Brent’s Delicatessen and Restaurant
During my Wonder Years on the East Coast it was almost impossible to throw a bagel and not hit a decent deli; my prospects of doing likewise here on the Left Coast are not so bright. I’ve tried several of the recommended nosh spots in the L.A. area, but sadly most of them fell flatter than a matzo. Quite frankly, I’d given up even looking until a chance encounter with a MOT police officer with the authoritative name of Adam who suggested I try Brent’s in Northridge (the encounter did not involve handcuffs). It didn’t hurt that said Jewish law enforcement officer had spent a great deal of time in the Granite State, and I really had nothing to lose but faith and a few bucks.
I initially drove right past Brent’s – sandwiched between two unimpressive businesses in a strip mall with blackout shades in the windows it blended unobtrusively into the row of storefronts. Stepping through the door beneath the tell-tale stained glass sign presents you with the lady and the tiger dilemma (except in this case, behind both doors was a lady – a Jewish mother and a stove). To the immediate right – a fully stocked deli gaily festooned with hanging salami and fortified with a neck-height deli case filled with cold cuts, spreads, schmears, salads and a cornucopia of kosher consumables; to the left – the guard tower front counter where your gracious host or hostess will escort you to your table with a smile.
Owner Ron Peskin and his wife purchased the deli lox, stock and pickle barrel back in 1969 already bearing the familiar moniker; the restaurant was failing at the time, but its current popularity is a testament to the improvements Peskin brought over the years. Although I don’t know what the restaurant looked like in 1969, decor doesn’t appear to be one of the modernizations; the place has the look of a Coco’s or an older HoJo’s ( I guess I was expecting black and white tile and metal tables). If posh and glamor was what I was after I’d have hit the Carnegie at The Mirage in Vegas – I was here to stuff my face like a knish, and I was a man with a plan.
The first indication that I wasn’t in the Big Apple was when our waiter (Francisco) brought the slices of fresh Jewish rye to the table and asked if we wanted pickles. In most East Coast delis, the obligatory bowl of whole kosher dills arrives at the table unannounced, but the gesture was nice since wife and dining partner Claudia abhors pickles with a passion unparalleled – I simply pointed to the open area of the table and asked Francisco to bring the brine. Both “new” and “old” pickles were represented were already sliced into spears; the neon green youngsters gave way to the teeth with a snap and a hint of their short brine bath, while the old pickles were juicier and packed with pucker.
Claudia ordered the Mushroom Cheddar Burger (unfortunately well done) – the sautéed mushrooms were draped across the crown of the thick patty and although she essentially gave them carte blanche to blow torch that bad boy it still maintained a slightly-pink interior. The meat was flavorful and not overly dry, although Claudia didn’t feel it was the best mushroom cheese burger she’s ever had; still, everything was fresh and the option of grilled onions made it a decent choice.
I had a hankering for a little old school home cooking and therefore opted for the stuffed cabbage – the dinner menu item listed a plate with 2 stuffed cabbages, mashed potatoes and kishka, a combination I couldn’t have compiled on one of my better days. My mouth was watering in anticipation of tearing into what my mom used to call “pigs in a blanket” – Twinkie-sized loaves of ground beef and rice swaddled in cabbage leaves and slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce. I think I spattered the diners with sweet and sour sauce as my jaw fell into the cup upon presentation of said stuffed cabbages which were roughly the size of small armadillos. The well-endowed kishka was stuffed with a perfectly blended mix of ingredients that made me glad I went with my gut; unfortunately I was only able to take down one of the leafy behemoths before throwing in the towel and requesting a to-go box. The limp cabbage stubbornly refused the knife, but one I was able to cut into it and combine it with a neat forkful of the beef stuffing it was like a little bite of heaven; although the accompanying sweet and sour sauce wasn’t too much of either and added a nice taste, I preferred to eat the stuffed cabbage with what was already on it.
I’ve had life changing experiences in New York delis, and although I didn’t really reach Kosher nirvana (if such a thing exists) at Brent’s, I will state emphatically that it was the best deli fare I’ve had in Southern California, and if that ain’t mazel tov, I don’t know what is.
Brent’s Delicatessen and Restaurant
19565 Parthenia Street
Northridge, CA 91324
GPS Coordinates: 34°13’43.49″N 118°33’36.39″W