Oy Gevalt! We’ve heard a lot lately about how Jewish delicatessens are a dying breed in New York. But here in LA, delis are holding their ground, and perhaps even thriving. Yes, iconic deli Junior’s in Westwood closed at the beginning of the year, but it was immediately replaced by Lenny’s Deli, which doesn’t seem that different.
While adventurous Angelenos love checking out restaurants that serve exotic cuisines they are not familiar with like Bolivian, Laotian and Napalese, many don’t realize that beyond the sandwiches and bowls of matzo ball soup, Jewish delis offer delectable Eastern European specialties unfamiliar to a lot of foodies, especially non-Jews. Below are some of my favorites.
As for the best places to consume these dishes, there are many divergent views in the LA Jewish community, which reminds me of the saying “With two Jews, you get three opinions.” Brent’s (in Northridge and Westlake Village) is my favorite Jewish deli in the city and has the best food overall. I also love Canter’s on Fairfax, especially because of its excellent bakery, its cool retro look and the fact that it’s open 24 hours for late night noshing and kibitzing. Langer’s (Downtown) ranks next on my list because of its amazing pastrami. My other favorites are Billy’s (in Glendale and Torrance), Nate ‘n Al (in Beverly Hills) and Greenblatt’s (in West Hollywood).
1. Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup Every fresser and his brother orders Matzo Ball Soup at a deli, but I prefer this hearty soup instead. The best versions contain succulent pieces of braised short rib called “flanken.”
2. Kasha Varnishkes Like two inseparable Jewish friends from the old country, this dish is a classic combination of Kasha, a cereal usually made of buckwheat, and buttery bowtie pasta.
3. Blintzes These are thin crepes wrapped around a filling, which is usually sweetened ricotta or farmer’s cheese, but can also be potato, blueberry or cherry. They’re topped with powdered sugar and served with sour cream and jam.
4. Kishka aka Stuffed Derma This was made with cow intestines back in the day, but now it has a sausage casing and is stuffed with a filling of flour, carrots, onions, celery and paprika. It tastes like stuffing and is usually served with gravy.
5. Chopped Liver Schmear some on a slice of freshly baked rye bread and place a piece of raw onion on top and you’re in business. I also like to eat my chopped liver with hot and sweet mustard.
6. Fried Kreplach A kreplach is a dense doughy dumpling filled with ground meat. It’s often served in a bowl of chicken soup instead of a matzo ball. Kreplachs are amazing fried up and topped with sauteed onions.
7. Knish This is essentially a little baked hand pie made with a thin layer of dough surrounding a filling of either mashed potatoes, ground meat, kasha, sauerkraut, mashed sweet potatoes or cheese.
8. Stuffed Cabbage aka Holishkes It can be described as meatloaf which has been wrapped in cabbage and cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. What’s not to like?
9. Black & White Cookie Really more cake than cookie, this saucer-shaped treat has chocolate icing on one half and vanilla icing on the other half. Jerry Seinfeld referred to these cookies as “two races of flavor living side by side in harmony.”
10. Hamantaschen My favorite Jewish bakery dessert is named after the triangular hat of a real life villain named Haman who tried to exterminate the Jews in ancient Persia. We celebrate his defeat by “eating his hat.” These cookies have fillings such as apricot, prune, cherry, chocolate or my favorite — poppyseed. 11. Halvah This dense and flakey confection made with sesame seeds is an acquired taste. You can usually find them at the deli cashier’s counter next to chocolate covered raspberry jelly candies.
12. Dr. Brown’s Soda This is the drink of choice at a Jewish deli. The flavors are Black Cherry, Cream or Cel-Ray, an old school celery seed soda that was originally developed as a tonic to promote good health. L’Chayim!
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