The Black Pastrami Reuben

It was the sauerkraut that put it over the top.

Don’t let yourself get too hungry, that’s what my nutritionist says. And I’ve been oh-so-good, avoiding carbs, last Thursday I was at a dinner party where Tom Windish and his bride-to-be brought a blueberry pie and a three berry cake from Sweet Lady Jane and I did not partake, not a bite, not even Rachel’s tiramisu, because I’m insulin resistant, and when I eat carbs my blood sugar spikes and after being wide awake I’m sleepy and then I feel like crap for two days and…like I said, I’ve been very good.

But I was hungry.

And I’m lying on the PT table in Century City dreaming of food.

There’s an entire stash in the fridge, if I can just make it back to the house, but I’m thinking of something savory, something that will hit the spot, like a burger from Five Guys or…

A hot pastrami sandwich.

Not that I’m that big on Five Guys. But at least there’s enough beef, but they play the music too loud, as if they want you to exit immediately, and the fries are tasty but there are way too many of them so…

I decided to go to Brent’s.

It all made sense. I had all three papers with me. It was gonna be a field day.

Now I checked Google Maps. Never use Apple Maps, the timing is way off. It said it’d be fourteen minutes beyond home. I could do that. Hell, I’d write off the entire afternoon, not even check my phone, this was gonna be FUN!

And with Howard on vacation I was switching back and forth between No Shoes Radio and the Highway on the satellite, but when I hit a bummer I decided to go all news, I was taking a break, I worked my way from left wing to right wing, from MSNBC to Fox, and ended up on some Sirius news program dedicated to tech, they were talking about AI, artificial intelligence for the uninitiated, and it rang my bell as I crested the hill, passed under Mulholland, and the temperature began to rise.

Instinct would say to take the 405 all the way to Parthenia.

But Google said to transfer to the 101 and take Tampa. And you should never argue with technology, it’s always right.

And when I got to Brent’s parking lot, it was 104 degrees. East coast hot. You know, where you don’t need a jacket at night. It’s rarely this hot in L.A.

And needless to say, Brent’s was empty. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. Well, not completely empty, but I could get a booth and not feel guilty for hogging it, being one person only, but I needed the real estate, to spread out my papers.

So I pointed out my place to the hostess, she exhibited no resistance, and I took the proffered menu. Many people don’t take a menu at a deli, they know it all, and what they don’t know the kitchen will make.

But I wanted to peruse the sandwiches, I wanted to drill down to the right one, I needed pastrami with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, like they do it at Langer’s.

Yes, the pastrami is better at Langer’s. It’s the thicker cut, the twice cooked bread. And actually, they now imitate it at Brent’s. They’ve even given it a number, 13, to compete with Langer’s famous Number 19. But on the facing page…

I saw it. The black pastrami reuben!

Once upon a time reubens were only made with corned beef. And as much as  I love pastrami, that’s how much I hate corned beef. But as the years have passed the rules have been bent, and in my salad days at Brent’s I tasted one of these reubens, and it was off the charts, that was what I was gonna get! Rule number one of eating out, get what feels right, not what you think is right.

But then it got better, the black pastrami reuben came with FRIES! it was my lucky day, that was one of the reasons I was craving Five Guys, I had a smile upon my face.

Which at first I did not, because I realized my chosen abode was so close to the kitchen, and my OCD was kicking in and I thought I was gonna have to move but then I realized that the shrink’s exposure technique would work, and it did, I got over it, it didn’t bother me a whit!

But as I unfolded the L.A. “Times” I realized the next table over had two little kids. Would this be trouble? No, they were very well-behaved, near quiet, the stars were aligning!

So I ordered my sandwich. Along with a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry, I mean you’ve got to go all the way, or don’t go at all. And I was intellectually saving room for a slice of carrot cake, but…

The sandwich came with so many fries, skinny cut, my preference, that there was no way I could eat anything after I devoured what was on this plate.

I ordered extra Russian dressing. The sandwich has to be wet.

And I was worried I was gonna run out of reading material, I’d covered too much of the “Wall Street Journal” on the phone the night before.

But, when I bit into the black pastrami reuben…

How am I gonna describe this?

Brent’s is not exactly a dump, but it is a deli, with no atmosphere and a constant din.

And it’s not like I’m fine dining, not even slumming at a fast food joint. Rather, I’m eating the food of my people, my heritage, that heartburn-generating fare of my youth.

So you’ve got to picture it…

The bread is toasted very brown. You can barely see the white of the rye. This is a serious sandwich, not for wimps, not for the faint of heart.

And the cheese is gooey and they put enough Russian dressing on it and…

I can’t describe it! I can’t tell you how it all came together in my mouth, poured down my gullet and satisfied me in a way that I felt fully alive and life was worth living, if I didn’t die of a heart attack on the way out.

Yes, I had misgivings. Just before I sat down. What was I doing here?

What are we doing here, what are we on this planet for? To work, to achieve, or to EXPERIENCE!

You don’t have to be rich to buy Brent’s black pastrami reuben, you don’t need a graduate degree, you just need taste buds and a hand to lift it.

Yes, I ate it one-handed, my other arm is only just now coming back to life.

And there was enough.

The more upscale the restaurant, the smaller the portions. And the cheapie places don’t give you enough protein, that’s what my nutritionist says, it’s the protein that satisfies your hunger.

So the first half of the sandwich… The toast, the pastrami, the gooey cheese, the Russian dressing…and the SAUERKRAUT! That’s right, there was a taste of sourness that shot this sandwich into the stratosphere, a delectable delicacy you can buy all day long which most people never consume, even though it’s hiding in plain sight.

I started with the fries.

But when I switched to the sandwich I couldn’t let go. I dipped it in some of the extra Russian dressing, figuring if I didn’t partake of it the waitress would judge me for requesting it, stupid, I know, but that’s me, and when I finished half…

I just dug into the other half. I wasn’t gonna take it home. I was after the full effect, this was full on GLUTTONY!

To the point the mountain of fries left after the sandwich disappeared seemed way too much, but I consumed them anyway. Who knows, there might be an apocalypse on my drive home from Northridge, I might not be able to eat for days, I’m gonna DENY MYSELF??

And when I finished, I just sat there. No need to rush out, I’d already blown the afternoon. But when only the last pages of the front section of the “New York Times” were left, I sidled out of there.

That’s right, just me, anonymously. No one cared who I was and no one cared what I did. I was in charge of my own life, and I’d just had a peak experience.

I haven’t eaten anything since.

Although I did pound five Caffeine Free Diet Cokes. You see I’m dry, dry, dry. Reminds me of drinking back at Middlebury, when I’d wake up Sunday morning and go in search of Pepsi, which controlled the concession on campus. They didn’t refill the machines on weekends and sometimes I’d have to march through four dorms to quench my thirst, to survive, you’ve always got to have the effervescent elixir on hand.

And now it’s after midnight, I’m reading the CAA book about Tom Ross going to fat rehab and that’s when it hit me, the sauerkraut, how it put the black pastrami reuben over the top.

And I just had to write about it.

Because it’s these moments in life that really count, that make it worth living.

I cried when I wrote this down, sue me if I went on too long.

Just call me Deacon Pastrami, Deacon Black Pastrami Reuben.

“Brent’s Deli Presents: How to make a Pastrami Reuben”

“Brent’s Deli Makes the Meanest Pastrami Reuben in Los Angeles”

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