Ellen Switkes and her husband, Don Shirley. Photo courtesy of Ellen Switkes.

Love at first bite at Langer’s

Last year, my husband asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday. Since he keeps current by reading restaurant reviews, I deferred to him.

“Yesterday, you mentioned a new wine bar that just opened in Silver Lake. Let’s go there,” I said.

This wine bar was quite the scene. Very hip. Very trendy. Lots of glass and concrete. The waiters were all skinny, dressed in black, aggressively gender-neutral. I ordered a glass of wine — a delicious Syrah. But it wasn’t truly a glass of wine; it was more like a splash. After three sips, the wine was gone. It cost $15. I felt cheated — and on my birthday, no less.

This year, as my big day approached, I didn’t mess around. I said to my husband, “We’ve lived in Los Angeles for 35 years. It’s about time we went to Langer’s Deli!”

“Langer’s Deli?” My husband was in shock. “They haven’t been reviewed in years.”

An iconic landmark by MacArthur Park, Langer’s has been a fixture in Los Angeles for decades. In fact, this year marks Langer’s 70th anniversary. According to many foodies, Langer’s serves the greatest sandwiches in America. Its pastrami is world famous, but after all these years, I still hadn’t experienced it for myself.

That’s even more surprising, given that my love for pastrami on rye goes back to when I was a child. At that time — during the ’60s — there was an advertising campaign for Levy’s rye bread with the slogan: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” It served as the caption to a series of photos that included the likes of a Native American and an Asian boy, each with a sandwich close at hand. This ad campaign was groundbreaking. It said so much about Jewish pride: We Jews love our food, and if gentiles also love it, then surely the Messiah will be here any minute.

So when this year’s birthday rolled around, my husband and I walk into Langer’s, and immediately, it feels like reuniting with an old flame. The décor is vintage 1962, back when Formica reigned supreme. The joint is hopping with people representing all corners of the globe. I see dashikis, saris, turbans. There are Asians and Latinos, and even a couple of Nordic blondes in a corner booth. The multilingual hum is just like the Levy’s ad promised: proof that everyone is loving their food.

A waiter comes to our table. I order a cream soda and pastrami on rye with all the trimmings.

The waiter turns to my husband and asks for his order. This could go in so many directions, because my husband is a food extremist. At home, he’s a disciplined dieter and will avoid salt, sugar, fat, butter, citrus, starchy vegetables, red meat, smoked red meat, smoked fish, nuts, chocolate and booze. But in a restaurant, he sometimes throws caution to the wind. I’ve seen him order wine, margaritas, lamb roast, garlic potatoes, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, gelato.

When he’s finally ready to order, I take a deep breath. He wants cream cheese and coleslaw on a Kaiser roll.

He eats his stupid sandwich and pretends to like it. Meanwhile, I’ve fallen in love with my pastrami masterpiece. It turns out that my soul mate is a pastrami on rye!

While clearing the table, the waiter asks, “Are you folks here for a special occasion?”

This question delights me and I answer, “Yes! As a matter of fact, it is my birthday.”

“If it’s your birthday, you get dessert!”

“Oh, no! I couldn’t. After that sandwich, I’m stuffed.”

“Oh, c’mon! It’s on the house. Our gift to you!”

“A gift? To me?”

“Yes. What’s your name?”


“Ellen, try some dessert — you’ll love it!”

The waiter — and this guy is a pro, not some 20-something aspiring actor-director-writer biding his time — is a waiter’s waiter. He returns to our table with a delicious sweet, singing: “Happy birthday, dear Ellen!”

I look out over the restaurant and all these faces from around the world are singing happy birthday to me. It looks like a greeting card from the United Nations. I throw kisses to one and all.

The dessert is delicious. My husband takes a bite and deems it worthy. We leave Langer’s. I’m floating on air. It takes so little to make me happy. And my husband’s happy that I’m happy. And I’m happy that he’s happy. So we’re happy, happy, happy, happy.

As we walk to our car, it gets me thinking: I just saw people of every race and creed coming together in peace and harmony over a deli sandwich. The golden age is within our grasp! All we need are heaping portions of pastrami on rye, plenty of dessert and gallons of cream soda.

And don’t forget the pickles.

Ellen Switkes writes for the page and the stage. She’s with Ladies Who Lunch, a storytelling duo.

Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

EasyJet apologizes for pork sandwiches

EasyJet apologized to Jewish passengers who were offered ham melts and bacon baguettes.

The budget airline has featured kosher and vegetarian sandwiches since its London-Tel Aviv route was introduced late last year, a spokeswoman told media outlets Tuesday. It is also the airline’s policy not to have any pork products on board the planes on that route.

The kosher menu includes egg, mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches; smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels; mozzarella and tomato panini; and a muffin or chocolate orange mini cake.

The wrong food canisters were loaded on the plane for the 4.5-hour flight, according to the airline spokeswoman.

“We would like to apologize to the passengers and can confirm we have done everything we can to ensure that this does not happen again,” the spokeswoman said.

Easy smorgasbord to break the Yom Kippur fast

During Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a strict fast is observed — no food or drink for 24 hours. So, it is always important to remember that the Yom Kippur Eve menu has special requirements.
The prefast dinner should be quite light, ending with a delectable dessert to help the sweet tooth stay on hold. Cut down on salt so that the thirst that comes with fasting will not be unbearable, and for the after-the-fast meal, people will want to savor the flavors and spices again, but the food should not be too heavy.
My bubbe always told me that after fasting on Yom Kippur, our bodies needed a lot of salt, and I remember that her break-the-fast dinners always included several types of cured herring.
The Scandinavians can take credit for inventing a perfect menu for this occasion. The creators of the smorgasbord enjoy an array of salads and pickled and smoked fish served on their favorite breads that offer a large variety of open-face sandwiches. It is a meal that combines the perfect ingredients necessary for your post-Yom Kippur meal.
To begin, greet your guests with apple slices dipped in honey and challah or honey cake when they return from the synagogue. Then serve this simple meal either as a buffet or in separate courses: several salads, open-face sandwiches and delicious, homemade strudel for dessert.
The menu is amazingly easy to prepare. Everything can be made in advance and refrigerated. It is not necessary to spend a lot of time in the kitchen while everyone suffers from acute hunger pangs.
My Signature Strudel had been a family tradition since we lived on a ranch in Topanga Canyon and our children were very young. After making strudel for family and friends for several years, a local restaurant asked me to bake it for their dessert menu — and I was in business. I would deliver the strudel wrapped in aluminum foil, frozen, and they would bake it to order. When customers asked for the recipe, they said it was a secret — but, not any more. Enjoy!

Cucumber Salad With Dill
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large (hot-house variety) cucumbers, sliced paper-thin
2 tablespoons dried dill weed or 1 tablespoon fresh minced dill
1 head Bibb lettuce
1 bunch arugala
Cherry tomatoes for garnish

In a large glass bowl, mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the cucumbers and toss. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Drain; serve on lettuce leaves and garnish with watercress and cherry tomatoes.
Serves six to eight.

Beet and Onion Salad
5 pickled beets, drained and sliced (recipe follows)
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup minced parsley
Lettuce leaves

In a large salad bowl, toss together the beets, onion and cucumber.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and lemon juice. Just before serving, pour the olive oil mixture over the beet mixture and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in a bowl or in individual servings on a bed of lettuce. Garnish with chopped egg and parsley.
Serves eight to 10.

Pickled Beets
5 large raw beets
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Trim the beets, leaving one inch of the stem. Wash the beets, place them in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for one hour or until the beets are tender. Reserve one cup of the liquid. While the beets are still warm, slice off their stems and peel off and discard the outer skins. Transfer the beets to a large ovenproof bowl. Set them aside.
Place the mustard seeds, allspice, cloves and cinnamon stick in a cheesecloth bag and tie securely. In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, reserved beet liquid, sugar and the spice bag. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Pour this mixture over the beets, cover and refrigerate. Chill overnight.
Serves eight to 10.

Kerstin Marsh’s Beet and Herring Salad
From the first taste of this salad, you will be hooked. The contrasting flavors of the herring, pickled beets, noodles and crispy apples are so delicious.
This recipe comes from the Swedish kitchen of our good friend Kerstin Marsh’s mother. We have been enjoying it in Kerstin’s home every year during the holidays for at least 20 years. I finally got Marsh to copy her cherished recipe from the original tattered and torn pages of her handwritten cookbook.

1 (8-ounce) jar herring in wine sauce, drained and diced
1 1/2 to 2 cups pickled beets, chopped or thinly sliced (see recipe)
2 cups cooked macaroni
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf, crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the herring, beets, noodles, apples and onions and toss to blend. Blend in the mayonnaise and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well with the bay leaf. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.
Serves eight to 10.

Open-Face Herring Sandwiches With Horseradish Sauce

12 thin slices limpa bread

The Meatiest Offer in Town

The tables were filled and the clock turned back at Canter’s on Monday, as the landmark Fairfax deli lowered the price of a corned beef sandwich to 75 cents in honor of the restaurant’s 75th anniversary.

Cashier Tom Gordon, who answered questions between fielding phone calls and ringing up tabs, said his crew expected to serve 10,000 corned beef sandwiches during the one-day, 24-hour promotion. That’s about 5,000 pounds of corned beef, by his reckoning. But that’s nothing compared to the restaurant’s estimates of their cumulative servings of 2 million pounds of smoked salmon, 20 million bagels and 24 million bowls of chicken soup.

It’s been 75 years since the Canter brothers moved west from Jersey City and opened a restaurant in Boyle Heights, east of downtown, in the center of what was then a bustling immigrant Jewish neighborhood. As the tribe migrated westward, Ben and Jenny Canter opened a second location at its current spot in 1953, eventually closing the original Eastside spot. The family also owns a restaurant in Las Vegas, which opened in 2003.

Some things at Canter’s never seem to change. The pickles are still made onsite according to Ben’s original recipe. And the few sugar-free baked goods are overwhelmed by the markedly sinful display of sweets that you must pass as you enter. But the updated and ever-gargantuan menu also includes Mexican-style offerings and healthier plates like the Orange Almond Salad, which is what Wade Twitchell would have ordered if corned beef wasn’t selling for 75 cents. Twitchell had brought along Brian Ewell, 13, who would have ordered coldcuts, but couldn’t resist the 75-cents logic either. But Dawn Sharpe, originally a deli-goer in Dorchester, Mass., has been a pastrami/corned beef gal from the word go. She conceded, however, she might not have made the drive from Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley if the price hadn’t been so right.

The line outside varied in length throughout the day, but it was never short. Still, it seemed to move fast — a good thing since the appetite-maddening smell of corned beef wafted at least two blocks away.

The topsy-turvy prices had consequences up and down the street. For one thing, a street person in black boots and a knit cap was asking passersby for 75 cents, as though that were the going price. And it looked as though some familiar street denizens were actually in line for sandwiches. But things were not going well at the nearby Schwartz Bakery, where the line of Canter’s customers effectively blocked the storefront.

“No one is breaking through the line to get to my store,” complained the woman behind the counter. “It’s been like this all day.”

Reporter’s Postscript: The situation was no better for me, a regular Canter’s customer, after all, who was able to get close enough to photograph and takes notes on the corned beef, but lacked time to stand in line. Luckily, the poppyseed danish from Schwartz’s was first-rate.


Politics on Rye

Nationally, the big question is whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) can parlay his strong performance on the 2000 campaign trail into primary wins if he runs for the presidency in 2004. Locally, the big question is this: corned beef or pastrami?

Lieberman is just one of the politicians who will lend their names to sandwiches at Stacks, Washington’s newest political hangout and only kosher deli, opened recently by Republican lobbyist and conservative activist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff promised a nonpartisan approach to the name game, but in an interview, he revealed something of a partisan bias. Asked if dishes named after Republicans would cost more, he would say only that "they’ll be the ones that’ll have all the fat cut out."

One of the first political sandwiches will be named for Abramoff’s best political pal — Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the incoming House Majority Leader. Will the DeLay Special be choice bologna?

"No, only the finest roast beef," Abramoff protested.

He forcefully rejected the notion of a Bill Clinton sandwich, but said that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) "is a possibility."

Among the other likely sandwich honorees: Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), all members of the Jewish delegation in Congress.

That won’t be a first for Ackerman, whose name appears on the menu of Ben’s Best Kosher Deli on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, Queens.

The "Ackerman Special": Open-face corned beef, breast of turkey, sliced onion and Russian dressing.