Monday, January 17, 2011

So What Is . . .

California Pastrami--other than the name of two sandwich shops in Albuquerque?

I thought the name might refer to how the meat is brined, partly dried, seasoned with various herbs and spices, and then smoked and steamed. But intensive (alright, ten minutes) on-line research didn’t provide me with an explanation. It seems the difference is the manner in which the meat is served. But more on that later.

We often miss the great corned beef and pastrami that we could find in Jewish delis in and around Philadelphia. So when I read one of Gil Garduno’s reviews of California Pastrami, we put it on our list of new places to try.

Now we have been in some “holes in the wall” but this place gave new meaning to the word. Seating consisted of five two-tops and two three-tops. High turnover must be the order of the day for this place to turn a profit. That and a vigorous take-out business.

D├ęcor was limited to some of the shop’s t-shirts tacked to the wall and a display of signs ( photos below) bearing the words “dream,” “hope,” and “believe.” This must be remnants from the space’s prior use. And I found it interesting that the shop shares a building with a day spa.

The menu is sandwich-centric and includes: the classic patty melt on rye bread; a Steak Sandwich with thin-cut rib eye with mayo, lettuce, and tomato; a Roast Beef sandwich which is basically a French dip; a Philly Cheesesteak; a hamburger; and the Pastrami Burger. This latter may have been born at Crown Burgers in Salt Lake City or it may have started in Los Angeles. I’ll let those two states duke it out. The Pastrami Burger is simply a hamburger upon which thin sliced pastrami is heaped. Also included on the menu were the obligatory (New) Mexican items like a Carne Asada Burrito, Carne Asada tacos, Carne Asada nachos, and fish tacos. But my motto is stick with the specialty.

For those (me) wanting more traditional deli food, there was the corned beef Reuben (on rye with kraut, Swiss cheese, and 1000 Island Dressing), the corned beef sandwich (same as the Reuben, but without the kraut), and the Eastern Hot Pastrami on rye with spicy brown mustard. And then there was the California Pastrami sandwich.

As only California can do, the state has put its own stamp on the venerable pastrami sandwich. Yellow mustard is substituted for brown mustard. A “hoagie” roll is substituted for the crusty chewy rye bread. And dill pickle slices placed directly on the roll are substituted for the kosher pickle spear. It may be good, but it’s just not right. (O.K., call me an old fart.)

We, being tradition-alists, went with two classics. Chuck chose the Eastern Pastrami sandwich (right), and the Reuben photo below), substituting pastrami for the corned beef, was mine. Both came with a pickle spear and a small cup of slaw. Chuck added a side of fries to his order.

The bread was a quite good seeded rye. Not as good (here comes my parochi-alism) as Eastern rye, but it still had enough substance to stand up against the juicy fillings. The slaw was chopped instead of shredded (I prefer the latter) and had a light creamy dressing. The meat was everything good pastrami should be with an ample amount of fat to keep the meat moist and tender. And this was interesting pastrami. When the meat was at its hottest, the aromatic seasonings were almost undetectable. But, as the meat cooled, the flavor of the seasonings became more pronounced.

And the kraut on my sandwich had just enough sharp flavor to balance the richness of the meat.

I almost forgot his fries. They were forgettable. My advice to the owners—ditch the fries and offer a good potato salad instead.

This lunch provided a nice alternative to (New) Mexican food and earns a 4.0 Addie rating. It would have been 4.5 Addies if not for the fries.

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