Monday, November 14
Delicious, delightful delis are the subject of author Sheryll Bellman’s new book, “America’s Great Delis: Recipes and Traditions from Coast to Coast.” Vintage photos, menus, signs and recipes from America’s best-loved delicatessens crowd the pages of this new release, depicting the slice of Jewish life that became an American institution.
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Tuesday, November 15
More holidays a-comin’, which means more food. Go beyond the passé deep-fried turkey this year, with the help of the University of Judaism’s “Cooking with Judy Zeidler: A Thanksgiving Dinner.” The author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” promises side dish and dessert suggestions, as well as tips on how to cook the bird.
10 a.m.-1 p.m. University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P., (310) 440-1246.
Wednesday, November 16
First-time, 60-something author Myriam Chapman reads and signs her historical fiction novel, based on her grandmother’s memoirs, this evening at Duttons Brentwood. Set in 20th-century France, “Why She Married Him” tells the story of Nina Schavranski, a young Russian Jewish émigré forced into choices that take her away from her dreams.
7 p.m. 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263.
The name alone beckoned us. Now monthly at the Friars of Beverly Hills comes “Hoodzpah! A Black and Jewish Comedy Experience.” Tonight, see stand-up and sketch comedy by Sunda Croonquist, James Harris, Tommy Savitt, Roz Browne and Darren Carter.
7:30 p.m. Free. 9900 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 443-1992.
Thursday, November 17
More unity through comedy today, this time from Middle Easterners of every persuasion. The Levantine Cultural Center presents “Sultans of Satire,” a lineup of comedians headlined by Israeli American Iris Bahr, and featuring Persian Maz Jobrani, Palestinian Mormon Aron Kader, Assyrian New Yorker and Iraq War vet Vince Ouchana, and Peter the Persian, an attorney by day and Iranian comic by night.
8 p.m. $10-$15. 5920 Blackwelder St., Culver City. R.S.V.P., (310) 559-5544.
Friday, November 18
Russian Jewish immigrant Eugene Yelchin offers up an intensely emotional series of paintings he has titled “Section Five,” now on view at the Jan Baum Gallery. “‘Section Five’ refers to the fifth section of the former Soviet Union passport, which stated a citizen’s ethnicity,” Yelchin writes. “In the passport I carried until I emigrated from Russia to the U.S., the fifth paragraph listed me as ‘Yevrei,’ Jew.” Yelchin used no brushes, but only his hands, to paint his works that recall passport photos.
Through Dec. 21. 170 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 932-0170.
Wal-Mart as a Low-Price Villain
Zucky’s Counter Culture
There was weeping and gnashing of teeth when Zucky’s Deli in Santa Monica, mecca of pastrami sandwich and borscht lovers far and wide, abruptly closed its doors on Feb. 16, 1993.
“We were like family,” one tearful waitress recalled in an old Los Angeles Times story. “We had elderly customers, who left their homes only to come to Zucky’s.”
Now the venerable eatery, boarded up for 12 years, is in the news again.
A new building owner, John Watkins, is about to remodel and reopen the place at Wilshire Boulevard and Fifth Street as a retail store, and some nostalgic citizens are battling to retain the ex-deli’s distinctive architectural features.
Heading the effort is Adriene Biondo, chair of the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who hopes that Zucky’s might be designated as an historical landmark.
“Zucky’s was designed by Weldon Fulton as a prime example of the Googie or California Coffee Shop Modern architectural genre,” Biondo said. “In any remodeling, we want to preserve the main Zucky’s signboard, exterior ceramic tiles and stonework, the diagonal treatment along Fifth Street, and the brick wall and window sills.”
Biondo has talked with Watkins, the new owner, and said that he has been very forthcoming to her requests. The city of Santa Monica architectural review board is now considering the case.
The original Zucky’s was opened in 1946, facing the former pier at Pacific Ocean Park, by the late Harry “Hy” Altman. He named the deli in honor of his wife, born Wolfine Zuckerman, but always addressed as “Zucky.”
In 1954, the deli moved to its Wilshire location after a difficult search.
“The city fathers didn’t want Jewish merchants. Santa Monica had one Jewish merchant, a dress shop, and they said one was enough,” Zucky Altman, 86, reminisced in a recent interview with Marcello Vavala, a volunteer member of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica conservancies.
Once established, the deli soon attracted a faithful clientele of movie stars, UCLA football players, stockbrokers and dentists.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were regulars, Altman said. So was everyone from Gold’s Gym, including a body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We were also friendly with the nearby churches,” Altman recalled. “Preachers would say, ‘No one here leaves until I finish my sermon. Then we’ll all go over to Zucky’s.'”
“The girls [waitresses] didn’t have to ask customers what they wanted, they just knew,” Altman continued.
After their retirement in 1977, Hy and Zucky Altman endeared themselves to the needy and elderly of the Jewish community by launching SOVA, the free kosher food pantry.
The end of Zucky’s Deli came suddenly, after Health Department inspectors demanded extensive renovations costing more than $500,000. The then-owners decided to shut the place down on a few hours notice to customers and employees.
In an “obituary,” The Times noted mournfully, “It was not easy to find another deli with the same mélange of counter camaraderie, lean corned beef and devoted waitresses.”
Vote Confirms Westside, Valley Split
Pico’s Familiar Slice
The balabus is back.
Howard Weiss, who opened Los Angeles’s first kosher pizza shop in the mid 1970s, has reopened his famed Kosher Nostra, and he’s looking to reclaim the glory days of over-sized slices and relentless puns that made the first Kosher Nostra a community institution.
The new Nostra is a tiny storefront on Pico Boulevard east of La Cienega Boulevard, just a block or two outside the beaten path of kosher establishments on Pico.
Since he opened a couple months ago, Weiss said, he’s been living in something of a time warp. The kids whose fingers he used to slap off the counters come in with their own little ones. Teenagers who bore the brunt of Weiss’ temper when they piled into the place after a Saturday night YULA basketball game now come in as staid 30-somethings, awash in nostalgia (and with more money in their wallets).
But Weiss will need more than nostalgia to succeed in today’s kosher market.
When he opened 25 years ago, there were maybe five or six kosher restaurants around, including Pico Kosher Deli (est. 1968), Nosh N’ Rye and a couple of others, according to the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. By 1982, there were 15 kosher restaurants, marking the beginning of the growth spurt that would bring us to close 100 kosher eateries in Los Angeles and the Valley today.
At 71, Weiss, a Tevye lookalike with tired blue eyes and a bushy beard encroaching on his face, says he’s ready to work hard to compete, but the heavy sigh and the slow shrug that accompany his determination say otherwise.
His decade in Israel in the 1990’s hasn’t fully erased the pain of the collapse of his original kosher empire, which included Peking Tam, Pepe Tam and China on Rye, with branches in the city and the Valley. That expansion and an accompanying partnership went sour in 1990. The site of the old Kosher Nostra at Fairfax Avenue near Third Street became Pizza World, owned by Darren Melamed, Weiss’ longtime manager.
The new locale is decidedly more cramped, and Weiss is still working on the décor, but some things haven’t changed. As always, Weiss has staked out a corner table where he does crosswords and assaults diners with deadpan humor, although he’s taken "Marijuana Pizza: $45" off the new menu. Above him hangs the beaten-copper miniature storefront with the "Mikveh in Rear" sign and just to the right of the counter hangs Weiss’ own answers to FAQs — the original framed poster which he printed not on a computer long before there was such a thing as FAQs (and before the words "Kosher Nostra" Googled up an anti-Semitic email-propagated rumor).
It’s too early to say whether he’ll make it. This incarnation of Kosher Nostra might turn out to be just a historical hiccup. But in a kosher community that after 25 years of growth is just now reaching an age of maturity, there might be room for a bit of nostalgia, a bad Jewish mother joke and a slice of pizza that, even with all the competition, still holds its own.
Love and Loyalty
Borscht Again! Jerry’s Deli Reopens
About a year and a half ago, Lisa Thomas drove her father to Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City, one of their favorite restaurants, to have a birthday brunch for him. However, when they arrived at the deli, they saw fire engines everywhere. The San Fernando Valley eatery was ablaze, causing an estimated $2 million in damages.
For 16 months, Thomas and her husband, Bruce Thomas, a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, felt an emptiness in their lives — or, rather, a void in their stomachs. Although they began eating at a nearby deli, nothing could replace Jerry’s sky-high corned beef sandwiches, hearty matzah ball soup and friendly service, she said.
So when Jerry’s rose from the ashes and reopened with standing-room-only crowds on Sept. 16, the Thomases were there. The couple arrived with the family’s newest addition, 7-month-old Grant.
Smiling at his young son, Bruce Thomas said he couldn’t wait to soon introduce him to the joys of Jewish cooking, Jerry’s-style. “He will definitely have matzah ball soup, when it’s time,” he said.
Jerry’s is back, and not a moment too soon for its legions of fans who made the Studio City location the strongest performer in the 12-store chain, which includes eight Jerry’s, one Solley’s Delicatessen and Bakery, two Wolfe Cohen’s Rascal Houses, and one Epicure Market in Florida. The newly renovated Jerry’s on Ventura Boulevard, with six plasma television screens and tile-and-marble floors replacing the shopworn carpets of yesteryear, has an updated look for the 21st century and 700 menu items for the ages, said Guy Starkman, president of Jerry’s Famous Deli Inc., based in Studio City.
Standing amid a throng of customers, he said it appeared the company’s $3.5 million investment to reopen the landmark Jerry’s had paid off. “I didn’t do any promotion, any advertising,” said a smiling Starkman, as he glanced around the jammed restaurant.
Opening night had a part Hollywood-premiere, part high school reunion feel. Isaac “Ike” Starkman, the Israeli-born chief executive and Guy Starkman’s father, flew in from Florida for the occasion. Looking resplendent in a sleek dark suit, he greeted customers as lost friends. Tucked away in booths were actors Robert Guillaume of “Benson” fame and British pop star Robbie Williams. Swarming around them were dozens of the restaurant’s 150 employees, many of whom had worked there before it burned down on May 18, 2002. Between frantically taking orders, pouring drinks and washing dishes, they welcomed one another with hugs and smiles.
“The energy is just so good,” said bartender David Bernstein, 43, a 19-year Jerry’s veteran. “So many people have worked so hard to make this happen, and it’s so nice to see it all come together.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky was on hand for the mezuzah-hanging ceremony. He said Jerry’s reopening would boost sales at surrounding businesses by attracting people to the neighborhood. Equally important, he said, Southern California needs all the pastrami and rye it can get.
“We don’t have a deli on every corner in L.A. like they do in New York,” he said. “Here, you have to jump in your car to get to one. So anytime a deli opens up, it’s a good day for the city.”
Ike Starkman, a former lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces who came to the United States in 1961, started supporting himself working as a messenger and other menial jobs. In 1977 he cofounded Jerry’s with the opening of a small Beverly Hills restaurant. A year later he helped launch the Studio City location. The store proved so popular that it doubled in size to 7,000 square feet, and just a few years later opened its doors 24 hours a day. With television and movie stars from nearby Disney, Warner Bros., Universal and CBS studios dropping by, Jerry’s became the late-night haunt of celebrities, including the cast of “Seinfeld” and Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal. Andy Kaufman, the late star of “Taxi,” once even worked there as a busboy.
In the early years, though, the deli chain struggled and hemorrhaged loses. To staunch the flow of red ink, Ike Starkman bought out his partner in 1984 and took over the business. Having founded a concessions company that operated bars, candy stands and souvenir shops on Broadway and at L.A. theaters, Starkman knew a thing or two about the food business. He tweaked the menu to broaden its appeal by adding salads and kids’ meals. Within a few years, Jerry’s was in the black and ready to grow.
To fuel that expansion, the company went public in 1995. Jerry’s’ initial public offering raised $9.2 million, money that was spent to open more restaurants, including one in Pasadena that later closed because of losses.
Despite its strong local reputation, Jerry’s failed to excite Wall Street, which gravitated toward high-flying Internet companies. That the chain posted relatively steady-but-slow sales and profit growth didn’t help. Jerry’s stock, which once traded over $10, slumped to below $3 in the late 1990s. In 2001, the Starkmans took the company private.
“Wall Street was looking for double-digit growth and rapid expansion, and we kind of just got left behind,”said Guy Starkman, Jerry’s president.
Even so, Jerry’s remains one of the nation’s handful of successful deli chains, said Larry Sarokin, a restaurant consultant with Sarokin & Sarokin in Beverly Hills.
Looking forward, Ike Starkman said he hopes to open another Jerry’s next year in Los Angeles or Miami. For now, the reopening of the Studio City restaurant excites him most.
“It symbolizes the return to the good old times and coming alive again,” Starkman said. “This gives us back our backbone.”
Just a Peace Rally? Read the Fine Print
The Ground Floor
A lot of the problems and promise of Los Angeles Jewish life were on display last Tuesday evening in Bob and Marcia Gold’s living room.
The Golds live in a envy-inspiring home high upon a bluff in the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The greater Los Angeles Jewish community, all 4,000 square miles of it, pretty much ends here, where the lights of Portuguese Bend disappear into the dark beyond of the Pacific Ocean. Next stop, Catalina — or Kauai.
The South Bay extends from Westchester to San Pedro. According to a 1997 population study by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, it is home to 45,000 Jews. Most of them live in the seaside cities, such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, and in the suburban aerie of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. People at the Golds’ house believe the actual number of South Bay Jews to be far less than 45,000, perhaps half as many. But they agree with the survey that the South Bay is among the Southland’s fastest-growing Jewish communities. Along with the young urban professionals moving into the coastal towns, there is a vast infrastructure moving into El Segundo and environs to support the burgeoning film production facilities there. "Manhattan Beach is Hollywood," said Rabbi Ron Shulman of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay.
Most of the dozen or so men and women who came to the Golds’ house that evening were members of Shulman’s shul, which is on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. They gathered to brainstorm ideas for the future of the larger South Bay Jewish community. Decades old, it is, like many similar communities, facing a time of growth and change. "We have a strong synagogue community," Shulman said, "but not a strong Jewish cultural community."
Shulman’s Conservative congregation has 600 families and boasts the largest United Synagogue Youth group in the Southland. Other synagogues, like Temple Menorah and Congregation Tifereth Jacob, are also flourishing. But outside of synagogue life, when it comes to a sense of a larger community, there is no there there. As symbolic proof, they pointed to two buildings, one that exists, one that doesn’t. The Jewish Federation’s South Bay headquarters on Palos Verdes Boulevard has long stood underused. Expected to be the center of Jewish communal life when it was acquired over a decade ago, it is now a reminder of the lack of organized South Bay Jewish life outside synagogues.
The other symbol: "There’s no deli here!" one of the woman said to loud agreement. "We can’t even keep a good deli open."
The people at Tuesday’s meeting want a deli — who doesn’t? — but more importantly they want to expand and enrich Jewish life in their part of Los Angeles. The catalyst, they hope, will be about $1 million coming their way. At the meeting, Federation President John Fishel and South Bay Federation rep Margy Feldman told the group that the Federation plans to sell the old Federation building and invest the proceeds of about $1 million into South Bay Jewish life. The question that this group and groups from a variety of synagogues are gathering to discuss over the next year is how to take a small windfall and create community.
The challenges they face are familiar to anyone in Jewish life these days: How do you get Jews who are uninvolved or marginally involved out of the house? How do you do triage among all the communal needs: teen services, eldercare, recreational needs, Israel advocacy, Jewish education? How do you reach across ages and denominations and — even in a single geographic area like the South Bay — distance?
Fishel said that as well as being dispersed, the Jewish community throughout Los Angeles is diverse — "concentric circles of communities, which sometimes intersect and often don’t." A single solution, he said, will never suffice for everyone.
He said one possibility, in these lean times, is to think in terms of programs rather than capital. The Federation has been very successful in creating community by engaging in social service programs like KOREH L.A., which sends volunteers to area school to teach English literacy. It’s true that software is cheaper and more adaptive than hardware, but some in the group still gravitated toward the model of a come-one-come-all Jewish community center. In places like Orange County and Austin, Texas, where people pursued dreams of major multiuse Jewish community centers, they were able to inspire donors and bring those uninvolved Jews out of the woodwork. Then again, there are no guarantees.
But this group has at least two things going for it, beyond the million bucks. One, the people who turned out to discuss their community’s future are young men and women. They were very conscious of picking up the mantle of leadership from the previous South Bay Jews who had built up the successful synagogues. Two, this city’s Jewish community is relentlessly entrepreneurial. The Wiesenthal Center, the Skirball Center and the Shoah Foundation are just three examples of Jewish enterprises that were created from the ground up, based on an idea and a plan, right here in Los Angeles. They are proof positive that once the Jews of the South Bay set their sights on what their community needs, they can create whatever it is they want.
And maybe even get a deli.
One American Muslim
The Dish on the Deli
Jonathan Gold knows his pastrami. He should. As restaurant critic to Gourmet magazine, he has sampled delis from coast to coast (by his count, 20 last week in New York alone). In his book "Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles" (St. Martin’s Press, $16.95) this James Beard Award-winner writes, "The fact is inescapable: Langer’s probably serves the best pastrami sandwich in America."
So what better place to meet than Langer’s (over pastrami, of course) to discuss the deli scene as Gold prepares for the panel discussion he will host with Los Angeles’ top deli owners in conjunction with the Yiddishkayt festival.
The Jewish Journal: Today the egg roll, taco and pizza are thought of as American food. Do you think deli food is still considered Jewish food?
Jonathan Gold: Sure, it is. At Junior’s in Brooklyn you have African American and Caribbean and Asian people, and the place is completely hopping at 1 a.m. I’m not sure there’s a Jew in the room, but they’re all completely aware of what they’re eating, even if they’re having a patty melt instead of a pastrami sandwich. People know what deli means.
Sixty years ago in Los Angeles probably the biggest concentration of Jews was in Boyle Heights, but there’s still generations and generations of people who grew up having Canter’s in the neighborhood, having pastrami in the neighborhood, and they’re hungry for it.
There’s a fast food stand called Oki Dog on Pico [Boulevard] near La Brea [Avenue] owned by Okinawans where you have people doing Mexican versions of Jewish food with Okinawan-style cabbage and serving the entire thing to African Americans. It’s just great.
JJ: How do you think the deli plays in Peoria, Ill.?
JG: I don’t think the deli does play in Middle America. One of my favorite delis anywhere is Shapiro’s in downtown Indianapolis, which is great, but it’s hard to sustain a restaurant when the people who know what the food is really supposed to taste like aren’t there.
JJ: How has our health consciousness affected delis in general?
JG: The successful delis have everything on the menu. I think the biggest seller at Junior’s is Chinese Chicken Salad. They probably go through a half-ton a week.
JJ: Which dish is the benchmark by which you rate a deli?
JG: Pastrami on rye. If you can’t do pastrami on rye, you have no reason to exist. There’s something great about how much attention Langer’s pays to its pastrami and its bread. There’s not any less detail to the food here than somebody like Wolfgang Puck will have to the food at Spago’s. When your basic core item is good, it’s like a steakhouse having great steak. Everything else is gravy.
They all get pastrami out of the same package and steam it, but these guys steam it a lot longer, so it becomes denser, but also more tender, and there’s more shrinkage. Most places don’t do that because it’s expensive.
If you’re going to serve eight pounds instead of 10, there’s a huge difference in your bottom line.
And there’s something about hand slicing that gives with the shape of the muscle. It’s like the difference between eating sushi and eating a chunk of fish.
JJ: Why do deli patrons put up with, even welcome, rudeness from servers they would never tolerate elsewhere?
JG: It’s part of our culture, isn’t it? We want what we want when we want it, and the deli has the first shot at that. It sounds weird, but I feel more Jewish when I walk into a deli than when I walk into a shul, because it’s the smells, it’s the people, it’s the way they dress, it’s the whole L.A. Jewish thing rolled up into one long wait in line at Junior’s.
JJ: What do you see as the future of the deli?
JG: I don’t know. As long as we’re around, there will be delis. The delis tend to follow us Jewish people wherever we move. Brent’s deli in Northridge is in an area that wasn’t especially Jewish 15 years ago or so, but enough Jews are suddenly brought together by the possibility of some decent chopped liver … because even if they marry outside of the religion or never go to shul, that’s the one thing they can’t give up.
JJ: How do you think L.A. delis compare to those in New York?
JG: I think Los Angeles might be the best deli town in the country right now. I have spent my entire life being sneered at by New Yorkers for living some inferior version of Jewish life here, and then I move to New York and find out that, gosh sakes, it’s right here in Los Angeles.
Nate ‘n’ Al’s is a great place. It has Beverly Hills hard-wired. It knows everything about Beverly Hills. The same people have been coming, sitting at the same counter at the same time in the morning, for 40 years.
Art’s has real energy to it. There’s a lot of show biz guys, and it’s fancy in a way that sometimes feels a little absurd when you realize you’re in there for a corned beef sandwich.
The delis here are not theme parks the way they are in New York. In New York you go to the Stage, and if there’s one regular patron to every 10 tourists, it would surprise me.
Some of the delis in New York’s outer boroughs are really good places, but they don’t exist as cultural centers, because there’s enough Jewish cultural resonance everywhere you go in New York that you don’t necessarily need to have it confirmed by a restaurant. But in Los Angeles, places like Brent’s, Junior’s, Art’s, they’re real in a certain way. They’re what the owners want them to be. They’re what the neighborhood wants them to be. They’re indivisible from the people around them, who are — let’s face it — us. And there’s something great about that.
The panel discussion on the Jewish Deli in Los Angeles, hosted by Jonathan Gold, will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at The University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. $5 (general), free (seniors). A book signing will follow. For tickets, call the U.J. at (310) 440-1547 or Yiddishkayt Los Angeles at (323) 692-8151.
Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart
Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at
A Song for Daniel
As a rule, you don’t go to museums to eat. Unless you’re like me — someone who, when push comes to shove, prefers great food to great art. I make no apologies: The last time I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I ate a tasteless, watery and expensive fruit salad in the cafe there. That I remember. What exhibit I was there to see I’ve long forgotten. It had something to do with famous dead artists.
Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center is memorable — for all the right reasons. Forget that it’s located in a museum lobby. If Zeidler’s Cafe were on Ventura or Wilshire boulevards, you’d have to reserve a table for lunch.
The light, large space shares a stone floor with the outdoor patio, which stretches out past a wall of plate glass. Somewhere beyond the atrium, the city and Valley lie far beneath you. Never mind that the Mulholland Drive exit on the 405 is only a few hundred yards away — this place feels like a getaway.
The menu at Zeidler’s mixes deli with California creative — not surprising, considering that it is owned by Marvin and Judy Zeidler, who also own the Broadway Deli and Citrus. (Zeidler’s is dairy, but not kosher.) You’ll find crisp, generous pizzas with Puck-esque top-quality ingredients (around $7 to $8) such as kalamata olives and smoked Gouda. The sandwiches (around $6) are simple and clean-flavored: tuna, egg, salmon salad; no olive pastes and sun-dried tomato spreads lurking under the bread.
About a half pound of nicely seared tuna comes with the seared ahi salad. Though the fish is ice-cold — I like mine still warm on the outside from the sear — it is perfectly cooked, high-quality tuna, crusted with black and white sesame seeds. The bright composed salad beneath it is lightly dressed with a sesame dressing and laced through with peppery daikon sprouts.
Mushroom pot sticker salad is flavorful, if a little too much like…pot sticker salad. And who needs that?
The barley soup has a swell peppery kick, the meatless cousin to the barley shitake mushroom soup down at the Broadway Deli. Other deli selections, such as latkes ($2.50) and rich, light blintzes tangy with lemon peel ($6.95), make Zeidler’s a good choice for Sunday brunch.
The desserts, made on premises, are large and homey. Cheesecake tastes more of New York than Los Angeles. It’s a good-sized wedge, perfumed with vanilla and creamy at the core.
I like the service at Zeidler’s too. A manager comes by to check the water level in my teapot. When I sent back a cup of coffee because it tasted sour, the teapot and some black tea appeared in seconds, with a smile.
Zeidler’s is, of course, the place to eat when visiting the Skirball. But it may be the perfect midpoint spot for friends coming from the Valley and the city to rendezvous, and a good choice for pre- or post- Getty Center viewing. That little place should be so lucky to house a Zeidler’s of its own.
Zeidler’s Cafe is open weekdays (except Monday), 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and weekends, noon-5 p m. (310) 440-4515.
Ashkenazic Jews eat latkes because they’re fried in oil, and well-oiled foods symbolize the Chanukah miracle of the oil lamp that burned in the sanctuary for eight days. Italian Jews make an ethereal fried chicken for the holiday, using lemon peel in the batter. And Sephardic Jews have a battery of fried desserts. Israelis eat jelly doughnuts, sufganyot, baseball-sized blobs of dough stuffed with a red goo that might share some distant lineage with a real fruit.
But I like latkes.
The recipes that follow are from Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center. Created by Chef Jim Herringer, they push the envelope of Jewish tradition while incorporating traditional Mexican and French ingredients. These might not be your first choice for a Chanukah latke, but they’ll work well as an hors d’oeuvre any time of year.
Southwestern Latke with Chunky Salsa
4 medium russet potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
8 ounces chunky salsa
1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater.
2) Beat the eggs in a bowl and fold in the cilantro and potatoes.
3) Heat the oil and form small circles with the potato mixture. Fry to golden brown, remove from the skillet and top with salsa.
4) Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
1 pound ripe tomatoes
4 serrano chile peppers
1 clove garlic
salt to taste
1) Preheat broiler and place the tomatoes and chile peppers on the broiler pan. Broil, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered and slightly charred.
2) Allow the tomatoes and chili peppers to cool at room temperature. Remove the skin and seeds.
3) In a food processor, process the garlic and chile peppers on the chop setting. Add tomatoes and salt to taste. Pulse on and off until chopped, not puréed.
4) Place a dollop of salsa atop each latke just prior to service.
Crisp Potato Latke with Goat Cheese
4 russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
8 ounces goat cheese
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater. Do not rinse potatoes. Squeeze moisture from potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
2) Add one tablespoon of oil to a large skillet. Lay out a thin layer of grated potatoes, forming a circle. Top the potato circle with one ounce of goat cheese, sprinkle generously with chives. Cover the goat cheese with another thin layer of potato, ensuring that the cheese is completely covered. Add remaining oil and carefully turn the latke over and cook to golden brown on both sides. Repeat, making a total of eight latkes.
From Best Boy to Best Man
Save Alexandra Allen from a pickle . Buy her deli for $100.
So You Want to Own a Deli
Bored with your dead-end job? Tired of your boss’s endlessnagging? Why not throw caution to the wind and chuck it all to liveyour wildest fantasy: Slicing corned beef by the bay!
Alexandra Allen, owner of Shenson’s Deli in San Francisco, islooking for one lucky soul who lusts for the smell of matzo balls inthe morning enough to buy her 65-year-old establishment. And just tomake things interesting, she’s practically giving it away.
Just send Allen a check for $100 and a letter explaining whyyou’re the best candidate to take over the eatery and grocery store.Impress her enough, and it’s yours.
“I’ve been here almost 11 years. There’s just a bunch of stuff Iwant to do, like travel. Especially travel.” Allen says.
Lacking previous deli experience is not a problem. In addition tothe equipment and recipes, the winner will also receive 40 hours ofAllen’s time for training. “I knew nothing about the business when Ibought it, but liked the idea.” she says. “I’m looking for someonewho has passion, who cares about food and people.”
The 2,200-square-foot deli and catering business, located on GearyBoulevard in the city’s Richmond district, sells everything frompastrami to lox to homemade soups, including many kosher wines,groceries, and frozen foods. Although the kitchen itself isn’tkosher, Allen isn’t opposed to making it so. (“It’s not antitheticalto my concepts.”) Business is “up and down,” according to Allen, witha steady stream of regulars.
“We’ve been here a long time, so we have a broad customer base.People come from as far away as Oregon.” she says.
Allen says that there isn’t much competition in the area — onlyone other deli a few miles downtown — and no others that sell whatAllen deems “real Jewish food.”
Her goal is to receive 1,500 entries. Interest so far has beenencouraging, but if she gets too few, the money will be refunded.”People tend to procrastinate. There’s no way to tell until thebitter end,” she says. If her contest doesn’t work, Allen isn’t surewhat she’d do. “Plan B doesn’t exist. I can’t really define what willhappen,” she says.
To enter, send your essay (500 words, max) and check for $100,payable to “Shenson’s Deli Contest,” to: Contest, P.O. Box 142, 4644Geary Blvd., San Francisco, Calif. 94118. The deadline is Oct. 21,and winner should be announced about a month later. To learn moreabout the contest, call 1-888-WIN-DELI or check out the web site(http://www.shensons.com). — William Yelles, Calendar Editor
Israeli tourist Gal Ravid is stranded in Los Angeles.
Don’t Leave Home Without Them
‘Tis the season of trips abroad, money belts and traveler’s tales,so, naturally, the case of Gal Ravid piqued our interest.
Ravid is a 21-year-old Israeli from Kibbutz Erez who, aftercompleting her army service, took off to travel the world — a riteof passage among kibbutzniks more common than a bar mitzvah.Eventually, she made her way to Texas, where Israeli youths work longhours, operating ice cream trucks and earning thousands of dollars inthe course of a summer.
Ravid turned her cash into traveler’s checks at a local Bank ofAmerica branch in Irving, Texas, and then took off to see Hollywood.There, at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Sunset Boulevard, her purse wasstolen.
Expecting the prompt refund that Visa International Traveler’sCheques advertises, Ravid called her Texas branch. Since the checksare issued through Thomas Cook Travel Ltd., she was told, the officecharged with investigating such claims is in London. So Ravid calledthe London office to replace checks purchased in Texas and stolen inLos Angeles.
Ravid faxed the London investigator, C.W. Youngs, a copy of herpolice report and the numbers of her uncashed checks. Because Raviddid not actually see the thief walk off with her purse, she toldYoungs that she could not prove that her wallet was stolen ratherthan lost, though she is “100 percent sure” she had the wallet withher when entering the restaurant. “If I had lied, I’d probably havemy money,” she said, “but I couldn’t lie.”
According to Ravid, Youngs informed her that because she was notin constant visual contact with her possessions — the purse wasbeneath her chair at the time of the theft — and because she was “afirst-time buyer” of traveler’s checks, her claim would have to beinvestigated. That process, he said, could take up to six months.
Stranded without money in Los Angeles, Ravid doesn’t understandwhy a bank that sells $6.9 billion in traveler’s checks each year isreneging on its advertised promise of quick replacements. “This isabsolutely not standard operating procedure,” Carol Bretschneider, ofVisa International’s public relations, told Up Front. “Something elseis happening here. We’re in the habit of taking care of ourcustomers. Having stranded travelers is not a priority with us.”
At the time Up Front went to press, Bretschneider had notresponded to our repeated inquiries to explain what else washappening.
In the meantime, Ravid is staying with friends of friends in theSan Fernando Valley. She has no money and no way of going home. “Ifeel they don’t believe me,” she said. “They’re waiting for me tocash the checks. But I don’t have them.” — R.E
Ex-New Yorkers aren’t long in Los Angeles before they startbemoaning our lack of three institutions: 1) A good, chewy bagel, 2)Zabars, 3) the 92nd Street Y, where a regular series of moderatedpublic discussions with noted writers, artists and culture critics isoffered. Sometimes, those of us who live west of Riverside Park cancatch these forums on C-SPAN. No such endeavor exists in Los Angeles– until now.
“Sunday Morning Conversations” at the Skirball Cultural Center,beginning on Sunday, Sept. 7, strives to bring a bit of the 92ndStreet Y to the Mulholland Pass.
Skirball guests Dr. Laura Schlessinger (top) and author FayeKellerman.Billing itself as “a dynamic exchange of ideas in a relaxedatmosphere” — this is Los Angeles, after all, and we like ouratmospheres relaxed — the four-week program will feature:
* Dr. Laura Schlessinger (Sept. 7) — The ubiquitous radiotherapist will discuss “Values that Shape Our Lives,” taking aim at ageneration that she believes has lost its moral core.
* Dr. Janet Hadda (Oct. 5) — “Passionate Women, Passive Men,” alook by the acclaimed Yiddishist at how Jewish literary lions such asI.B. Singer, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth view women.
* Lynda Obst (Nov. 2) — One of Hollywood’s most powerfulproducers (“Con-tact,” “Sleep-less in Seattle”) examines “The Truthabout Hollywood.”
* Jonathan and Faye Kellerman (Dec. 7) — The mega-selling authorsexplore what novels of mystery and suspense can tell us about ourlives.
The Journal’s own editor-at-large, Marlene Adler Marks, will host,starting off each program with some thought-provoking questions, andmoderating a discussion between the audience and the speaker.
Preregistration is required. Admission is $12 (general), $10(members) and $6 (students). To purchase tickets, call Tickets L.A.at (213) 660-8587.
A 10:30 a.m. breakfast precedes each discussion and book signing.Expect the conversation — if not the bagels — to be as good asyou’ll find on 92nd Street. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor
A Modern Grandfather
At left, from right, Al and Jean Langer with their son, Norm; Above, a mural in the back of the restaurant; Below, one of Langer’s venerable waitresses serves their famous sandwiches to a hungry crowd.
Photos by Ruth Stroud
Amid a blizzard of Spanish-language signs for passport photos, discount shoes and wedding gowns, Langer’s Delicatessen & Restaurant sits proudly at the corner of Alvarado and 7th streets, the location it has occupied for the past 50 years. The hours are shorter — 8 to 4, Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays — and the price for a pastrami on rye is certainly higher — $7.50, versus a quarter in 1947. The conversation emanating from the brown naugahyde booths is as often in Spanish as in English. And the Ramparts police substation across the street keeps a close watch on the multiethnic parade of humanity that mills about the busy intersection, once the hub of a lively Jewish neighborhood, second only to Boyle Heights.
The restaurant’s founders, Al and Jean Langer, 84 and 82, respectively, and their son, Norm, 52, who runs the place (with a constant pipeline of advice from his parents), don’t plan on closing up shop any time soon. In fact, they are celebrating the deli’s 50th anniversary — officially last Tuesday, June 17 — with a month-long contest, culminating in a drawing for $7,000 in cash and other prizes on July 1. In Los Angeles, “there aren’t a lot of restaurants and institutions that have survived that long and still have their doors open,” Norm said.
The opening of the Red Line in 1993 was a lifesaver. For a token round-trip tab of 50 cents, the subway line’s last stop was across the street from MacArthur Park, just a few steps from Langer’s. “We were almost ready to close,” Jean said. But the media blitz surrounding the MTA line helped entice crowds similar to those in the restaurant’s heyday, in the ’60s and ’70s. (In those days, Philharmonic- and theatergoers and the bar crowd kept the place hopping until the wee hours.)
The Red Line’s steep price hike to $2.70 round trip has been a bit prohibitive, the Langers said, and the bad press about crime in the area a few years back didn’t help. “In 50 years, we’ve had some broken windows, but no holdups and robberies,” Al said. The police have solved, or at least lessened, the crime problems tremendously, added Norm. “I’m not saying it’s Beverly Hills, but it’s been fantastic,” he said.
During a typical lunch hour, Langer’s bustles with activity. The booths fill with downtown lawyers and businessmen in suits and ties, as well as with more casually dressed residents of the nearby low-income apartments.
One morning before the rush begins in earnest, the Langers take some time to reminisce about their first 50 years. Actually, Al Langer begins his tale several decades before opening day, when he was a 12-year-old kid in Newark, N.J. To earn some money for his bar mitzvah, he went to work in a local delicatessen, later honing his talents in the Catskills and picking up an indispensable sandwich-making skill that he passed on to Norm.
“I don’t know how to make a bowl of soup,” says Al, spry and fit-looking in a salmon-colored polo shirt and dark pants and, obviously, still proud to call himself “a deli man.” “But I can handle a knife. You can’t be taught that.”
In Los Angeles, where he moved to in 1937, Langer went to work at Lax’s, a deli on Hollywood Boulevard, where he met Jean. A Chicago native, she had come out to Los Angeles a married woman and was working as a waitress at Lax’s. “For a Jewish girl, to be a waitress in those days was a shonda [a shame],” she said. “I told everyone I was working as a cashier.”
After Jean was widowed, she and Al were married on April 20, 1941. Two children, Norm in 1944 and Laurie in 1951, followed.
Following his discharge from the Army in 1943, Al borrowed $500 and opened a deli on 8th Street. Within two years, he walked away with $31,000 and invested it in English ceramic teapots. He lost all except $3,000, which he wisely put back in the deli business. He bought an 18-foot-long restaurant with three windows, at the corner of Alvarado and 7th. It had three booths, two tables and a counter — 35 seats altogether. Jean handled cooking and the books, and Al took care of the rest.
“He said to me, ‘The kitchen is yours,'” Jean said. “I said, ‘You meshugenah! I’ve never cooked for anyone but you.’ He said, ‘You’ll learn.'”
Langer’s took over a liquor store, then a Crocker Citizens Bank, expanding to 140 seats by 1967. It had 50 employees on the payroll and stayed open until 3 in the morning on weekends, 1 a.m. during the week. Over the years, numbers of local and national celebrities and politicos have passed through the glass double doors: George Segal, Jack Lord, Buddy Hackett, Mayor Richard Riordan, Zev Yaroslavsky, Jackie Goldberg and Gil Garcetti have all been there. Shecky Greene used to come in. And somewhere in a scrapbook, Norm has a picture of his 5-foot-5 father standing next to the towering basketball great Wilt Chamberlain.
Langer’s also used to cater weddings, Christmas parties, brises and other events. They still do funerals and parties for long-time clients, but not much else in the special-events department.
Norm, who began working at Langer’s at age 17, remembers riding the swan boats at MacArthur Park, going to the movies next door and bowling down the street. Jean would take time out to sunbathe in the park. “I wouldn’t set foot in there today,” she said.
Still, Langer’s is hanging in there. It was featured last week on KABC Talkradio, Fox TV, KTLA and in the Los Angeles Times in honor of its 50th. Neither Norm’s two grown children nor his sister’s two, pictured as tykes in photos hanging on the deli walls, are likely to go into the family business. But Norm isn’t planning on leaving any time soon. And even though his parents don’t work at the restaurant on a daily basis anymore, their son doesn’t do anything without consulting them, and vice versa. That “100-percent communication” and respect has been the secret of survival for Langer’s, Norm said. That, and the food, of course, which earned Zagat’s rating as the No. 1 deli for seven consecutive years, including one rave review that said the pastrami “was worth risking your life over.”
Well, worth a visit to Langer’s Deli anyway.
Labor’s Move Toward Center
Filing His Claim
A payment slip from 1927, part of the documentary evidence to support Freddy Jackson’s claim.
Sitting in the Fairfax Avenue deli where he worked for four decades of his life, Freddy Jackson reflects on his chances of getting the millions of dollars due him.
“A lot of people don’t have anything,” he says. “At least I have the numbers.”
And he does. They are written in a long-ago hand, in Czech, on pieces of wrinkled, yellowed paper. They are the file numbers of two hefty insurance policies that Jackson’s father took out in the early part of the century.
Since his father’s death, Jackson has tried in vain to collect on the policies. The interest on the premiums alone, which amounted to more than $18,000 annually in current dollars, would be more than $1 million, Jackson estimates.
However, since 1949, one of Europe’s largest insurers has steadfastly refused to honor his claim. Why has the case dragged on so long? Because Jackson’s father, Joseph Jakubovic, was killed in Auschwitz.
“On the way to the camp,” Jackson says, “my father said to me, ‘If you get out, you’ll never have to work again.”
More than 50 years after Jackson’s parents and most of his family were killed in Nazi concentration camps, his father’s prophecy may finally come true.
Last month, Jackson joined a class-action suit filed by three New York law firms charging that seven major European insurers have robbed Holocaust survivors and their heirs by refusing to honor life-insurance policies purchased by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution prior to World War II.
Eventually, some 10,000 individuals are expected to join the suit. Lawyers are seeking to recover assets estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
Jackson joined the suit after reading about it in The Jewish Journal. What makes his particular case unusual, says Linda Gerstel, an attorney for Anderson Kill & Olick, one of the co-counsels, is that Jackson has produced so much documentary evidence to back up his claim and the history behind it.
We were four brothers and one sister,” Jackson says. “In March 1944, they took us to Auschwitz.”
Jackson survived the selection that claimed his parents’ lives. He was transferred to several camps and was constantly beaten and tortured by guards. A scar remains where a German soldier rammed a bayonet down Jackson’s mouth and out his chin.
Jackson eventually was put in the Death March to Dachau. As the American 3rd Army advanced, the German guards took the remaining prisoners into a field to be shot. In the chaos that ensued, Jackson fled for his hometown. Of the 18,000 Jews deported from Uzhorod, says Jackson, between 80 and 100 had survived.
The war over, Jackson returned, first, to his family’s house. “My father was a multimillionaire,” he says, “a builder — bridges, buildings, pavement. You can go there today and see our family name on the paving stones and cornerstones.”
Though others had taken over the home, Jackson went down to the basement. (“Everything valuable had been taken out. They took everything.”) What remained was a box containing some small family photos and a sheaf of insurance documents, showing that Joseph Jakubovic had paid his last premium in November 1939. Jackson took them.
After emigrating to the United States, Jackson filed for a claim with the Italian-based insurer Generali. The company wrote back that, since the war, all Czech accounts had been turned over to the government there.
The Czech government told Jackson that all funds had been transferred to Generali’s branch offices in Hungary. Hungarian officials told Jackson that he had to apply to the company’s headquarters in Italy. In a letter dated Oct. 11, 1994 — Jackson’s last in the matter– Generali informed him he would have to apply to the Czechoslovakian State Institute. But Jackson’s receipts do show that his father’s payments were made to the Generali office in Trieste, Italy, not Czechoslovakia.
“They lie,” Jackson says, pointing to the years of correspondence. “They all lie.”
This cycle of explanations continued through letters for decades. Jackson says that a lawyer he hired to represent him in Trieste took his $2,000 retainer and disappeared.
Denied the money that would have set him up for life, Jackson carried on, regardless. He started Freddy’s Deli on Fairfax, just north of Beverly Boulevard, and ran it for 42 years. He sold the deli but still owns the building it’s in, as well as other real estate. A resident of Beverly Hills, Jackson has two sons — a pediatrician and a cancer surgeon — and five grandchildren. With a simple shrug, Jackson dismisses the notion that he may yet see any of the millions due him. “Maybe my children,” he says.
But Gerstel is a bit more optimistic. Last month, the giant German insurer Allianz Lebenversicherungs announced that it would “use minimum red tape” to process the claims arising from the suit.
“Everybody’s taking a lesson from the Swiss banking case,” says Gerstel. “They want to stay out of the press.”
Although Generali has yet to respond to the suit, Gerstel says that the Allianz position is “a good starting point.” “We’re happy to see they’re taking responsibility for their history, which they legally have to,” says Gerstel.
Even were he to finally settle with Generali, Jackson would not be done with the company, which has hundreds of branches from Italy to San Francisco. It turns out that Jackson’s current insurance broker took out a new policy on the building housing Freddy’s Deli. The insurer is…Generali. “Can you believe it?” says Jackson.