Buried somewhere near the back of the encyclopedic menu at Brent's Deli is a page dedicated to their "Lite Menu." Good one. No one comes to Brent's for cottage cheese on iceberg lettuce. Brent's anchors a mid-size, 1970s-style shopping mall that seems, after you've lived in Los Angeles long enough, like a quaint relic of suburbia, the sort that boasts a bar for Cleveland Browns fans (The Stovepiper) and the most honest and cleverly named store on the planet: Mr. Stuff. It's the kind of stuff-and-junk-and-things repository where old gardening equipment shares space with a talking, neo-con Dennis Miller doll. (Only $4!) Sadly, Mr. Stuff carried the PG version of the doll, but what kind of stridency and self-righteousness might the PG-13 version display? Aside from the charms of tcotchke farms and abundant parking, Brent's is the kind of place you seek out for its old school deli menu: knishes, heart-stopping chopped liver and egg salad sandwiches, Brobdignagian eclairs and, naturally, pastrami.
There are dozens of sandwiches on Brent's massive menu, but the iconic sandwich is the Black Pastrami Reuben. It features the same crust rye bread (not as crusty as Langer's rye; is anything?) and the same soft, floppy, thinly-sliced, moderately peppered meat that's on the regular pastrami sandwich, only here, it's heaped with warm sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and sweet creamy Russian dressing. Sure, it's Brent's most famous sandwich, prominently highlighted on the menu, but we prefer it straight. Brent's pastrami needs no adornment, though a dab of the vinegary house mustard is a matter if personal choice.
Another bonus is the coleslaw, a notch above typical coleslaw, which often tastes like it's been scooped out of an industrial-sized supermarket tub, even at the best delis. Not at Bret's. Whatever they do to gin it up, it works.
Pro Tip: Brent's has one of the best pastry cases of any deli in Los Angeles. It features sky-high towers of chocolate and carrot cake spinning alongside eclairs the size of small footballs. Save room for an eclair, which is at least a two-person job, four if you've taught yourself restraint, not a quality that comes in handy when ogling Brent's massive menu.
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SHOW ME HOW
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Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.