Liberty? Not after tomorrow.
The pursuit of pastrami? In full force, baby.
Ok, not really, since it has been months, months I tell ye (!), since my last pastrami, and I don’t even want to know how long since my last confession. However, just to recap, it was back in May at Langer’s Deli.
Here’s the thing. Johnnie’s Pastrami is not new to me. A long long longlonglong (!) time ago, I was on a Johnnie’s streak. I was introduced to it by some boy who I have long since forgotten. Oh, who am I kidding? I haven’t forgotten. “Long since forgiven.” This girl might forgive, but she never forgets. Never.
Anyway, I was reintroduced to Johnnie's Pastrami and...
I swear this happens a lot. You know how you have a short-term memory of something good? Like say, for HYPOTHETICALNOTREALRHETORICAL example, you had a luscious weekend fling with some semi-stranger during that time when you were having a Quarter-Life Crisis, and he was nice, and you were nice, and you had a nice time. Monday morning you totally regret it because that’s just the old-fashioned Midwestern values that were brainwashed into you, but then the real California free spirit adult you takes over and by Wednesday, the memory of it makes you *sigh*. It was nice.
It’s not like you think about it every single nanosecond of your life, but when you do, it makes you smile. And as time passes, each time you remember it, somehow the memory of it is better. Like by the weekend, for some reason, “he was nice and it was a nice time” has become “he was niiiiice” *eyebrows up and down* as you retell the story to your girlfriends over microwave popcorn and manicures. And then after two years, yes two years because that’s the kind of memory-clinging girl you are, after two years that weekend fling with a stranger who probably wouldn’t even remember that he was in that city at that time, has become this *sigh*-inducing omgitwasfabulous memory. Somehow the memory is built up and things like music playing in the background and an occasional fleet of doves fluttering overhead have now become part of the memory.
This is just an example, I swear.
And then, out of the blue, two years later, he emails you and you get it because you have had the same email address for ten years and you have the memory again and you wake up in the middle of the night in some febrile frenzy and the next day you leave work early for an “appointment,” yes, an appointment at the salon, and spend three hours getting ready to meet this awesomeness that you remember, and you go to the bar where you first laid eyes on each other and you see him, and you’re like…
Is that you? Johnnie’s Pastrami? All these years since the first bazillion times I went and it was all just a progressively embellished memory of delicious?
Somewhere between the last time I had Johnnie’s Pastrami, which was about eight years ago, and today, either Johnnie’s changed or I changed. Or both. Or maybe I did that ridiculous romantic buildup thing. Ugh. I hate when I do that.
It really was an example, I swear.
My sister’s husband brought Johnnie’s home for dinner (I very conveniently camped out at her place until dinnertime). The enormous logs wrapped in white paper held so much promise, and as I grabbed my shared half with my sister, I was anxious. It had been such a long time, and as I have said, my memory of it was that it made me *tingle*.
I unwrapped the sandwich slowly, sort of letting the memory come back and wash over me the way a memory of spiced, cured meat aways washes over you, as long as it’s not Spam. *crinkle* The first layer of paper fell to the plate. *crinkle* The inner layer of the paper dropped onto the plate. I was holding the barenaked sandwich in my hands.
As I held the behemoth, the French roll bread crushed into a thin carbohydrate pipe, clogged with a tangled, peppered mess of fatty pastrami, I had the faintest feeling of confusion mixed with uncertainty. Johnnie’s French-dip style pastrami sandwich was so big and so thick and so big (!) that I didn’t know how to eat it. I never thought I would ever say this, but there was too much meat.
I was overwhelmed by the meat.
Normally, I pull sandwiches apart simply because I am not a sandwich girl to begin with and I eat the bread and fillings separately. I’m just weird that way, and it has absolutely nothing to do with politely using a fork and knife. I just eat the cheese, vegetables with my hands. But for Johnnie’s pastrami sandwich, I pulled apart the two halves of the French roll not only because I wanted to, but I had to.
The meat is sliced paper thin, and wadded up into hundreds of flavor-holding folds of fat and flesh. It was decent, but made even better with the generous addition of mustard and either a pickle slice or a tiny pepper (or both) with each bite. I may not be a sandwich girl, but I am most certainly a Qondiment Queen. My sister had requested specifically from her husband that he make sure to bring home the mustard, which made me think it was some golden god of mustard. However, I has to laugh when “the mustard” turned out to be nothing more than neon yellow ballpark mustard in condiments packages. But she was right, the simple bread-and-meat pastrami sandwiches would have been like a donkey in a peacock costume if the mustard was fancy. There weren’t enough pickles. I love Johnnie's pickles.
So my built-up expectation fueled by a long-ago memory didn’t quite live up in terms of Johnnie’s pastrami, but when it came to the Chili Cheese Fries, it was like I was 21 all over again. The mountain of crinkle-cut French fries was drowning in chili. In the valleys where French fry met French fry, tiny shimmering pools of grease had collected, sourced from both the liquid lard that just couldn’t be absorbed by the chili beef and the oil that had perspired out of the melted cheese. I pulled a French fry by an end that had barely escaped suffocation by chili and cheese, but still had not been spared the red-stain. It was good. After that, I dove in to eat chili, cheese, and fries togather. I think I might have come up for air once or twice
Unfortuantely, the Onion Rings were the only true disappointment of the meal. I had no expectations because I had never eaten onion rings frm Johnnie’s before. The rings weren’t horrible, for they are onion rings, after all, but I am finding more and more that my preference is for battered onion rings, which tend to be crisper, rather than bread-crumbed onion rings, which have a thicker, sturdier texture but end up falling apart anyway. Still, an onion ring is an onion ring.
Johnnie’s Pastrami isn’t bad. The pastrami by itself tastes pretty good, particularly with its accompaniments. The bread soaked with meaty juice by itself tastes pretty good, too. However, together as Johnnie's French-dip pastrami sandwich, it was just too big and not everything I hoped and remembered it to be.
But hey, email me in two years. Include the Chili Cheese Fries and I'll get all hot and bothered again.
4017 Sepulveda Blvd (@ Washington Pl.)
Culver City, CA 90230
** a year ago today, we said good-bye, good luck, and good riddance at nanbankan **