Have you ever had the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich at the new Storefront Deli in Los Feliz? Because that sandwich, less made from scratch than reverse-engineered from a meat lover's fondest late-summer daydreams, is at the heart of one of the strongest culinary movements in the country at the moment: the radical reinvention of everyday dishes by deconstructing them and rebuilding them to the tiniest detail.
The Storefront BLT is built on bread baked in-house by Pete Scherer, lightly toasted to a delicate crunch, layered with house-made mayonnaise and heirloom tomatoes, and heaped with thick slabs of bacon cured by owners Zak Walters and Chris Phelps. It is the essence of summer — even, oddly, in late December. If you've ever had this bacon (it is also served at Walters and Phelps' other restaurant, Salt's Cure), you would recognize it anywhere: gamy, salty, utterly without smoke, and with a profound porkiness that can be almost unbearably strong on its own but in the context of the sandwich becomes a Hendrix fuzztone translated into meat. The BLT is a sandwich that could change your life. Or it is a sandwich you could take one bite of before composing an angry tweet. Up to you.
You should probably know that Storefront Deli is not a restaurant, at least not in any conventional way. The narrow space is taken up almost completely by a huge deli counter filled with salads, bread and meat. There are six or seven stools near the entrance and a few low benches around a planter outside; your order comes in a white paper sack whether you are eating in or taking food back to your car. There are photographs of old delis on the wall, and somebody will pop a Cream album on the stereo sometimes, but you will probably find more amenities in your local Subway, and the guys behind the counter are proud of this.
"It made me happy when Carl's Jr. put up a billboard down the block advertising two sausage, egg and cheese biscuits for $2," said Alex McGroarty, the manager and deli chef. "Our sausage, egg and cheese biscuit is one for $6. And it's probably worth more."
This isn't to say that Storefront is self-consciously "gourmet." A cup of coffee from local roasters G&B is $3, but a chalkboard menu offers the option of "lousy coffee," whatever's cheapest at Smart and Final, for just 50 cents. You can get bags of day-old cookies and rolls for a buck or two. The morning specialty of egg-and-cheese sandwiches is something you find at every breakfast cart in New York City but rarely find outside a drive-through line here.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that when Storefront calls itself a neighborhood deli, the kind of deli it's referring to isn't a pastrami palace like Katz's, Art's or Langer's, but a perfected version of the places you find on every block in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia or the older parts of L.A., the corner stores you pop into twice a day for AA batteries, paper towels, a bag of chips — or a morning egg and cheese. Some corner stores may be slightly nicer than other corner stores, but you would no sooner walk two blocks farther to buy your coffee from a better one than you would walk to the next subway stop because the wall tiles are less grimy. Calling yourself a neighborhood deli is one step up from identifying with a 7-Eleven.
Storefront happens to be a neighborhood deli where all the deli meats and fish are cured in-house instead of coming from Boar's Head or something, the breads and croissants and pastries are baked in-house, and even the cream cheese that comes with the cured sablefish on a crunchy bagel is made there.
Like a skateboarder who practices jumping a particular curb 600 times, just because it is there, Phelps and Walters seem to set almost random goals for themselves just to see if they can achieve them. So on that egg and cheese, the biscuit is flaky, buttery and freshly baked; the cheese is from Cowgirl Creamery; and the lightly fried egg explodes into a puddle of vivid orange yolk. If you get it with sausage, it will be a patty of peppery, intensely swine-flavored sausage that Phelps and Walters make from the whole hogs they bring down from Northern California.
The hamburger almost exactly splits the difference between the drive-through on the corner and Umamiburger across the street — it looks like fast food, although the contours of the brioche bun are nice, but the densely compacted patty betrays the flavor of extremely aged beef. The Mousa, the restaurant's version of a sub, may look like a Bay Cities Godmother, but the (house-cured) sopresatta, coppa and guanciale perform a bouncy ballet of spice and pigginess; the sandwich of aged, house-cured ham with butter on a baguette is nearly too rich, too meat-sour to eat more than a few bites of, although the effort has to be admired.
For its final trick, described as a mere corned beef sandwich on the blackboard menu, Storefront attempts the most difficult feat in the Los Angeles deli lexicon: the fabled and fearsome Langer's No 1, the pastrami/coleslaw combo often considered the single best delicatessen sandwich in the United States. And it is a formidable effort: Storefront uses corned beef instead of pastrami — they don't do the smoky thing — but theirs is a strong cure. Storefront's beef is as juicy as Texas barbecued brisket and cut thickly; the unseeded rye molds to the meat more readily but is nearly as crunchy at the edges as Langer's rye; the coleslaw is crisp, cold and tart. Does the Langer's sandwich still come out on top? It does. The smoke and the synergy of the No. 1 continues to defeat all comers. But Storefront makes one hell of a corned beef.
Zak Walters and Chris Phelps reimagine the neighborhood deli, with house-cured bacon.
4624 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 665-5670
Sandwiches, $6-$15. Side salads, $5 per pint. Recommended dishes: egg-and-cheese sandwich, BLT, corned beef on rye.
Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Street parking. Very limited seating. Takeout.
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