“Yeah, I’m Jewish.” Not only was that my senior yearbook quote (no joke – look it up), it’s also true. Now I don’t go in for every religious aspect that that label entails, but as a cultural and ethnic identifier I buy into it wholesale. It’s part of who I am as a person. And I don’t want to encourage any of you goyim out there to start believing all of the stereotypes, but one piece of my identity is a passion for a nice, Jewish deli. Most of your big names in Los Angeles – Canter’s, Langer’s, Nate ‘n Al’s – been there, done that. And I’m pretty sure I’ve been to a Jerry’s or two before, but never the flagship Studio City location. It’s time for that to change.
Located on Ventura Blvd next to a bowling alley, the restaurant is big. And deep. And the first thing you notice upon entering (after the deli counter of course) are the numerous posters for older broadway shows that line half the walls. The other half are covered in pictures of old movie houses and their marquees. The posters are probably a nod to the east coast roots of the delicatessenal arts, while the pictures are intended to embrace the restaurant’s west coast domain, but the dichotomy speaks to Jerry’s essential flaw: a lack of focus.
The Studio City location doesn’t just share a wall with a bowling alley; the two are intimately intertwined, with doors on the northern wall of Jerry’s opening right onto the lanes. It’s as if the owners don’t care whether your attention is on the food or not. This bleary vision extends to the menu (or, as the French call it: menu):
The restaurant boasts about its expansive selection of food, but there is such a thing as too many options. There are more than just sandwiches and soups on this list – options run the gamut, from your typical deli foods to Mexican to Italian to Korean to Japanese. All the way around the block to breakfast foods. No company should differentiate to such an extent, especially not one presenting itself with personal flair.
But then you get to the meal. One of the major bonuses that comes with the recent temporary relocation of my parents to Los Angeles is that it allowed for me to try some of the food that they ordered. Well, here’s the spread:
I’ll start with the matzah ball soup. For me, everything gets compared to Canter’s; I know that’s not necessarily the gold standard in Los Angeles – some people prefer Langer’s, some people (foolishly) prefer Nate ‘n Al’s (I predict those people are old and have lost their sense of taste) – but it is the gold standard for me. The common complaint about Canter’s matzah ball soup is that its just a ball in broth. Now let’s not be hasty, because you have to remember its a really good ball in delicious broth. But look at that bowl up there. I got so used to the idea of matzah ball soup as I know it, that I didn’t consider the idea that the soup itself could be a meal. Noodles, carrots, really tender chicken, and then the pièce de résistance: the matzah ball. Despite it’s size, the ball was more dense than what you’ll find at Canter’s and it has a distinctly “matzah-ier” taste, effectively rendering it more authentic. Well, now that’s a surprise.
Moving on, I tried (not for the first time) some of the chopped liver ordered by my mother. Previous experiences with the fare have left me cold at best, but I was surprised to find the liver-on-toast combo did not offend my sensibilities this go-around. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I liked it, in fact it was rather tasteless and vague, but it was certainly better than my history with the dish would have suggested.
Moving on, you’ll see a number of different side dishes up there, including applesauce, chili, baked beans, and beet salad. Some were good (the chili), some were bad (the beet salad), but all were carefully homemade. I really bring them up only to again point out how the eclectic menu isn’t exactly doing the meal any favors; I can’t imagine there was much demand for chili and baked beans as deli sandwich sides.
The corned beef always ends up being the real test. My dad ordered his sandwich lean. Me? I ordered it as fatty as it gets. And the verdict in either case…
It was fine.
The corned beef at Canter’s is what keeps me coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I love the matzah ball soup – it’s my go-to whenever I feel a cold coming on – but the corned beef is on another level. And that’s honestly why it is so difficult for any other LA-based deli to end up on the same field long enough to even try and play a ballgame. Jerry’s corned beef puts in a valiant effort, but it’s really no contest.
That’s not to say the meal didn’t surprise me; I’m still thinking about that soup. Jerry’s Famous Deli managed to overcome my initial impression and leave me with an experience that was more than just a little net-positive. Now to be fair, I didn’t venture into the more exotic sections of the menu (this time (or ever)), but I mostly liked what I had (and it’s hard to mess up deli). Sure, it doesn’t measure up to Canter’s, but it takes a lot to take down the King.
Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City earns four out of five Annie posters: