Element 29 is a Detroit-style deli in Culver City that offers great sandwiches, with pastrami that might be the best in Los Angeles.
The amiable owner, Chef Jeff Meyer, grew up in Motor City “eating at delis constantly. What can I say? I’m a Jew. I’ve always loved delis and I’ve dreamed of opening a restaurant since I was a teenager.”
Quality reigns supreme here. The briskets — USDA Prime only — are seasoned with Moroccan ras el hanout spice blend, then smoked for 18 hours. Most offerings are made in house, including the corned beef, pastrami, smoked turkey, and gravlax.
The road to deli owner wasn’t a linear one. After moving to LA, Jeff spent years working as a casting director for music videos and commercials. He returned to Detroit after his father’s death to take care of his mother, who urged him to fulfill his dream of attending culinary school. He went for it, and after graduating, Jeff manned kitchens in New York City (a Pan-Asian eatery) and Boca Raton, Florida (a Mediterranean eatery), followed by a stint in the Caribbean, where he headed kitchens at both a beach bar and an upscale restaurant in St. Thomas.
After returning to Los Angeles, Jeff opened Element 29 on Washington Boulevard, transforming a convenience store into both a high-quality sandwich-focused deli and a neighborhood market where people pop in to buy beer, wine, cloth face masks, painkillers, cough drops, batteries, lottery tickets, and more.
When I asked him how Covid-19 was affecting business, he replied “I thought I’d have to hand in the keys more than once. I’m hanging in there.”
The space feels personal, with a few custom-made copper light fixtures (“I’m aiming for a modern industrial look and I plan to make more”) and art from a local outsider artist, Roman Bennett. “He’s a talented guy who’s manic-depressive and bipolar. He’s a good artist showing the things that come out of his head. I saw his work and said ‘Bring me your art!’ I’ve sold one piece so far. I always wanted art to be part of what I did.”
While visiting, I tried three sandwiches: the brisket melt (havarti, 18-hour smoked brisket, and BBQ balsamic jam), the Full Stack New Yorker (corned beef, Swiss cheese, house slaw, and fresh Russian dressing), and the tuna melt. All were a cut above: hearty, flavorful, and made with lean, flavorful meat. The tuna salad is light on the mayo, which I prefer, and served on seeded bread with havarti and cheddar.
Something else that makes Element 29 a standout: the well-curated selection of accompaniments from around the world. You’ll find mango habanero potato chips from Hawaii, an assortment of vegan jerky, potato chips imported from Spain in unusual flavors like sparkling wine, Iberian ham, foie gras, and smoked paprika, and more. There’s a wide variety of off-the-beaten-track soft drinks here, along with wine from California, Oregon, Italy, France, and Portugal, and lots of beer, from PBR to craft.
Jeff is actively involved in running the place and it shows: during my visit, most of his customers warmly greeted him by name. “Growing up in Detroit, I knew the people who worked at the places I went, and I knew their families. I believe in being part of the neighborhood. I give customer service beyond normal customer service. I’m not interested in being the absentee owner where nobody knows who owns the place. You need to be part of the community.”