Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sandwich #2: The Emmy at Junior's

A block away from The Landmark, where Meridith saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi and I saw We Have a Pope last Friday, is Junior's Deli, one of the very few authentic Jewish delicatessens in Los Angeles. The greatest is Langer's near MacArthur Park, which has retained its dignified feel through all these decades. It's small and it will remain that way, and it will always have the best Jewish food you will ever taste.

I would place Junior's second, but a very distant second. The food is decent, but they don't know what full-sour pickles are. Half-sour perhaps, but when we asked three times for a bowl of full-sours, they came back with the same pickles, what they apparently consider full-sours. If you're running a Jewish restaurant, you'd better know what full-sours are. Dad said that it's based on the population. Florida was populated with Eastern European Jews. Los Angeles has Israelis. Two very different belief systems in the way of pickles. It's hard to take, though, when you've grown up in one very particular way, when the passion for full-sours and really good kishka requires you to be exacting about your tastes. After that third bowl produced nothing of what we asked, we let it go. What else could we do?

When it came time to order, after I had quickly perused a fairly lightweight menu that felt disappointing, I ordered the Emmy sandwich, billed as "hot corned beef, pastrami, swiss cheese, and Russian Dressing." It's the kind of sandwich that needs fries, but no fries. Only cole slaw comes with each sandwich. Meridith had their Build-a-Burger option, choosing pepperjack cheese, and of course that came with fries. Fortunately, Meridith doesn't eat restaurant fries that often unless they're really fried, and these ones were, but I still got my chance at a few.

When I was a kid, I used to be impressed with the sandwiches I saw at The Rascal House in Sunny Isles, north of Miami Beach. They were huge! How could someone stack that much meat between two slices of rye bread and have it remain stable like that? What magic was there that kept the balance? And look at all that corned beef and pastrami and chopped liver! Amazing!

In my pursuit of my standard of perfect sandwiches, I'm a little incredulous now at sandwiches of that size. For Dagwood Bumstead, that size works because it's in a comic and that's his appetite. I know that there's Blondie's at Universal's Islands of Adventure, which Meridith and her friends searched for during their 8th grade end-of-the-year trip in order to try a Dagwood, but couldn't find the place. To me, that describes exactly what I think of such jumbo sandwiches: They're novelties. There comes a point when a sandwich becomes tall enough that it's more about the size than the sandwich itself. I believe attention should always be trained on a sandwich and the elements that make it so.

The Emmy is manageable with both hands, but you're just chomping into a lot of meat. The Russian dressing is slathered on both slices of bread, but never in between, I guess because to have it on any slice of the meat is to risk the balance of the reputation of sandwiches like these. One slice of meat has to cling to another. No sliding. And the Swiss cheese is only latched to the dressing on each slice of bread. Again, nothing in between, and again, just a whole lot of meat in your mouth. Stop giggling.

Fortunately, a squeeze bottle of Gulden's mustard was at our table and as my sandwich shrank, I thought to squeeze some on the meat. Oh god. If I had done it before, the sandwich would have surely fallen apart, but that combination of salty meat and Gulden's is a kind of heaven that can only exist in that moment. It counteracts the straight salt from the meat, elevating the flavors of the meat. It's as if the corned beef and pastrami stop trying to compete with each other in taste and just link arms and hum in peace. Gulden's is truly the United Nations of mustards, but more successful.

Tall sandwiches being a novelty that shouldn't be indulged in too often, I liked it in those moments of all that corned beef and all that pastrami. But separately, even though I know that's part of what Jewish delicatessens thrive on (the Carnegie Deli at the Mirage in Las Vegas does it too), it's still too much. Fortunately, the slices of rye bread at the top and bottom held really well, and that's how you know you're in a good Jewish restaurant. Rye bread needs to be strong for these sandwiches, but not too hard a crust. This worked.

The Emmy goes well above the egg salad hoagie I had from Pavilions, but probably lounges in the middle of my list. #5, I think. I'm saving the top spots for sandwiches that I'm sure will either come from Southern Nevada or New Mexico, or those cities I visit during my visits to presidential libraries. We shall see. I do know that I want to find a sandwich like The Emmy, but with some self-control, and more sandwiches that use hoagie rolls. I like the strength of those.


  1. Gah, I want to see that movie about the master sushi chef! Did your sister like it? Is it worth watching, or is it yet another case of a trailer making the movie look better than it is?

    1. Meridith really liked it. She loved watching the sushi being made, and the chef's background story.