The world of serious sandwiches suffered a terrible loss this week with the death of Al Langer at the ripe (or should I say cured) old age of 94. I got the news in an e-mail from David Sax, a Canadian food writer who is on a mission to save Jewish deli food.
Langer and his wife Jean founded Los Angeles' only great Jewish deli in 1947. His pastrami, made to his specifications, was a peppery, smokey ode to Jewish soul food. When I wrote favorably about Langer's pastrami in the New York Times, I was practically stoned by New York deli afficionados the next time I walked into Katz's. They might as well have put a "fatwa" on me.
Read more to discover what Nora Ephron, our poet laureate, said about Langer's. And find out how to get Langer's Pastrami shipped to your house so that you can have a Langer's pastrami party in Art's honor.
Placed on still-warm rye bread, Langer's pastrami made more than a "nice" sandwich. It was, as Nora Ephron, our pastrami poet laureate, wrote in the New Yorker, a "work of art." Here are a couple of choice Ephron Langer's pastrami bites:
"The rye bread, faintly sour, perfumed with caraway seeds, lightly dusted with cornmeal, is as good as any rye bread on the planet, and Langer's puts about seven ounces of pastrami on it, the proper proportion of meat to bread."
"The resulting sandwich, slathered with Gulden's mustard, is an exquisite combination of textures and tastes. It's soft but crispy, tender but chewy, peppery but sour, smoky but tangy. It's a symphony orchestra, different instruments brought together to play one perfect chord."
Ephron goes on to say that if Langer's was in New York, "it would be a shrine."
There are three great pastrami sandwiches to be had in this country:
Langer's, 704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, CA, 213-483-8050
Katz's, 205 E. Houston Street (corner of Ludlow St.), New York, NY 212-254-2246
Ben's Best, 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, Queens, New York, 718-897-1700
Rounding out my top six are: Carnegie Deli, Artie's, and Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Amazingly, you can get all three of my favorite pastramis by mail. But if you get it, try to buy a whole, uncut piece and then steam it slowly to approximate the real deli experience.
With great delis seemingly in peril all over North America it's heartening to know that Norm Langer, Art's son, will continue to run the business adhering to his father's high standards. Wherever you are this weekend, serious eaters, have a pastrami sandwich and a Dr. Brown's soda, and before you take your first bite, toast Art Langer, a true Serious Eater. And remember, if Art Langer lived to 94, maybe someday researchers will discover that pastrami has the same health benefits as red wine. Eat pastrami, live longer.
[pastrami photo taken by Ben Brown]