Last night after seeing a movie at what seems to be the cultural center of West Los Angeles Jewish life — the Landmark Theatres at the Westside Pavilion — we walked over to the new Lenny's Deli.
Lenny's filled the void left by Juniors — and I'm talking about a literal void. Juniors was 11,000 square feet of real estate at the corner of Westwood and Pico Blvd. For 53 years it served as bakery, deli counter, restaurant, meeting place and all-around noshery for LA Jews. As Michael Aushenker reported in the Jewish Journal, when Juniors abruptly announced it would shut it doors on Dec. 31, 2012, one regular summed up the feeling of generations of custimers by calling the news, "horrific."
Then Lenny Rosenberg rode into town.
Actually, Lenny is a pretty familiar face: he owned the Bagel Nosh in Beverly Hills, and tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the cursed Morts space in the Pacific Palisades. The latter effort foundered for reasons that have more to do with that stretch of property, and the internecine battles over retail in the Palisades. As restauraneurs from Danny Myers to Joe Bastianich will tell you, a successful restaurant's fate depends as much on the location and the lease as it does on the chef. Maybe more.
Lenny took over the Juniors space. He hired back almost all of the deli's 100 laid-off workers. He updated the menu with more organic foods, vegetarian and healthy options and even put in the now standard line about using local ingredients whenever possible. That means, I think, the kishke comes from Sherman Oaks.
We ate at the late Juniors about a month before it closed, and frankly, you could tell it was a deli in the fourth stage of a terminal illness. The deli counter looked like it had been lifted from Communist Poland, the wait staff moped, the food tasted of salt and apathy.
Lenny Rosenberg has revived the place. It's not called Juniors any more. It's called Lenny's.
At 10 pm, many tables in the cavernous space were full. The place itself was remodeled — new upholstery, new floors — not retro Lower East Side like the delicious, hipster Wise and Sons in San Francisco, just functional, pre-modern San Fernando Valley circa-1990.
The menu is vast and traditional. My wife's lox and bagels was very good, my kids ate their meaty meat things — pastrami, corned beef, etc — and liked it. The sandwiches are of the piled high variety, and come with cole slaw. I ordered my usual late night deli treat: grilled swiss on rye with Dijon mustard, sauerkraut and tomato. I told Lenny it's a vegetarian Reuben. My son wondered why, with five pages of food on offer, I had to order off the menu.
I had wine from a good selection. The kids had egg creams, which were delicious. We almost ordered the kishke, but this is 2013, and there's only so much Lipitor I can take.
The food was absolutely good. Much better than good in the case of the lox, my sandwich and the egg creams and the homemade rugalach. While Juniors had become a regular let down, Lenny's, I think, will now be a pleasant surprise.
Lenny came over to say hi — he knows me from the Journal. The man is working hard, hard to make Lenny's succeed. He's back to running a bakery, a deli counter, a restaurant and a catering outfit. He instituted actual Shabbat services in a meeting room at the rear of the place. He looks exhausted, but driven. He's also thin as a rail, which ordinarily I would think disqualifies you as a deli owner, but in his case is probably just the delightful side effects of stress and overwork.
But Lenny's does work. The booths are back to being filled with the mishmash tureen of film-goers, hipsters, Persian Jews, seniors and soccer families that used to fill Juniors. Not every foot of the 11,000 suare feet is teaming, but if Lenny can hold out, maybe he'll get there. I hope so.
Because it's good to have a deli on the corner of Westwood and Pico.