A dream come true
Old Town's New York Deli is an answer to a prayer
By Erica Wayne 04/12/2012
It was just 16 years ago that I wrote of the coming of Jerry’s Deli to Pasadena. “Hallelujah,” I kvelled. “There is a God!”
After years of skepticism and unanswered prayer, Divine Providence had provided me with a real, live — no, make that larger than life — full-service, 24-hour-a-day deli. If I wanted blintzes at 3:42 in the morning, I could get them.
A neighborhood Jerry’s was the stuff of dreams for a nice Jewish girl, who all her life had taken neighborhood delis for granted, until, that is, she got to white-bread Pasadena, changed her nom de plume to Wayne and resigned herself to deli purgatory, with infrequent Valley, Pico/Fairfax or West LA jaunts to satisfy her lox lust.
But, like many dreams, the one of a local deli was short-lived. Within a year, Jerry’s was suddenly no more, and a deli dearth once more characterized Rose City. So things remained, with more and more Italian and Thai, Indian and Mexican, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, but nary a sign of a true Jewish deli. As the years passed, I despaired over ever finding a good pastrami sandwich this side of Langer’s.
Thank goodness, in this season of salvation (Passover and Easter on the same weekend, wow!), the drought is finally over. Once again, I’ve found that my prayers have been answered. Actually, they were answered last year, when New York Deli opened on Raymond Avenue in Old Pasadena. But I didn’t know until the Pasadena Restaurant Week “bargain” menu last month brought me in.
Dinner ($26) included an appetizer, entrée, dessert and beverage (even well drinks and beer) and sounded like a real steal. We ordered a Beck’s and a Foster’s, a round of onion rings and a cup of chicken noodle soup for starters. Then we ordered a Reuben with hot pastrami (or corned beef) on grilled rye with homemade Russian dressing, grilled sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, potato salad and pickles. For me, lox and bagels with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, pickles, a water bagel and soft cream cheese. For dessert, pieces of carrot cake and chocolate cake.
As we sipped our beers and awaited the food, we got to look around. The interior is quite dramatic, all black and red with dark wood accents. On the walls are wonderful photos of New York City and lots of old movie stills and headshots. There’s a bar that runs along the north lateral wall with the requisite mounted TVs showing sports events. Way in the back you can glimpse the kitchen. There’s seating throughout, but a couple of nooks in the front offer a small measure of seclusion.
When our starters arrived, one sip of the soup, so full of noodles and hand-cut chicken, carrots and celery that the broth seemed a minor addition, reassured me that this was the real deal. The set menu didn’t list matzoh ball soup ($2.55 extra a la carte) as an option. But judging from the expertise with which the soup was made, I’m pretty sure it would have been just fine. Our onion rings were plentiful, with a crisp, cornmeal-based coating. We enjoyed them.
I loved the one bite my husband allowed me of the Reuben. The pile of meat was at least two inches high and the sauerkraut and Swiss each provided the flavor they were supposed to add, although the dressing was nearly indiscernible. The deli mustard was superb. It was so good, in fact, that when we boxed up the uneaten half sandwich, we filled the extra cavities in the Styrofoam box with enough to use on hot dogs later in the week. Even the potato salad, which I usually loathe, was quite edible, with big chunks of potato, green onion and a modest amount of mayo.
My lox was delicious. The bagel (alas, only plain and onion were available) was cut in two, each half pre-slathered with cream cheese and topped with several rectangles of nova. Tomato and onion slices were just what the open-faced duo required. (Who eats lettuce with lox?) My only real, but minor, disappointment was with the olives — the canned kind rather than salty kalamatas.
Now, about the cakes, both were good and generously cut. To quibble, we could note that the actual cakes (both carrot and chocolate) might have been a tad dry, but the rich cream cheese and dense chocolate frostings more than compensated. Leftovers joined the half sandwiches to serve as next-day supper.
As we awaited our bill, I checked out the individual prices of each component of our dinner and added them up to see how much we’d saved. The beers are $3.95 apiece, soup $3.95, onion rings $4.50, Reuben $11.95, lox and bagel $12.95, each cake $4.25. Hmmm. No matter to whom I allocated the choices, the highest price I could get for a complete meal was $25.65 and the lowest a mere $24.10. So the $26 price was a $1.90 to $.35 “rip off.”
But I’m still a happy camper. Right now, aside from the outrageously priced quarter-tank of gas we’d need to drive to the Westside or the Valley and back, the prices at Jerry’s are at least 50 percent higher. Identical meals in Westwood run between $32 and $35. So Pasadena’s New York Deli is a wonderful deal if you want an authentic, well-made delicatessen lunch or dinner.
But I still crave things that our New York Deli doesn’t have. I searched the menu in vain for blintzes and kishka, egg creams, pickled herring, smoked fish, lox omelets, sesame bagels and kugel. I yearn for a bakery counter stocked with Danish, corn ryes, challahs, macaroons, hamantaschen and rugula.
And, most of all, I want longer hours — open from breakfast till late at night, seven days a week. Maybe, just maybe, if all of us eat there as often as possible (we’re going back this afternoon), the New York Deli will expand itself and eventually make all Pasadenans’ deli dreams come true.