The Pickles

We went to Brent’s Deli.

I needed to feel something. Others take drugs, drink alcohol, I eat. And since I didn’t get my pastrami sandwich on my birthday, and since Langer’s is no longer open at night, we journeyed out to Brent’s.

Which is in Northridge, the epitome of the suburbs. In a strip center. And it never occurred to us that at 6 PM the place would be packed, that we’d have to wait.

But it’s a Jewish pilgrimage.

And so different from the rest of Los Angeles.

In L.A. two things are important… How you look and what kind of car you drive.

And these people didn’t look good.

Not that they looked bad, well, some did, it’s just that they didn’t put on their look. They didn’t change clothes, they didn’t put on makeup, there was no preparation whatsoever. They were at home watching television and got a hankering for deli and…

Kind of like me. I’m reading the new Michelle Huneven book, and after lying around all afternoon I wanted to enter the real world. I brushed my teeth, put in my contacts, threw on my shoes and we were out the front door.

And we find ourselves waiting for a table, staring at cakes so big, they could serve as life preservers, assuming they float.

And I knew what I wanted… Pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. But I’d forgotten that at Brent’s they specialize in Reubens, so I substituted sauerkraut for cheese and upon closing my menu the bus boy delivered pickles.

Pickles… My father used to have giant jars of them in the garage, where never a vehicle was stored. There was a cornucopia of gems in that space, from the extra freezer to sports equipment to Pepperidge Farm cookies, which my father bought at the seconds store in Westport… Does it really matter if a cookie is broken?

The pickles in the garage were usually of the green tomato variety, nice and sour, the kind that make you wince with their tartness.

But the ones that had me swooning this evening were…

New pickles.

You know, ones that are barely beyond cucumbers. With just a hint of…

Who knows what that is. I remember that movie wherein Peter Riegert was a pickle dealer, but really I’ve got no idea how they make pickles.

Except I did read in the “Wall Street Journal” that they marinate them in outdoor tanks in Chicago. Did I really want to know that, my food swims in all that pollution?

And Jews used to go out for Chinese food on Sunday night. Cantonese.

But no one eats Cantonese anymore, and really, L.A.’s more of a Thai town.

And I bit into that pickle and Felice could not help but remark upon the smile that graced my face.

Some things are so right, they connect us to distant memories we thought we’d forgotten, and when we experience them, we can only smile.

It took me back to the deli in Bridgeport, where they made a spread so thick with chives you could barely see the cream cheese.

My father would stride in, point out the pickles, walk to the counter and start ordering…

P.S. Deli is notoriously bad in Los Angeles. And I can only extol the virtues of Zabar’s, but even in NYC too often the pastrami is thin and fatty and virtually tasteless. Langer’s is L.A.’s best, but if it’s Sunday night, or you’re in the Valley, try Brent’s.

Brent’s Deli

The Black Pastrami Reuben (They say it comes with Swiss cheese, but it doesn’t!)

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