David: As our blog namesake suggests, I’m the corned beef of this operation. Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything here in LA that compares to the deli fare (what we call simply, “deli”) I grew up on in Detroit. It makes me sad.
Last weekend, we ended up at Nate ‘n Al, a Los Angeles deli staple since 1945. I favor this deli for its Detroit roots. Nate (Reimer) and Al (Mendelson), both Russian immigrants, met in Detroit around 1915. After soaking in some prized deli together, they became partners and decided to try their Jewish luck out on the west coast. Nate n’ Al’s genesis, from stalwart Detroiters by way of World War I Russia, ensures that this deli is a safe-haven from the Beverly Hills nonsense—a place where rye bread stuffed with corned beef and yellow mustard trumps $1000 dollar pocket squares, Louis Vuittons and yellow Lamborghinis.
A deli is judged by its corned beef. If they don’t have that mastered, the rest isn’t worth trying. Nate n’ Al’s has a solid corned beef sandwich. They favor the leaner cuts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (especially for your health), I just personally like more fat for flavor. We also ordered latkes (potato pancakes), but this giant hunk of potato was not the latke I grew up with. Take my advice and pass on the potato deadweights.
But, let’s be honest, it’s not always about the food. At Nate n’ Als, you feel comfy. The waitresses have been there longer than the Prada store and they couldn’t be happier about it. They call you “hun” and laugh at the grandpa’s bad jokes sitting two booths back. It’s a great spot for a cozy, simple dinner or for mid-day lunch. You don’t have to be Jewish to dine here, but you might leave wishing you were.
Jen: “Deli” is uncharted territory for me. David is really the first Jewish person I’ve known in my whole life. My first deli experience was a month ago in the suburbs of Detroit, and it was completely wonderful. David’s whole family gathered at Stage Deli and the table was soon brimming with latkes, matzo, corned beef, well-done fries, knishes, new and old pickles (referring to how long the cucumbers sit in brine) and Dr. Browns cream soda. We noshed on comforting carbs and simple, satisfying flavors, while the whole family gossiped about the week’s past events (a family wedding, a government shutdown, and the new iPhone 5s).
At Nate n’ Al’s, we started with both new and old pickles. I’m partial to the new pickles for their pleasing bright green color, slightest bit of sourness, and a very gratifying crunch. My kreplach (“like a wonton,” I’ve been told) soup arrived nice and hot. The broth was a basic chicken stock, and the giant kreplach were dense, overcooked beef balls. I won’t pass judgement, since I think that’s how it’s supposed to be served. The potato pancakes were also leaden and overdone, possibly fried hours before and then nuked in the microwave.
Nate n’ Al’s didn’t quite measure up to Stage Deli, but like David said, sometimes it’s not only about the food. Seeing David’s euphoria over his corned beef was satisfaction enough. And I very much enjoyed the mellow people watching, especially the bubbe in the booth next to us, slowly savoring every bite of her carrot cake with multiple watery coffee refills.