Pastrami: The greatest thing since sliced bread

Despite the midday sun blazing overhead, 20 determined Angelenos labored up the long staircase alongside downtown’s Angels Flight Railway on July 30, spurred on by what awaited them at the top in the shadow of downtown’s towering California Plaza skyscrapers — pastrami, and lots of it. 

Organizers of the East Side Jews event, dubbed “Pastronomy,” greeted salivating participants from behind a mountain of wrapped deli sandwiches featuring Langer’s world-famous No. 19 and Wexler’s O.G.

“You guys are eating two of the best pastrami sandwiches out there,” said Food Network personality Adam Gertler, who hosted the gathering. “I’ll put those up against anything. However, I think Langer’s No. 19 is simply the perfect sandwich.” 

The taste test atop Bunker Hill was only the first stop of a culinary tour of Los Angeles of pastronomical proportions. Other stops offered pastrami hot dogs and tacos. (For a small contingent of vegetarians present, options included a Wexler’s egg salad sandwich, a veggie dog and fried avocado tacos.) 

Gertler, an East Coast Jew from New York who now resides in Silver Lake, said he needed no convincing to come on board. “This combines my two favorite things: talking and pastrami,” he said. 

He also said he loved the idea of getting a bunch of fellow Eastside Jews together, as he doesn’t always find opportunities to immerse himself in the local Jewish scene. East Side Jews, based out of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC), is a self-described “irreverent, upstart, nondenominational collective of Jews living in L.A.’s East Side.” 

“To be honest, I haven’t experienced Eastside Jewish life nearly enough. I miss that sense of community. You don’t even realize you miss it until you don’t have it,” Gertler said. 

On the afternoon’s first stop in California Plaza, Gertler spoke about all things pastrami, from its Eastern European origins to the intricate preparation process. Gertler also professed his love for smoked meats, explaining the pride he feels after curing, brining, smoking and steaming his own pastrami, a task he encouraged others to try. 

“You’ll feel like you ran six marathons,” he said. “It’s like having kids, I imagine. Mind you, I don’t have any kids.” 

Gertler finished by offering his take on the timeless debate over who does pastrami on rye best, declaring, in his opinion: Langer’s is the winner.

Then it was time to eat. 

Though no official winner was recognized, people filled out scorecards featuring categories such as appearance, tenderness and flavor. Conversation was dominated by familiar-sounding Jewish table talk with everyone discussing the merits of two of the city’s top delis. (Langer’s No. 19 features pastrami, coleslaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on rye; Wexler’s sandwich is pastrami and mustard on rye.)

Photo by Shannon Rubenstone

Michael Rubenstone, 39, an actor living in Silver Lake, took his critique seriously. 

“I appreciate how Wexler’s makes the meat the star of the sandwich,” he said. “However, Langer’s wins the bread battle and is the better overall sandwich, I think.” 

Next, the group hopped on the Metro Expo Line and made its way across downtown to Dog Haus in USC’s University Park Campus to try its pastrami dog, Gertler’s own invention. Gertler is the brand ambassador and official “würstmacher” (sausage-maker) for Dog Haus. 

Gertler said he took time to prepare a homemade Gruyere cheese sauce the night before the visit for his special guests to pair with the dish. He described the dog as his own pastrami recipe ground up and put in sausage casings, served in a grilled King’s Hawaiian bun with coleslaw, which provides sweetness to balance the saltiness of the pastrami. He’s toying with the addition of the cheese sauce and looked to the tour for some guidance. The consensus was resounding approval of Gertler’s last-minute addition. 

Perry Forman, 59, a computer programmer living in Burbank who describes himself as an amateur foodie, had a glowing review of Gertler’s creation. 

“I’m not really a hot dog guy, but this was really great,” Forman said. “I’m the one at my office everyone looks to for restaurant recommendations. There’s a Dog Haus location in North Hollywood and I’m definitely going to take some of my co-workers there for lunch soon.” 

Gertler’s pastrami dogs will be available at Dog Haus’ station inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at all USC and L.A. Rams home football games this season. 

After another trip on the Metro and a visit to the newly renovated Clifton’s on South Broadway for cocktails (not included in the $30 price of the tour), the group walked to The Stocking Frame on Hill Street. The tour arrived at 5 p.m., just as the restaurant opened, to try its pastrami tacos featuring house-smoked meat served with white cheddar slaw. 

For Grant Wallensky, 28, a financial planner living in the Fairfax area, the tour saved the best for last. 

“The tacos were magnificent, delicious and truly amazing. I wish more people had stuck around,” he said, referring to those who left early. “That was my favorite stop. Honestly, I loved those tacos.”

For Tannaz Sassooni, 38, a Persian food blogger who lives in Atwater Village and frequents East Side Jews’ events, the entire tour scored high marks. 

“That’s a perfect day. I love getting to explore the city without a car, walking around, taking the Metro and exploring some good food,” she said. “The group was adventurous and up for the same sort of exploration.” 

“Pastronomy” was July’s special afternoon edition of “Last Sabbath,” a monthly series of casual, adults-only dinners sponsored by East Side Jews. Joel Serot, 32, SIJCC’s events coordinator, said write-ups in a variety of media outlets attracted people from outside East Side Jews’ normal reach. 

“We usually stick to Eastsiders, but because of the publicity for this, we have a lot of new people here,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.” 

Art Ginsburg, founder of Art’s Deli, dies at 78

At Art’s Deli in Studio City, which consistently ranked among Los Angeles’ best delicatessens, there’s an old saying: “Every sandwich is a work of Art.”

Art Ginsburg, the restaurant’s founder, died on July 24 at 78 following a long battle with cancer.

Born on Feb. 19, 1935, Ginsburg grew up in Staten Island, New York. But it was in the San Fernando Valley — Valley Village, specifically — that he met his wife, Sandy.

“My mother fixed me up with him,” recalled Sandy Ginsburg, who added that Art kept throwing away her number until finally agreeing to meet her to “get this woman out of his hair.” When he first laid eyes on Sandy, “That was it; we knew,” she said.

Opened in 1957 on Ventura Boulevard, Art’s Deli soon became a gold standard.

By October 2010, as Art experienced health problems, the restaurant changed hands to son Harold and daughter Roberta.

Art Ginsburg remained active in the neighborhood surrounding his restaurant through the Studio City Improvement Association.

“He and my mom spent their whole lives here,” said Harold, sitting at a table in the restaurant across from his mother. “I’ll miss his work ethic, his mentoring.”

With Art, “every customer was part of the family and a celebrity in his own right,” said Harold, who now runs the restaurant.

Anecdotally, many critics and East Coast transplants have ranked Art’s among Los Angeles’ best delis, alongside such places as Langer’s, Brent’s and the now-defunct Junior’s. In November 2008, when Los Angeles Times food writer Jonathan Gold wrote for L.A. Weekly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic responded to a reader’s inquiry regarding the best Reuben in town: “[T]he Reuben is the favorite sandwich of Art Ginsburg, the maven of Art’s Deli in Studio City, and sometimes I suspect Ginsburg studies the Reuben the way other great scholars parse the Talmud — adjusting proportions, strength of dressing and sharpness of cheese, crunchiness and ooziness, sweet and tart, until the sandwich speaks simply if profoundly on its own. Art’s is a good deli, but after the Reuben, all else is commentary.”

His widow explained there are no immediate plans to pay tribute to Art within the restaurant.

“The thousands and thousands of Facebook messages and all of the press we received will be sufficient,” Sandy said. “Art would be astounded to be remembered this way by so many people.”

The feisty Art Ginsburg took pride in his Studio City neighborhood.

“He did so much,” Sandy said. “His last biggest thrill: He fought the city to take those horrible meters out.” Remembering how these newly installed meters were originally set up as trial meters, Art placed a few calls. “Within a week, the old meters were back,” Sandy said.

Art’s Deli, located at 12224 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, will be closed on Friday, July 26, but will re-open on Saturday, July 27, at 7 a.m. 

With a side of wry, a ‘schmucky’ deli truck rolls into L.A.

It’s not a dinner for schmucks but a lunch served by one.

That may sound harsh, but how else to introduce a new food truck rolling on the streets of Los Angeles called “Schmuck with a Truck”?

On only his eighth day of business, the yellow lunch truck with the likeness of co-owner Matthew Koven painted prominently on the side is parked on a busy West L.A. street at lunchtime drawing the interest and laughs of hungry mostly 20-  and 30-somethings who work in the nearby businesses.

“This is my rolling restaurant,” Koven says as a stream of patrons stops by to check out his menu.

It’s a menu not for the the kosher crowd, but one for deli aficianados. Along with deli standards such as pastrami and Reuben sandwiches, it includes the “Lean schmuck,” sliced turkey on multigrain bread with avocado; the “Oy vey wrap,” roast beef with potato salad and American cheese; and the ultimate Schmuckwich—dark chocolate, peanut butter and fresh banana with grape or strawberry jelly on multigrain bread.

“I’m a Manhattan Jewish boy, a schmuck by default,” says Koven, who seems quite comfortable with the sometime pejorative both as a business name and wry means of self-identification.

“Schmuck” in every day usage is typically taken to mean a foolish or contemptible person, a jerk.

“You gotta be a schmuck to do this,” he says smiling as he explains how his “New York delicatessen on wheels” came to be.

Koven and partner Roger Ramkissoon, who he describes as a “Trinidadian schmuck,” were newbie Angelenos, having left New York only three weeks before.

“I had a Middle Eastern restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that was forced to close due to subway construction. Thank you, MTA,” says Koven, who tried to get his truck rolling in New York City but found the required permits difficult to obtain.

After visiting Los Angeles several times to check out the burgeoning food truck scene, Koven saw an opportunity for a deli truck and moved forward with his idea.

“It takes years of training to be a professional schmuck, to come to L.A. and do a deli truck,” he explains. “Dare to be different. My wife and friends loved the name.”

It seems to be working.

“The name attracted me,” says Sherman Chin, who works nearby and walked over to order a sandwich.

Also, the name provides a cover for customer banter.

“Isn’t it time the baby try pastrami?’ Koven asks a very pregnant looking woman, who after scanning the menu orders a pastrami and a hot dog.

Another customer asks for his mustard on the side.

“The left or the right?” Koven responds, not missing a beat.

Canter’s Deli’s queen of pastrami on wry

Stop in to the iconic round-the-clock Canter’s Deli most nights during the 7 p.m.-to-4 a.m. shift, and you’re likely to encounter another icon — a short, solid woman in her 70s with auburn hair who wears a white waitress uniform with metal snaps, a black sweater and sports a youthful twinkle in her eye. This is Bella Haig, who started waiting tables at the deli 47 years ago and who now serves as manager and unofficial queen of Canter’s.

Raised in Boyle Heights, around the corner from the original Canter’s, she was an early patron. “We were poor; I was the oldest of five kids. My mother didn’t have much money, but she liked to take us out to eat. She’d take us to Canter’s, and we’d sit at the counter. They’d wait on us last,” Haig remembers, “because Mom was not a good tipper.” Haig began working early. “I worked all through high school, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at a clothing store, Lerner’s,” she said. She married early as well, at 18.

The year that Haig started working at Canter’s, 1965, Lyndon
Baines Johnson gave his “Great Society” State of the Union Address, and the Beatles song “Yesterday” reached No. 1 on the charts, where it stayed for four weeks. Haig always chose to work the night shift.

“My kids were 2 and 7. My husband worked all day, and I wanted to supplement our income. I figured if I worked nights and he worked days, we wouldn’t have to have a babysitter. Now, I’m used to these hours. I prefer the night; it’s not boring.” Especially in the restaurant’s adjoining bar, she says.

“Our bar closes at 2 a.m., but customers find all sorts of sneaky ways to keep drinking,” she says. “They hide drinks between their legs, or pour them into their water glass.” Which is fairly tame compared to some of the shenanigans Haig has witnessed from the young rockers who stop in after the clubs close. A favorite trick? “I look at the stall and see two feet on the floor, and two feet not on floor. I usually just bang on the door and say, ‘It’s over. Get a motel. I’m gonna give you two minutes, then I’m gonna open the door.’ ”

These days, working 47 consecutive years in any job is remarkable enough — add to that the fact that Haig has never missed a single day of work. What has kept her going for so long?

“When they hired me as manager, they told me, ‘Pretend it’s your own place and run it the way you want to,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing.” Which means she takes things very personally. Such as when people try to skip out without paying the check. On numerous occasions she has put her life on the line, chasing customers more than four blocks down the street from the restaurant. She’s demanded expensive rings, watches and gold chains as collateral, and if someone is reluctant to part with their personal items, Haig doesn’t hesitate to enlist the police’s help. As for the actual running, Bella explains, “I could shop all day and work all night; my legs are good.”

Her vision is good, too. Nothing escapes her. Her two main responsibilities are keeping the diners happy and making sure the
waiters and waitresses do their jobs, and she confides that her staff regards her “with a mixture of friendship and fear.”

“They know I’m not gonna put up with any nonsense. And that I have the power to terminate them. That’s fire them,” she clarifies, “not kill them. But they also realize I’m gonna be fair and nice with them. If they’re slacking off, I don’t yell; I discipline. I take them to the back room and say, ‘What’s going on? Your customers need something, and what are you doing? I don’t see you working.’ I’ve had to let some go. Some take advantage or just don’t do their job.”

Haig relishes the celebrity customers, though they’re treated just like anyone else. “I waited on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Rock Hudson, Van Halen, Anna Nicole Smith,” she says, listing just a few.

Rodney Dangerfield, she says, “was a pain in the neck. He used to try to sneak in beer. He’d put a menu in front of him — like nobody could see the beer. He’d come in every weekend and would want to try tastes of everything before making up his mind. I didn’t want to say no, because he was already not getting very much respect.”

2nd Avenue Deli is movin’ on up, to the East Side

New York’s Second Avenue Deli now has two locations—neither of which is on Second Avenue.  JTA has video of the new branch’s opening, featuring a cameo by television and Yiddish stage star Fyvush Finkel.

Man on a mission to save the Jewish deli

Chicago and Cleveland have the best corned beef. Detroit is tops for rye bread. The best smoked meat is in Montreal, and for pastrami, you can’t touch New York and L.A.

When it comes to Jewish delicatessen, 30-year-old David Sax is the go-to guy. A longtime deli aficionado, the annoyingly trim Sax spent three years eating his way through more than 150 Jewish delis to research “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen,” a wistful, riotously funny paean to this quintessential slice of American Jewish history.

The book, which will be published in October by Houghton Miflin Harcourt, is a delicious romp through a fast-disappearing world.

In 1931, Sax reports, there were 2,000 delis in New York City, three-quarters of them kosher. Today, Sax says, his research turns up 25 Jewish delis in the city, two-thirds of which are kosher. A similar pattern has followed across North America, with city after city sounding the death knell for its last traditional deli. Sax guesses there are just a few hundred left worldwide, most of them in the United States.

“The Jewish deli is dying,” Sax told JTA. “Each time I hear a deli closes, something inside me dies.”

German immigrants brought the deli to New York in the 1820s, Sax reports. By the 1870s and ‘80s, German Jews had made their own, kosher modifications to the traditional treif recipes: schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat, instead of lard; ptcha, or jellied calves’ feet, instead of pig trotters. The origins of the first pastrami sandwich is shrouded in mystery, although writer Patricia Volk told Sax her great-grandfather was the first to slap pastrami between two slices of rye bread at his kosher butcher shop in New York in the late 1880s.

Sax chronicles the rise and decline of the “kosher-style” deli, an American innovation that originally differed from its kosher counterpart mainly in hours of operation (they did not close on the Sabbath) and lack of rabbinical supervision. Reaching its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, the kosher-style deli eventually succumbed to economic pressure and popular tastes and began putting cheese on turkey sandwiches, offering milk with coffee and using non-kosher meats. From there, it was an easy hop to serving bacon with French toast. Today few such delis use the term “kosher style,” preferring to call themselves Jewish or New York delis.

Sax bemoans the rise of glatt kosher a stricter standard for kosher meat that demands round-the-clock oversight by a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. He says it puts financial demands on deli owners that most cannot meet. That’s why most new delis are not kosher, he claims—it’s just too expensive.

“There’s a lot of money in hechsher,” he says, using the Hebrew for kosher certification. “It’s a turf war that uses religion as leverage.”

But most of this book is about food, the gloriously fatty, heart-stopping Ashkenazi cuisine that is the signature of the Jewish deli: braised brisket in wine sauce; pickled tongue; cabbage rolls in sweet-and-sour tomato; matjes herring; and, of course, the litany of “k’s,” the knishes, kreplach, kugel and kvetching.

He saves his highest praise for the deli meats: corned beef pickled and boiled in vats of brine; pastrami, lovingly rubbed with secret spice mixtures, then smoked and steamed to perfection. The way to suss out a good deli, he says, is to order the matzah ball soup and whatever deli meat the city specializes in, be it corned beef, tongue, pastrami or smoked beef, a softer, gentler Canadian variant.

Although delicatessen originated in Europe, American Jews put their own stamp on it. Pastramia, for example, was in its native Romania a method of preparing any meat or poultry, and was in fact originally used most often for duck or goose. In the United States, Romanian Jews applied the same technique to beef, which began pouring in from the great Western plains and was much cheaper than game poultry.

“The Jewish deli is rooted in the flavors of the Old World,” Sax says. “Some things are the same, like the chopped liver, the chicken soup. Others are amalgamations, like the sandwich, an American thing that the Jewish delis appropriated.”

A big part of Sax’s mission is to encourage young Jews to take over delis at risk of closing or open new ones, a goal that might seem counterintuitive in today’s economic climate. But he insists the market for deli food is there, as a new generation looks back nostalgically to a cuisine that represents an earlier, simpler, more comforting era.

“People aren’t really looking for innovation in deli,” he insists. “The best things I see in the new delis are a return to tradition.” His favorite new Jewish delis are taking advantage of the organic, do-it-yourself movement that is influencing the country’s restaurant scene. “It’s ‘innovative’ today to pickle your own meat or make your own kishke.”

In his effort to give props to these newcomers, Sax glosses over the sad but very real possibility that the Jewish deli may not survive outside a few key cities. New York’s deli scene has imploded, he says, and new delis in Portland, Ore. and Boulder, Colo., may be just flashes in the matzah brie pan.

His hopes for the San Francisco Bay Area seem particularly Pollyannaish. Two of the four Jewish delis he describes in his book have closed since he visited them, and of the remaining two, only Saul’s Deli in Berkeley rates as a real destination; David’s on Geary St., near San Francisco’s Union Square, is a dilapidated version of its former self.

Two delis to serve a region with more than 350,000 Jews? It’s a shanda.

City Voice: Yaroslavsky takes on developers in push for affordable housing

In defending middle-class neighborhoods, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is taking on an issue that reaches to the heart of Los Angeles’ ethnic, political and class divide.

All those matters are involved in a dispute over a new city development ordinance that eases restrictions on big residential buildings in such areas. This ordinance was passed to meet the requirements of a 2005 state law ordering cities to allow more dense development to create housing.

The question of preserving middle-class neighborhoods while also building affordable housing affects a huge part of Los Angeles, from the dense and impoverished Latino neighborhoods of Central Los Angeles to middle-class Jewish areas in West Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley. It includes the Jewish neighborhoods of Fairfax and Pico-Robertson as well as multiethnic Venice, long targeted for heavy development.

Yaroslavsky, once a Los Angeles city councilman, surrendered his role in city affairs when he was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1994. As a council member, he had been co-author of a successful ballot measure that scaled back development in residential areas. The measure, Proposition U, co-sponsored by the late Councilman Marvin Braude and passed in 1986, was a successful effort to outmaneuver the land developers and their lobbyists who, then as now, have huge clout at City Hall. The measure reduced density by limiting the size of many business and residential projects. Supervisors don’t have power over development within cities, so Yaroslavsky’s election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should have taken him out of the game.

But in 2005, the Legislature passed and the governor signed the measure designed to stimulate housing construction. It did this by telling cities to put aside zoning and other planning limitations if developers agree to include some low- and moderate-priced apartments in their projects.

Los Angeles and other cities were required to implement the state law with their own municipal ordinances.

Even though he was a supervisor with no jurisdiction over the matter, Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles resident who has retained a strong political following in the city, stepped into the negotiations over the proposed implementation ordinance. He persuaded City Council members to modify the proposal. The council and Yaroslavsky agreed on modifications designed to limit teardowns of apartments in residential neighborhoods and other steps to preserve such communities.

With those modifications, the Los Angeles City Council recently passed and the mayor signed the ordinance implementing the state law. Under the ordinance, the city permits a builder to go 35 percent over zoning limits if 11 percent of the units are set aside for low-income residents or 30 percent are moderately priced.

But Yaroslavsky still was not satisfied. He objected to giving developers permission to build larger structures if they include low- and middle-income units. This, he said, was a bonus for developers. “L.A. doesn’t need to offer development bonuses allowing taller and bigger buildings” to create more affordable housing, Yaroslavsky wrote in a Sunday Opinion article for the Los Angeles Times. But with the state law and the city ordinance implementing this practice firmly in the books, there doesn’t seem much Yaroslavsky can do now, short of starting an initiative campaign.

His entrance into the fight has prompted speculation that he is interested in running for mayor, an office he sought years ago when he was in the council.

CityBeat’s Alan Mittelstaedt asked Yaroslavsky about the speculation after the supervisor discussed the development controversy at Emma Schafer’s Public Affairs Forum, a monthly gathering of political and government insiders.

“If I were running for mayor, you’d know about it.” Yaroslavsky said. “Most of the talk about me running for mayor has been emanating out of City Hall from people who are trying to marginalize some of these policy issues by reducing them to political tiffs when, in fact, they’re substantive policy issues. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut when I see my neighborhood affected by what the city does. And as a former city councilmember, I’m not going to sit back quietly and watch 20 years of my work product dismantled without a fight. This has nothing to do with running for office.”

Advocates of more affordable housing say the state and city laws are needed by neighborhoods such as Pico-Union and MacArthur Park just west of downtown Los Angeles, where Latino immigrants, some here illegally, crowd into old apartments and live in incredibly bad conditions. Those walking from Langer’s parking lot to the restaurant for a pastrami sandwich may not know they are passing through one of America’s most densely packed slums.

These same advocates say the council’s decision to ease development restrictions will make affordable housing available throughout the city. Some Pico-Union and MacArthur Park residents could then afford to move westward or into the San Fernando Valley.

This possibility complicates the dispute, however, bringing in issues of race and class.

Although the demographics of parts of Los Angeles, such as the San Fernando Valley, are changing, much of Los Angeles remains segregated by race and income. Building low-income units in West Los Angeles and the West Valley would change the pattern. Poor Latino immigrants could move into Fairfax and Pico-Robertson.

The politically correct news media and political community do not mention this aspect of the dispute, but it’s important.

But it is also important to consider the desires of middle-class L.A. residents to preserve neighborhoods that are part of the fabric of Los Angeles.

This dispute will be a big factor the city election in 2009 when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to seek a second term. Right now the mayor is playing both sides of the issue.

He favors more housing construction, especially of the affordable kind. He’s developer friendly, approving of the commercial and residential units that were going up around the city at a brisk rate before the credit crisis slowed construction.

But Villaraigosa has also become an advocate for neighborhoods and has worked hard to strengthen his ties with Jewish communities around the city.

I would be surprised if Yaroslavsky runs against him. He can remain supervisor until 2014 when term limits force him out. Supervisors run virtually unopposed. Why give up a low-stress job for the heat of the mayor’s office?

But Villaraigosa, even without strong opposition, will have to contend in his re-election campaign with the powerful forces shaping the dispute over neighborhoods and development.

Al Langer, Pastrami King, 94

Al Langer, founder of the 60-year-old Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant, died Sunday in Agoura. He was 94.

Langer first sold sandwiches off a pushcart at Sydney’s Deli in Newark, N.J., at the age of 12. In his early 20s, he headed west to California and eventually opened Langer’s.

The historic deli at Seventh and Alvardo streets, known for its incredible pastrami, celebrated its 60th year two weeks ago with a massive anniversary party.

He is is survived by his son, Norm; daughter, Laurie Bernie; and four grandchildren.

— Brett Kline, Jewish Telgraphic Agency


Susie Alfasso died June 8 at 95. She is survived by her daughter, Zafira (Bruce) Berke; and grandchildren, Daniel (Katie) and Carol Berke. Mount Sinai

Miriam Altman died June 2 at 76. She is survived by her husband, Leo Altman; sons, Andrew (Christy), Lew (Ivy) and Ian (Deborah); daughter, Tobey (Mark) Kaplan; and 10 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Esther Baron died June 2 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Adrienne (Robert) Ruben; son, Stuart Jay (Linda); four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Mount Sinai

Ralph Bernstein died June 1 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Janice; sons, David (Kathleen Restifo) and James (Abby Kesden); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Harry Cohen died June 8 at 82. He is survived by his daughter, Sharon (Harold); son, Jerry (Cynthia); four grandchildren; and sister, Ruth Berkowitz. Mount Sinai

Michael Bernard Davis died June 1 at 65. He is survived by his sister, Irene; and niece, Lisa. Malinow and Silverman

Aaron Gobst died June 3 at 94. He is survived by his son, Zev (Betty); four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Mayer Goldbart died June 4 at 89. He is survived by his son, Stephen; daughter, Dorothy Clark; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

David Noah Golden died June 7 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Sara; daughter, Robin; son, Sandy; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and sister, Beverly Batdorf. Sholom Chapels

Sally Wiener Golub died June 2 at 89. She is survived by her husband, Paul; daughter, Jane; son, Rabbi Robert; and two grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Roslyn Gordon died June 4 at 84. She is survived by her sons, Robert and Michael; daughters, Pat and Susie; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Hillside

Faye Grossinger died June 4 at 84. She is survived by her daughter, Susan (Paul Thometz). Chevra Kadisha

Khaya Iosim died June 2 at 92. She is survived by her children, Irene (Jacob) Karlin and Oleg; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sisters, Dinarocha Roskin and Sara Kurin. Mount Sinai

Eva Kepes died June 5 at 83. She is survived by her son, George; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sam Kalt died June 6 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Ilona; children, Cornelia (Dr. Noachim) Marco, Paul (Amber) and Dr. Michele (Fred Wolf); and 11 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sylvia Reva Kanofsky died June 10 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Herbert; sons, Myron (Carol) and Gordon (Marcia); and three granddaughters. Malinow and Silverman

Sylvia Klatzker died June 2 at 89. She is survived by her sons, David and Dale; and six grandchildren. Hillside

Brett Lawrence died June 3 at 44. He is survived by his daughter, Courtney; parents, Helene and Jerry; siblings, Blaire (Aaron) Kaplan and Darin; and companion, Bonnie Wolfe. Mount Sinai

Susan Levin died June 5 at 65. She is survived by her husband, Richard; sons, Eric (Angelica) and Kevin Bahn (Susanne); and seven grandchildren. Hillside

Robert Lowitz died June 8 at 89. He is survived by his son, Richard; and daughter, Suzan. Mount Sinai

Saree Aneshl Milstein died June 1. She is survived by her nephew, Marshall Glick; and nieces, Marni and Heather Glick. Hillside

George Morley died June 5 at 94. He is survived by his sons, Tom (Mathlida) and James (Catherine); daughter, Katharine (William) Metzger; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sister, Agnes (Benjamin) Goodman. Mount Sinai

Sylvia Natapoff died June 8 at 91. She is survived by her husband, Milton; daughters, Judy and Karen; two grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and brother, Harold Leventhal. Hillside

Phil Newman died June 1. He is survived by his wife, Sue; son, Randy; daughter, Ginny; brother, Barry; and sister-in-law, Toni Glick. Hillside

Rochelle Lynn North died June 2 at 51. She is survived by her husband, John. Malinow and Silverman

Gus Oberman died June 2 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; son, Dennis (Dee Dee); daughters, Lynn (Dick) Kravitz and Judy (Barry) Wechsler; nine grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and sister, Goldye Urnstein. Mount Sinai

Mary Paikov died May 11. She is survived by her daughter, Anna; and many friends. Mount Sinai

Ceil Palmer died June 9 at 92. She is survived by her son, Jeff; and friends. Hillside

Herbert Jacob Patt died June 2 at 72. He is survived by his wife, Lynn Feingold; daughter, Colette; sons, Bradley (Shirley) and Aldon; and five grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Hannah Ruth Patrusky died June 4 at 80. She is survived by her daughters, Elise Oerth, Ellen Patterson and Julie; and five grandchildren. Hillside

Jerome Raike died June 6 at 95. He is survived by his wife, Rina; sons, Steven (Susan) and Lawrence (Debora); 13 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jeanne Rosen died June 5 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Loren West and Keith (Harriet); two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Kenneth Rowen died June 2 at 65. He is survived by his wife, Susie; sons, Michael and Daniel; daughter, Elisa Jaeger; grandchildren, Aragwen and Holden; and cousin, Eli Michaels. Mount Sinai

Marlene Rubin died in May. She is survived by her daughter, Elaine (Jon) Boscoe; son, Jeff (Lisa); three grandchildren; sister, Sharon (Erv) Lew; nephew; and niece. Mount Sinai

Raymond Sandler died June 4 at 93. He is survived by his sons, Richard, Michael, Roger and Leland; and seven grandchildren. Hillside

Langer’s celebrates 60 years of a passion for pastrami

Just as I was embarking on a cross-country tour to promote my latest cookbook, I was sidetracked by a pastrami sandwich.

It happened in Los Angeles.

I had gone into Langer’s, the

A Bissel Taste of Big Apple’s Best


“Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes” by Arthur Schwartz (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $45).

“I am not the first in my family to be obsessed with food,” food writer Arthur Schwartz said. “I like to say I was born with a wooden spoon in my mouth because there was always cooking going on, and I was always asked to taste and offer my comments. Enough salt? Enough pepper? Does it have the right ta’am?” she said, using the Hebrew word for taste.

No wonder Schwartz became a food critic, renown for the outspoken and droll persona he developed on his former N.Y. radio show and as executive food editor at the New York Daily News. Or that his award-winning new book, “New York City Food,” is subtitled “An Opinionated History.” The exhaustively researched work offers his take on Gotham’s food personalities, recipes and ethnic cuisine, with loving attention to Jewish fare — “My soul food,” he said.

Besides exploring the origin of the 21 Club and chicken and waffles (some say Los Angeles; Schwartz says Harlem), he dishes about such subjects as the “Jewish champagne,” Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda; Arthur Reuben, the first restaurateur to name sandwiches after famous people, and early-20th century bagels, called “cement donuts” because they turned dense an hour after leaving the oven.

Also included are recipes for the perfect matzah ball and babka, the coffee cake that means “grandma” in Polish. It’s so named “because in its original form it was stout and round, just like grandmothers used to be before they went to aerobics classes and practiced yoga,” he said.

Speaking from his Brooklyn apartment, the 58-year-old Schwartz bantered in a similarly witty (and opinionated) fashion about how to properly eat deli sandwiches (God forbid you should put anything but mustard on pastrami) and just how much Jewish immigrants influenced Big Apple cuisine.

“Some of the most quintessential New York foods are of Central and Eastern European Jewish origin: bagels and lox, pastrami on rye, corned beef, pickles, cheesecake, matzah balls, knishes,” he said.

If those foods eventually migrated west to Los Angeles, it all began in Manhattan with the creation of the now-ubiquitous delicatessen. Although Schwartz can’t name the first such restaurant, he traces the institution, in part, to individuals such as Isaac Gellis, the Berlin-born sausage manufacturer who by 1872 was producing “mountains of kosher sausages, frankfurters and other cold cuts.”

“One reason these meats became so popular — along with lox, which is salted salmon — is that they require no further cooking,” Schwartz said. If you lived in a tiny tenement apartment with minimal cooking facilities, these were like convenience foods of their day.”

Lox, however, probably did not meet the bagel until the 1930s, Schwartz discovered while interviewing Florida retirees and food author Joan Nathan. Rather, Jews ate the fish on black bread until Al Jolson sang his song, “Bagels and Yox,” on a radio show sponsored by Kraft, the cream cheese manufacturer, around 1933.

Other Schwartz research revealed secrets of the now-elusive egg cream, a mix of seltzer, chocolate syrup and milk supposedly invented by Louis Auster in a Lower East Side candy store circa 1910. Initially Auster’s grandson, Stanley, kvetched he couldn’t discuss egg creams because of his heart condition; after prodding from his wife, he revealed one of grandpa’s secrets was the particularly vigorous bubble in a homemade carbon dioxide charged seltzer. Schwartz now recommends using highly carbonated supermarket soda water, rather than old-fashioned seltzer from a siphon bottle, to make the beverage.

“This, of course, has gotten me into trouble with my friends, the seltzer men of Brooklyn,” he said.

If the egg cream has dwindled as the preferred Jewish soft drink, the tribe’s love of Chinese food has continued to thrive in the past six decades.

“It started because Jews could go into a Chinese restaurant and feel safe,” Schwartz said. Until the 1970s, only three types of restaurants existed, besides Jewish ones, in New York: French was for fancy occasions, Italian was intimidating due to the Madonna over the cash register, but Chinese was cheap, tasty and nonthreatening.

The Chinese, after all, weren’t Christian; the statue of Buddha looked like a decorative statue, or perhaps your fat Uncle Moe, and Jews were one step up the socioeconomic ladder from the Chinese. “As Philip Roth points out in ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ to a Chinese waiter a Jew is just another white guy,” Schwartz said.

And while the treif drew Jews who wanted to rebel against kosher parents, the minced meat and lack of dairy ingredients allowed others to blithely “cheat” on kashrut.

“My late cousin Danny, who was kosher, along with many other otherwise observant people I have known, happily ate roast pork fried rice, because the meat was chopped into such small pieces,” Schwartz said. “The attitude was, ‘What I don’t see won’t hurt me.'”

In Schwartz’s Brooklyn childhood home, take-out Chinese graced the menu, along with his grandmother’s refined Russian Jewish cooking. Young Arthur completed chores such as chopping liver and cranking the meat grinder; he also absorbed his grandfather’s stories of selling pickles from a pushcart during the Depression and working as a curmudgeonly waiter in a Romanian Jewish Steak house.

Schwartz, for his part, got his first food job by admitting he had no proven qualifications.

“I have gathered instead three personal endorsements,” he wrote to Newsday editors in the late 1960s.

“‘Arthur’s oysters Rockefeller saved our marriage — Elaine Schwartz, wife. Arthur’s pot roast is even better than my mother’s — Sydell Schwartz, mother. Arthur’s chocolate soufflé aggravates my diabetes — Eva Rothseid, mother-in- law.'”

Since then, the food writer — nicknamed “The Schwartz Who Ate New York” — has knife-and-forked his way through all five boroughs and has written five books, including “What to Cook When You Think There Is Nothing in the House to Eat.”

Among food authors, he is known as the culinary ambassador from Gotham: “Arthur is a walking encyclopedia of New York food, and certainly of New York Jewish food,” Nathan said.

“He is the most reliable expert on food for real people,” L.A. Weekly restaurant critic Jonathan Gold said. “He is the guy you’d ask where to get the best pastrami, and you’d believe him.”

For Schwartz, opining about pastrami and other Jewish fare was the easiest part of writing his new book. “It’s my life, my history,” he said.