East!

  • Pamela

    That looks really great!!

  • paolo

    FANTASTIC CHOICE…. I love their pastrami sandwich dip~

  • Kirk

    Sarah – I love Langer’s, but don’t love the neighborhood – you’re right, it’s S-C-A-R-Y.

  • Kirk

    Sarah – I love Langer’s, but don’t love the neighborhood – you’re right, it’s S-C-A-R-Y.

  • getdownnn

    ouch. i love this site and what you hav to say about food, but i was disappointed because i thought your comments about the neighborhood and supposedly scary people were offensive…and yes, i know and have been in the area many times

  • sarah

    djjewelz: barely. barely making it east. who knows?! by this time next year, i may actualy hit downtown!

    pamela: well, too much ‘kraut, but heck, still a pastrami reuben. :)

    paolo: oh! you can do it as a dip? well, i suppose it’s a dip when you dip every bite into that naughty dressing.

    kirk: a wee bit scary. but sometimes we must be brave. :)

    bruce: oh dear. i am so sorry to have offended. it’s just a bit scary for me because – you know how when a bad thing happens you can’t help but associate it with everything forever? i do that (like your place is robbed, and you have to move and can’t live within five miles of the area, etc.). i think i am wee bit of a wuss because one horrible terrible incident in that area, and i think i have been slightly scarred.

  • Catherine

    sarah, you should’ve went to school in L.A. because NOT having sanrio school supplies was considered UNCOOL. therefore, i was very uncool. mom didn’t believe in giving us things we wanted; something about being spoiled? i guess i should have told her i wouldn’t be seen with sanrio in a million years. lol!

    oh, and McA park is super sketchy. but a 17-year-old, who wants to go to mexico with all her older friends, can easily get a fake ID for $25. at least that’s how it was back in the day. ;)

  • Mike

    Such blasphemy!!! You actually had a sandwich with all that stuff on it??? J/K!! After eating at Carnegie (in NYC), Johnnie’s and other places in LA, I’d still say that it’s one of the best places around for pastrami. I’m just kinda bummed that you didn’t have such a great experience there. =( I’ll keep telling myself you just went there on an off day. I would hate to think that the quality is getting worse.

  • Anonymous

    The Reuben is a great thing, although I prefer corned beef in mine. Best corned beef/pastrami I’ve ever had was at Katz’s in NYC.

  • sarah

    catherine: yah – but did you have to carry FAKE trapper keeper because the real ones were too expensive, so your mom would bring back total fakes from korea that didn’t even say trapper keeper but something like trepper kapper? i was scarred for life by those things.

    mike and anonymous: i am beginning to think that i will have to take the train to nyc to find the pastrami of my yute, uh, even though the clubhouse cafe was in san antonio, texas. lol!

  • nosh

    Sarah, love ya, but you missed the boat on Langer’s. Your experience points out that there is probably a reason no Reuben in on the menu. First, Langer’s twice-baked rye is specially made to complement the pastrami, crusty but soft, and it is not at its best after toasting. Second, there is a reason they recommend the slaw on top rather than their sauerkraut. The pastrami is meant to be thick-cut and succulent, and my only complaint is that it often is too lean, missing the needed moisture from the fat.

    If you are going to have pastrami on the Westside, definitely forget Johnnie’s, which is almost as expensive as Langer’s. Try Hervey’s on Motor and Palm, or amazingly, Togos (there is one left off Venice on the extreme east end of Culver City and another in MDR near the Home Depot).

  • getdownnn

    sarah: yeah, i understand what ya mean, didn’t mean to be harsh, and don’t want to judge either, i know what ya mean about being scarred

  • hermz

    I am compelled to correct. “Gene pool” refers to the sorts of genes present in a particular population. No individual has a “gene pool.” That is a misapplication of the term.

    OK, class dismissed. =P

  • hermz

    I am compelled to correct. “Gene pool” refers to the sorts of genes present in a particular population. No individual has a “gene pool.” That is a misapplication of the term.

    OK, class dismissed. =P

  • sarah

    nosh: i will have to try hervey’s, and actually, when i was at cal, there was a togo’s nearby, and that is where i would always get a pastrami reuben (while everyone else got their turkey with avocado and bacon). i had no idea they were still around in LA!

    bruce: no no, be harsh. sometimes i need it ;)

    hermz: “gene puddle?” does that work?

  • FoodZealot

    Hey, I just went to Langer’s last week! Pastrami Reuben, too. Sadly, I had a similar experience. The pastrami was juicy enough, but was light on spice and smoke. I also forgot to request handsliced, which I prefer for the craftsmanship aspect of it, rather than any difference in texture. Bay Cities makes a good sandwich with Boar’s Head pastrami in it, but being on filone, as good as it is, it just ain’t the same thing.

    I guess I’ll have to wait to go back to Katz’s in NY.

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