As a student at Cal State Northridge, I was anything but starving. Across from the Speech Drama Building where I spent most of my time was Cupid’s Hot Dogs, always a great place to get a quick lunch. Near Sierra Hall, I could walk off-campus to get a felafel or good Chinese food. For several semesters, I did long Tuesday/Thursdays, with my first class at 8am and last finishing up at 10pm. In between I had a few hours break to study and eat. Those days, I went to Thai Gourmet on Reseda for some of the best Thai food around, down to Benihana’s in Encino or over to my favorite deli, Brent’s. This weekend, I decided to go to Brent’s again to enjoy the best deli in the Valley and to my mind, perhaps all of Southern Cal.
It’s easy to find Brent’s—even if you don’t see the sign, you can see the crowd of people waiting near the door. Brent’s has been a mainstay of dining in the Valley since 1969, well before I walked the halls of CSUN. On Sunday morning, the crowd was huge. Even with that, we were seated within 15 minutes. Walking through the deli, we passed nice salamis hanging above a refridgerated counter that was filled with corned beef, potato salad, smoked cod, lox and more. Brent’s has a large menu, but my choices were simple. I ordered every item that I have loved since early childhood. For me, this is comfort food of the best type. Drinks of course came first, a Dr. Brown’s Cream soda and a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda. They were good drinks to peruse the menu with.
We started out with a couple of items from the appetizer menu. A potato knish was ordered and shared. My last experience with a knish was at another deli where they used the frozen ones from Costco and heated them in a microwave. Not good! The choices at Brent’s included beef, potato and kasha knishes. The potato knish came with a nice side of brown gravy. The knish was obviously baked there, wrapped in a crisp pastry dough wrapper. It was great, the potato soft and mushy against the firm dough crust. Dipped in the gravy, it was just like old times.
The next appetizer was the kishka with farfel and gravy. For those who don’t know, kishka is a Jewish sausage. The casing is beef, with the nice firmness and snap as a proper hot dog has. Inside, there is a mixture of matzo meal, schmaltz (chicken fat) and spices. Again, I waited to see if it was the real thing, or the abomination I had had at a few delis, one even made with carrots mixed together and served not in a sausage casing but cooked like a sausage patty. That was just horrible and wrong! When the waiter brought this plate, though, from the looks I could tell this was the real thing. Three large rolls of kishka rested on a bed of farfel, a round pellet-shaped Jewish pasta. On the side was the brown gravy for dipping the kishka. Slicing into the first roll yielded the firm, slightly crispy texture of the sausage casing, followed by the soft interior. This casing was perfectly cooked, almost crispy on the outside. Some pieces were dipped in the gravy but others enjoyed just straight. The taste was superb with the soft, slightly spicy stuffing a perfect foil against the snap of the sausage casing. This is one of those dishes that a lot of people would not be tempted to try, but once they have tried it they will be ecstatic over it and order it all the time.
The waiter wisely waited to bring our main course after the appetizers were gone. We got two types of sandwiches, a hot pastrami on rye with cole slaw and a triple-decker with hot pastrami as one layer and chopped liver on the other layer. The first thing every one commented on was the rye bread. Obviously fresh baked at Brent’s, the crust had almost as much crunch as a tortilla chip. Inside, the flavory bread was firm and airy, able to stand up to the meats piled high on it. Several people commented about the rye bread being the best they had ever had, high praise since some of them were New York expatriates who had grown up eating at famous delis like Katz’s.
The pastrami on the sandwiches was lean and very flavorful. The exterior was covered with lots of crushed black pepper for a really nice kick. Warmed just enough, the pastrami was the equal to what I’ve had from Langer’s in L A, whose pastrami is often written up as the best on the West Coast. The sandwiches were piled high, but every one seemed to have no problem forcing themselves to finish every delicious bite. The chopped liver was excellent too, it’s creaminess working well with the bread’s crispy crust. This combination was one I remember from the long gone Stage Deli on Fairfax, where as a child I learned to love this treat. Each sandwich there was named after the actor who first requested it—I think this was originally called the Joey Bishop. Whatever it was, Brent’s certainly made a delicious version of it.
We were so stuffed that no one at the table could even think of getting a small rugalach cookie for dessert. Everyone was pleased with their meals. I was pleased, first because I had brought guests to a place that they enjoyed, but secondly that a place that I hadn’t visited in over 20 years was still making foods as good as I remember. I will certainly not be waiting that long to go to Brent’s Deli again!
19565 Parthenia Street
Northridge, CA 91324
Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner