Monday, March 23, 2015
Jewish food in Paris, London and New York is simply not the same. It varies in every city, is influenced by the culture already there, and the same goes for Jewish food in Los Angeles. From neighborhood to neighborhood you can find a range of Jewish delis that serve sumptuous, delectable classics such as matzoh ball soup. We present our top five Jewish Delis in LA.
‘Frank’s Weiler’s Deli’ knows the mechanics of a great meal
Not every restaurant can boast a menu designed by an engineer. But the Shah of Iran, fate and a love of cooking conspired to make Frank Mesriani the owner of Frank’s Weiler’s Deli in Canoga Park instead of what he was trained to do: mechanical engineering.
Mesriani, 59, grew up in Iran but left to study in England when he was 18. Things went haywire when the shah was overthrown in 1979.
“Because I was Jewish I could not go back. It was not safe,” he said.
So Mesriani came to the United States, where he faced new challenges.
“I couldn’t work in my field at the time — I wasn’t an American, I couldn’t get a job,” he said. “I got involved in the restaurant business. I always loved food. Even when I lived in England, I cooked for myself. It was just something in me that I always wanted to own a restaurant.”
He started by buying an Italian eatery in Hollywood, then sold it to his partners and purchased Weiler’s Deli on Nordoff Street in the Valley, part of a chain originally founded by Larry Weiler. After adding the Weiler’s on Victory Boulevard in Canoga Park, located in a busy strip mall just down the street from Pierce College, he ended up selling the Nordoff business.
Later he opened a second Canoga Park location, on Sherman Way, with his brother, Simon, who now owns and runs that deli independently. Mesriani said focusing his own efforts on just one restaurant was the right decision.
“It’s not hard to open up a deli, but to have a very successful deli you have to have just one,” he said. “Because you have a lot of items, you have to be on top of it.”
Following in the tradition of Los Angeles’ fine Jewish delis, Frank’s Weiler’s menu is epic. Page after page, it offers everything from pancakes to sandwiches to … stir fry?
“I just loved the food. I loved the challenge,” Mesriani said. “Basically I liked it because it was a difficult business, and I just wanted to make it part of my life. I learned how to cook the style. I have some Sephardic background and put it into recipes.”
So when you taste the chunky chicken soup — get it with a matzah ball that is light and fluffy yet bigger than a baseball — you may detect some fresh dill and a little turmeric. Mesriani’s chopped liver also uses a little Middle Eastern spicing, and there’s some saffron sprinkled on various dishes throughout the menu, as well, he said.
A mild barbecued cod, made in-house, is a popular item, often served open-faced on a bagel with cream cheese. And the homemade knishes are gigantic.
But what would a trip to a deli be without a sandwich? There are many to choose from, but the pastrami Reuben is a revelation — not so big that it will take you a week to eat, but juicy enough that you’ll be thinking about it a week later. (It’s available on gluten-free bread, too.)
The breakfast menu includes waffles and omelets galore, including the Peasant Omelet, which features thick, savory slices of bacon — turkey bacon is available — as well as cheese, potatoes, onions and sour cream.
Feel like something healthy? There’s a whole category on the menu dedicated to one item: The Health Sandwich. So that no one feels underfed, it’s just as big as all the less-healthy sandwiches. Chunks of mushrooms and avocado squish out its side with each bite, and this triple-decker is stacked high with tomato, sprouts and muenster cheese.
The deli makes most of its own desserts, including mandelbread, fudgy black-and-white cookies and a rich, decadent cheesecake that was good enough to make my eating companion utter an expletive in ecstasy.
“When you come to our restaurant, you don’t go hungry,” Mesriani said. “A lot of our customers, almost everybody takes a to-go box with them. People kind of, when they come to our restaurant, they feel at home — like guests coming to our house.”
On a weekday afternoon you might find the affable Mesriani at the front, but it won’t take long to also run into his 30-year-old son, Nima, who works with him.
“He loves what he’s doing, and he really upgraded … the new technology for me, making the website. He’s doing a great job,” his father said.
Mesriani, who attends Chabad of Brentwood and Sinai Temple in Westwood, said he keeps kosher at home, although the restaurant — with its menu full of bacon, sausage and ham — clearly does not.
He added his first name (and the extra apostrophe) to the restaurant a couple of years ago to avoid confusion between the other Weiler’s restaurants, a fitting tribute to the man who makes it tick.
“It’s part of you,” Mesriani said of the deli. “Even sometimes when [I’m] at home, my heart is over there.
So maybe it’s no wonder that he has no regrets about the way things turned out.
“I went to school and studied hard and didn’t work in my field,” he said, reflecting on his career so far. “But I love the restaurant. If I had to choose again, I would still choose the restaurant.”