Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wexler's Deli at Grand Central Market

A lot has happened since we last checked in at Grand Central Market.  Let's take a peek, shall we?

The Market as a whole was named one of Bon Appetit's ten best new restaurants and New York Times coffee authority Oliver Strand deigned to name G&B's iced latte, made not with dairy but with house-made almond-macadamia milk, the best in the country.  The market has gotten a butcher shop, a juice bar, a kombucha bar (did I just say that?), and outposts of Silver Lake's Berlin Currywurst, West Third's Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria, and Santa Barbara's McConnell's Ice Cream.  The long lines multiply and grow, as does the buzz.

And tucked among the shiny new eateries and GCM stalwarts is Wexler's Deli.  LA was a little slow to pick up the trend of nouveau Jewish delis that pay homage to their predecessors, but Wexler's has come to fill that gap.  By necessity, the menu is small, and thanks to chef Micah Wexler's formal training, as much of it as possible is made in that tiny kitchen.  There are a few sandwiches (corned beef, egg salad, tuna salad), house smoked salmon and sturgeon on bagels from Brooklyn Bagels, and occasional black and white cookies and chocolate babka.

But what everyone wants to know is, how's the pastrami?  And more to the point, is it better than Langer's?  Let's talk it out.

Langer's is a civic institution, and with good reason: their delectable pastrami is arguably the best not just in LA, but in the entire country.  I'm glad to report that there's no sense of competitive one-upmanship at Wexler's.  Instead, Wexler, an LA native, has imbued his deli with a respectful reverence for Langer's -- evidenced by the MacArthur Park sandwich, an edible homage to the #19, with its cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing -- coupled with a soft-spoken confidence rooted in his own high-quality product.

The pastrami at Wexler's is very, very good.  They make it right there in the tiny kitchen, unlike Langer's, who parses out the work to an off-site facility (and purportedly uses liquid smoke in their recipe.  Shudder). Its peppery seasoning is properly biting; its smokiness is just right.  The meat is sliced thick, and balances fat and lean well.  The coleslaw on the Macarthur Park is excellent: its fresh brightness not dimmed by too much tangy dressing.  The rye bread isn't perfect -- it's a little dry, and doesn't have the toasty crust of they rye at Langer's -- but it's still perfectly serviceable.

In any city without a pastrami titan looming over it, Wexler's would be a star.  But, and I'm a little relieved to say this, the sum of the parts of the Langer's sandwich still  somehow come together more harmoniously.  Maybe it's the softer bread, which seems to hold the sandwich's ingredients together in a gentle hug, or maybe it's just the alchemy of a recipe that's stood the test of decades.  But my Wexler's sandwich didn't lead to the tears-in-my-eyes ecstasy that the Langer's sandwich reliably delivers.

But, let's not miss the point here: this rookie player in the LA deli game is no slouch.  We've got a solid contender here.

Wexler's Deli is in the Grand Central Market, at 317 S. Broadway.