Food in LA: Johnnie’s Pastrami in Culver City

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The first few nights we were in Los Angeles in June, Tawn and I stayed at the Travelodge Culver City on Washington Place just east of Sepulveda Drive.  As down-market as you would expect a Travelodge to be, this one has received well-deserved high rankings in TripAdvisor and other review sites.  In addition to the really tasty Metro Cafe located downstairs from the motel, just around the corner was the timeless Johnnie’s French Dip Pastrami.  Of course, I wanted to try it.

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Established in 1952, Johnnie’s is this small shack of a diner.  As their menu explains, the jukeboxes are originals and some of the waitresses are, too. 

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The restaurant is open until 2:30 am and an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights.  A wide mix of people stop by, young and old, well-off and those barely making ends meet.  They all are there for one thing: good, honest food.  The menu is simple: burgers, dogs, and sandwiches, with the pastrami taking center stage.

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Complimentary dill pickles, sliced thick.

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Combine the pickles with a root beer float made with hand scooped ice cream and, despite it sounding like the food cravings of a pregnant woman, I was in heaven!

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The ambience is all chrome and naugahyde.  The pastrami boils for a while then finishes in a steam bath, coming out moist and thinly sliced.  What’s that machine on the left?  Well, for you youngsters out there, that’s how a real milkshake is made!

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The pastrami on rye arrived.  While pastrami is generally a fatty meat, I found my cuts to be quite rare.  The fat that was attached was well-cooked and not overwhelming.  Compare the construction of this sandwich to a pastrami I tried at a wanna-be place in Bangkok called New York Cheesecake, which served me only a thin layer of meat topped with a third slice of bread and several inches of lettuce and other veggies.  Needless to say, Johnnie’s came a lot closer to satisfy my pastrami craving.  As for the flavor, it was fantastic.

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Tawn ordered a veggie burger.  What’s that!?  A veggie burger at a place like Johnnie’s!?  Well, as my dearly departed paternal grandmother used to say, if we all liked the same things the world would sure be a boring place.  Truth be told, it was a pretty tasty veggie burger probably thanks to all the burnt-on beef bits on the grill!

Overall, we could debate whether Johnnie’s has the best pastrami in LA or not.  People have different preferences, of course.  I just know that Johnnie’s hit the spot for me, filling a need for good pastrami that I had been carrying with me for many months.  Next time I’m back in LA, I may return.  Or I may seek out some of the other recommended pastrami shops.  We’ll see.

 

Food in LA: Metro Cafe Culver City

For our first three nights in Los Angeles, we stayed near our friends’ house at the Travelodge Culver City.  While I would normally worry about a Travelodge (especially one in a big city) being a bit sketchy, the one in Culver City received really good reviews – lots and lots of “10’s” – on TripAdvisor.com.  Sure enough, for about $100 a night, they offered these very large rooms with two king beds (and room for at least one more if they wanted to add it).  A recent remodel had included a lot of thoughtful touches such as ample cabinets, granite countertops and tiling, and even the shower curtain rod that bows out from the tub so the curtain doesn’t cling to you.  A surprising find for what is normally considered a two-star hotel.

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An even bigger find is the Metro Cafe, a coffee shop that is located in the front part of the hotel.  Guests of the hotel get a coupon good for $5 off at the metro and the Serbian owned restaurant received just as many good reviews as the hotel itself.  It is every bit the kitsch cafe of the 1950s without trying too hard to be that.  In fact, with the solid ceramic coffee mugs, sturdy chairs, and laminate tables, it may just be the real article, still extant.

We had breakfast our first morning there and had we not made arrangement with friends to dine elsewhere during our stay, we would have been very happy to have eaten all our breakfasts there.  The lunch menu looked good and everything I read – and heard first-hand from friends who have eaten at the Metro Cafe – indicates that the dinner is very nice including many Serbian specialties.

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After a full night’s sleep and a cup of joe, Tawn looks ready to tackle LA.

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One item that caught my attention was the French Toast.  Thick slices of fresh brioche were lightly battered and fried on a well-seasoned grill.  Fresh strawberries and bananas were accompanied by a homemade raspberry sauce.  This was one of the most enjoyable French Toasts I’ve ever had.

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Tawn had the eggs benedict, which was unpretentious and expertly executed.  The potatoes were well-seasoned with crisp edges.  Just a really satisfying start to the day.  We’re here for another 10 days or so.  I think we really need to come back!

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After breakfast we set out to run some errands.  For the two days I will be at work, Tawn will have the car and be on his own, so he wanted to get back behind the wheel in the US, the first time in the more than six years since he moved back.  The car, a Dodge Charger, was a bit more powerful than what he drives at home, but he did a good job getting reacquainted with driving on the right side of the road.  And also scaling back that Bangkok style aggressiveness behind the wheel!

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In the afternoon we did some browsing in West Hollywood, sharing a veggie burger and fries at a shop on Santa Monica Boulevard.  The patty was tasty but had no cohesion as a burger, falling apart as we tried to eat it.  The fries were tasty but I prefer the fries at in-n-out burger.  The bun was nice, though.