Lately I've been thinking a lot about an online trailer for an upcoming documentary by Erik Anjou called Deli Man, which chronicles the culture of the American delicatessen through interviews with such L.A. authorities as Norm Langer, Jackie and Marc Canter and, of course, Larry King. (If you can spare 10 minutes, it's certainly worth watching.)
I bring this up because it seems obvious that Salt's Cure chefs Chris Phelps and Zak Walters have been thinking a lot about the fading art of deli culture, too, judging from their recently opened Storefront Deli, a small shop next door to Covell Wine Bar on what's becoming the hippest stretch of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz.
Walking in, the walls are covered in colorful framed photos of other famous storefronts — 2nd Avenue Deli, Zingerman's, Arthur Avenue. Inside, loaves of fresh sourdough bread rest along the counter; there's a little glass display filled with morning pastries; then a long refrigerated case with egg salad and marinated cucumbers, German potato salad speckled with mustard grains, plump beef sausages, air-dried ham, bologna, salami and little pink jars of potted pork. There's Intelligentsia coffee, sure, but also a 50-cent cup of “lousy” coffee, for those not surfing the Third Wave (it's usually Folger's).
For those who grew up frequenting the local deli — whether it was Italian, Jewish or otherwise — Storefront is an absolutely delightful throwback, enhanced by Phelps' and Walters' commitment to making just about everything in-house.
In the morning, there are little bodega-style fried egg and melted cheddar sandwiches, made with crispy bacon, ham or dense spicy sausage, and sandwiched in between your choice of an English muffin, soft pretzel, croissant, biscuit or bagel. And those bagels: dense and chewy, hearth-baked beauties that are the first to prompt even a brief reconsideration of weekly trips to Brooklyn Bagel Bakery. The smoked sablefish — if you can get hold of some before it runs out — draped over cream cheese and sliced red onion on a fresh bagel, is about as satisfying breakfast as you could imagine.
You'll probably want to stop by for lunch, too, where a rather standard-looking list of sandwiches reveals itself to be much more than you'd expect. There's the gorgeously rare roast beef, served cold with horseradish cream and a rough-chopped muffaletta salad, or cooked on the flat-top and covered in cheese for a rather restrained Philly cheesesteak. There's also the Mousa, an Italian hero that's essentially a Salt's Cure charcuterie plate — soppressata, coppa and guanciali — stuffed into a sub roll and layered with provolone, pickled peppers and shredded lettuce.
The woman in line next to me, in a sort of high-pitched Long Island accent that might or might not have been contrived, leaned over and said, “You just gotta try the chicken salad.” It'll have to wait. This time it's the hot corned beef, a gorgeously slop-tastic heap of tender peppery meat, red cabbage coleslaw and sharp deli mustard — the catch-all condiment here — between two grilled slices of dark rye. “Better than Langer's,” says one of the counterwomen cheerfully. I tell her to be careful about who overhears; people have been excommunicated for lesser claims.
The next day, it was the cheeseburger, a rather petite version with a disproportionately thick, dry-aged patty. Like a miniaturized version of the Salt's Cure cheeseburger, it was terrific, perfumed with char and salt and cooked to a rosy medium-rare.
All this, and the menu isn't even fully built out yet. The current chef, Salt's Cure alumnus Alex McGroarty, has his mind set on a french fry-stuffed Primanti Brothers-style sandwich (he hails from Pittsburgh) sometime in the near future.
Storefront gleefully solves the problem that Salt's Cure's capricious, rotating-daily menu presented. Here there are wholesale blocks of cured bacon, lengths of baguettes, quarts of tuna salad — all on demand. Even more impressive is the commitment to “from scratch” prep, taken to a level that's remarkable even during a time when house-made ketchup and house-brined pickles feel like the industry standard. (Storefront bills itself as L.A.'s first fully sustainable deli, if that's a real thing.)
The only downside might be the utter lack of seating space — everything is wrapped to-go in waxy sheets of butcher paper — which makes one dream wistfully of puffy polyurethane booths and dour waitresses, where Cobb salads and club sandwiches could be noshed over lunch a la Seinfeld's Tom's Restaurant. But in the end, Storefront presents an honest and genuine homage to a whole class of beloved institutions — and while it's easy to respect that on merit alone, it's the commitment to simple, homespun food that makes the spot worth habituating.
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