Canter's Deli, an institution known as much for its round-the-clock service and its preserved-in-amber ambiance as for its cuisine, just leapfrogged into the year 2010 with a food truck that hits the streets of Los Angeles — hopefully this week. The Canter's Deli truck (Twitter: @canterstruck) is the brainchild of Bonnie Bloomgarden, a great-great-granddaughter of Ben Canter, one of the brothers who opened the first L.A. incarnation of Canter's in Boyle Heights in 1931.
The truck soft-opens this week with a limited menu that will expand over the next few weeks to include seven sandwiches (pastrami, corned beef, turkey, egg salad, tuna salad, grilled cheese and a Reuben), a couple sides (cole slaw and potato salad), green salad and matzoh ball soup. Also on the menu: pickles, Dr. Brown's sodas and desserts like rugelach, mini-Danishes, black-and-white cookies and cheesecake. The sandwiches, made with the same meat and house-made bread as the ones at the sit-down restaurant, will cost $5 – $10 and, in keeping with their reduced price, will be approximately 25% smaller than the gut-busting originals. “They're still ridiculously large,” Bloomgarden says.
Bloomgarden, who grew up in LA but moved to New York at age 17 to play music, has, like many members of her extended family, worked at Canter's throughout the years. “When I was a kid, I booked bands in the Kibitz Room, and I also worked at the bakery,” she says. “Everyone in the family works there in their own way.”
Inspired by friends of hers who launched the popular Endless Summer taco truck in New York, Bloomgarden initially hoped to bring a Canter's truck to that city. She soon realized that in New York she couldn't source meat and other key items that would taste the same as the food at Canter's. When she returned to Los Angeles in November 2009, her idea of a Canter's truck migrated with her.
High-quality pastrami is an expensive product to make. (David Sax does a good job of explaining why in his book, Save The Deli. He also outlines how control of Canter's has spread out over various branches of the family, making it ambiguous who has ultimate authority.) Los Angeles already has Fresser's, and the recent launch of Brooklyn Boy's Deli truck (more on that in the next few days) gives Orange County its own pastrami-on-wheels purveyor. A food truck staked on traditional New York-style deli fare is a risky gamble.
Bloomgarden hopes that 79 years of Canter's history will be on her side. “Most things don't survive that long,” she says. “I want to do whatever I can to bring that modern touch but keep the integrity of the place.”