Tuesday, September 25, 2007

There Are Times When Only Pastrami Will Do

The winds of heritage blew through me earlier this evening, impacting my choice of dinner after class was over. Rumbling north on Figueroa, past the Felix Chevrolet, I purposefully remained in the extreme left lane, just in case I'd felt a last minute twinge for the beef noodle soup at the Japanese restaurant, closed eyes past the Yoshinoya and a creditable if not grand rice bowl topped with shreds of beef and scallions and yam noodles.  

I moved resolutely past the Italian Pasta Roma and another creditable dish, the linguini with clams. Hard to pass up because the white wine sauce isn't all that bad and when I hold up two fingers, the serving lady knows that means two meatballs, no sauce, to go, for Sally.

There is the Panda Express which is as much Chinese food as Burger King is, but at least has the semblance of looking Chinese, held together with recognizable Chinese ingredients such as hoisin sauce. But no, the foot remained firm on the pedal and it quickly became apparent that unless I made some sudden whim of a suggestion somewhere at one of the many fast food sources that provide a miniature replication of Central America, it was going to be northbound on the Harbor Freeway, headed toward its inexorable juncture with the Hollywood Freeway.

And so it went, 110 north, guided along by Garrison Keillor's evening take on The Writer's Corner, with an entertaining profile of Faulkner. It was pretty difficult at this point to avoid the obvious pulls, which were either Du-Par's for world famous hot cakes and perhaps some eggs, the side of sausage being pocketed for Sally or--


And so, at Laurel Canyon, the maneuvering off the Hollywood Freeway, a quick left, then southbound to Ventura Boulevard, the spine if not the conscience of that part of LA known as The Valley.

No question about it any longer. Sally was going to get half a pastrami on rye from Art's Deli. I was going to close my eyes and allow the cold trickle of Dr. Brown's Diet Cream Soda to dribble tummyward in a kind of comfort food reverie.

Pastrami is the cow brisket, cut toward the navel end, which means a bit of fat, which means this is not everyday fare. Try telling Sally that. While still raw, the meat is salt cured, then rubbed with spices and given a long, slow steaming/cooking. 

Unlike its cousin, corned beef, pastrami is traditionally sliced thin, then piled on corn rye, subjected to a squirt of deli mustard, which is to say mustard with some authority. It is often presented with a pickle and a mound of cole slaw which, if you taste critically, contains the merest tang of horseradish.

Art's serves serious pastrami. The Carnegie and Stage Delis in Manhattan are thought by the Eastern establishment to be kings of the pastrami hill, but even The New York Times has to (and does) admit that Langer's deli on Alvarado near Sixth in mid-town LA is the pastrami to beat. Art's is right up there, bringing famous pastrami sandwiches of the past to mind along with all the accouterments that accompany the need for a famous pastrami sandwich.

Clearly this night, this lovely, full-moon night, was a time for the step beyond comfort food, the eating of which implies some need for the comforts of food beyond the ordinary relish of food. That step, the step beyond, is Heritage Food, food from one's own heritage or from a recognizable heritage one eats without feeling like a tourist.

The pastrami need was upon me and as I write this, I begin to dread the inevitable need to floss and brush, removing those lovely strands of pastrami from their temporary abode in my interdental spaces.

Early after demolishing her share, Sally offered an uncharacteristically loud burp into the night before taking refuge in a nap for the hundred-mile trip home.


Lori Witzel said...

Dang. Now I'm drooling into the keyboard...messy.

I. Can't. Get. Good. Pastrami. In. Austin.

I have to have friends in NYC ship it. (What's the HTML for "envious"?)


x said...

That was indeed a mouth-watering description. As a teen, my sister and I had a friend or two sleep over on Saturday nights and we would make ourselves amazing hot pastrami sandwiches with pickles and laugh and eat all night.

John Eaton said...

Pastramology supreme, Shelly.

Just today, on a coastal run, I just had to go by the Barbie Q and get some of that real in-old-Brunswick stew and two small sandwiches, one to cut the edge, and the other to go with the stew.

Road food for the eager spirits,

John :)

P.S. Does Sally like stew?

Grandmama Carla said...

Shelly, it's been 15 years. I haven't had pastrami since moving out of New York. What I am tasting is the mustard. Hot pastrami is the only thing mustard tastes really good on.


R.L. Bourges said...

Shelly: "Very evocative," she said, the drool puddling in her mouth.
In my mind, the only thing that can compete with pastrami, is Montreal-style smoked meat. Lord of the Cow, forgive us our sins, I haven't tasted that stuff in years and am not about to get close to any for a long, long time. Or to the bagels from the Fairmount Bagel Bakery. Or to... STOP.