Thursday, June 28, 2007

RIP: Albert J. Langer

Is there anything more perfect than a Langer's hot pastrami on rye? The pastrami is what you hear the most about, the succulent, pungent, perfectly spiced, thick cut (always order hand cut) pastrami. But the fresh baked rye stands on its own. The crisp, chewy crust with a soft, pillowy interior, smelling of caraway and always fresh. Put it all together with a generous dollop of mustard and you have one of the most perfect sandwiches available. Some people prefer the #19, with coleslaw and swiss cheese, but not for me. Nothing extraneous should stand in the way of me and my pastrami. And I'll have an egg cream with that please.

In 1998, I moved to LA from Manhattan, where I had worshipped at all the temples of pastrami, from Carnegie Deli to Katz's. These were places where the pastrami was piled so high that you would need mandibular implants to fit your mouth around a sandwich. They are less sandwiches that giant towers of meat with a perfunctory slice of bread on the side, vertical sandwiches for a vertical city.

New Yorkers, used to judging pastrami sandwiches by weight and girth, often complain that a Langer's sandwich is light on the pastrami, but quantity isn't what Langer's is about. It is about gestalt, the perfect blend of flavors and textures, the creation of a zen-like balance on a plate, with a pickle. Once I tasted a Langer's sandwich, I left all of New York behind. I never again complained about LA's lack of good bagels or pizza or public transportation, because LA has Langer's and New York doesn't.

Al Langer, pastrami legend, died last Sunday at age 94. Rest in Peace, oh lord of pastrami.

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