If you were to approach an LA resident and say "quick name a deli," you'd probably get a confused look for asking a stranger such a question, followed by an answer relative to their neighborhood. There'd certainly be the Langer's, the Canter's, the Junior's, maybe even the Nate n' Al's, but my guess is you'd here even less mention of Brent's. If you had asked me a Jewish boy brought up in the valley, Brent's would have been the place I exclaimed as I started eyeing for the cops to save me from your crazy questioning.
This was the deli I knew for their matzo balls the size of softballs, their french toast breakfasts, and their mile high sandwiches. Weekend mornings were always packed, parking was always ridiculous, and service moved at the same pace it took Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Still the people would come knowing the food was worth the wait and the journey, deciding that a slow delicious brunch was better than no brunch at all. After not having been here in years I decided it was about time I went back, and as luck would have it, I had a meet-up organized by Pleasure Palate to do all the necessary planning for me.
On a hot Sunday afternoon the Brent's experience started as I had always remembered. There it sat in the strip mall parking lot crowded by the same zoo of cars with drivers blinded by hunger. Thanks to teamwork Jenn and I found a space quickly and safely, and within minutes were already making our trek across their hectic lot. Once inside it's clear that no one parked outside is going anywhere but Brent's. Unless of course they're the few early drinkers headed into the dive bar next door.
Even after the breakfast rush the place is still bopping, packed to the brim with families, elderly couples, and groups of friends shooting the breeze over shaved deli meats. The hostess station is situated directly in front of the main entrance which is where you pay your bill and buy deli baked goods like extra large black and white cookies or carrot cake. Sadly this desk positioning is seriously problematic and often leads to crazy mayhem and confusion as those who just wandered in off the street don't know where to pay, where to buy a bagel, or where to put there name in for the long wait. Even with a noon reservation for a party of 7 we still had to wait an extra 20 minutes to be seated.
When our name was finally called we were lead to the back of the restaurant and squeezed into a corner booth adjacent to a kitchen door. I'd hoped for a larger table considering we did have a reservation and they do have better table set-ups for large groups, but by this time I was hungry and honestly didn't care. Besides they did try to accommodate us further without prompting by adding an extra chair to the end of the table so we weren't forced to sit in each other's lap.
As I scanned the menu I already knew what I was getting. No not matzo ball soup or even french toast, I was here for a sandwich. Most of the time when I come I just get the turkey on rye with fruit. Today though I was feeling daring and decided it was about time to try the Black Pastrami Reuben, which I had heard so much about but never ordered. I am no reuben expert by any means, and actually, this would be my very first reuben creation. I like my sandwiches from a deli counter with clean cuts of turkey or beef with a touch of mustard and the occasional single slice of swiss or cheddar. When you overload me with sauces and multiple cheeses I feel like I lost out on actually tasting the meat that didn't come from an Oscar Meyer package. I also had a few fry varieties to choose from as a side and I went curly. I'm a sucker for curly fries. The rest of the table ordered matzo ball soups, other sandwiches I now forget, and Jenn ordered the Roast Beef Club.
After flagging down a waitress we put in our order and asked for fresh pickles and bagel chips. I asked for a side of ranch to dip the chips which always adds a nice bit of zest to the dry and crunchy bagel slices. It was a good thing we did ask for something to munch on because the food took its time coming out. I'd anticipated this, but when your hungry your hungry, and every minute that passes as you wait feels like an eternity. It didn't help that everyone's soups came before my sandwich.
Finally the wait was over and my selection was placed before me. I had to muster up all my strength not to dig in before taking a picture with my phone.
The black pastrami reuben is peppered pastrami served on grilled rye bread with melted swiss cheese, topped with "hot" sauerkraut and russian dressing. In my hands it was large, warm, and greasy. As I looked at it anxiously I thought "this first bite would be breaking my reuben virginity."
In the menu it's described as melting in your mouth and just as described it did. The warm meat and melted swiss fused creating a lush tasty experience sweetened by the relish in the russian dressing and given bite from the sauerkraut. The pepper in the pastrami was there albeit not very prevalent. For someone with nothing to compare this to it was a very good sandwich. One caveat I will give is the skimpyness of the sauerkraut reduced its flavor perhaps too much. If your gonna use sauerkraut on a sandwich don't hold back. You can always take some off if it's took much for you. Also the curly fries that I chose as my side turned out to be a very nice surprise being some of the best curly fries I've had in recent memory. They were perfectly crispy without being overdone and lightly battered in a perfect ratio. I'd recommend this over their potato salad or cole slaw which is generically prepared and uninteresting.
Jenn also loved her sandwich and I did get a taste. The american cheese was a very nice compliment to the freshly carved roast beef but the sandwich was way to big even by club standards. I don't quite understand why Jewish deli's insist on using an amount of meat in sandwiches that makes eating them like a sandwich challenging. I'd honestly rather pay less for a little less meat. The rest of the table were happy with their orders, particular the chopped liver which I didn't try.
Brent's is still an undertaking indeed. You have to mentally and physically prepare yourself for driver's off their meds, fight your way onto a waiting list where you will proceed to wait and wait, and then finally seated you'll be waiting some more. Just remember that the food will come and you will be content. If there is one thing I've learned from this visit to Brent's Deli in Northridge is that it has consistency down pat. From the food which always comes out as requested and tasty, to the nightmare it took to get here.
19565 Parthenia St
Northridge, CA 91324