Back in June, my family and I made a pilgrimage to Langer's Delicatessen in Los Angeles at the corner of Alvarado and 7th (there is validated parking in a lot that is one block east of Alvarado on 7th). Langer's is legendary for its pastrami sandwich, especially No. 19 - pastrami on rye with cole slaw on top of the meat.
What makes Langer's so good first has to do with the fact that they simmer the meat long enough so that it is very tender. Most of the fast food pastrami I've had (and some of the restaurant kind) is tough and rubbery. You would think that this would be a simple thing - just cook it longer - but Langer's is one of the few that gets this right.
The second thing is that Langer's uses remarkable rye bread (to get any other type of bread with pastrami at a deli is simply sacrilegious): a very nice crust with the inside of the bread very tender but firm enough to hold the sandwich (kind of like al dente pasta - notice that this is a running theme with me).
I've been to delis all over the world, including some of the best in New York City, like Carnegie Deli and the now defunct Wolfe's Deli, but Langer's is hands down the best - when it's done right.
Okay...so what am I getting at with the "when it's done right" business? What truly sets Langer's apart from the others is the hand slicing of the meat. I once mentioned this to someone, and he replied, a bit cynically, "And that makes a difference?" I emphatically said yes, but actually wasn't sure.
On this last trip to Langer's, I found out the hard way. We ordered our sandwiches, and when they came, the meat was clearly machine sliced! It was still an excellent sandwich, but it was lowered to the level of a good New York deli, merely among the better in the world. When I asked the waitress about this, she said,"Oh, you can request it to be hand sliced." Having bitten into my sandwich already, I decided not to make a bit deal of it, but there is definitely a difference. The meat isn't quite as juicy as the thicker slices by hand. And there is just something disconcerting about something that was so good and above reproach, and now has bowed to the god of efficiency ("Don't worry, it saves time and money, and no one will notice."). Ah...but we do notice!
So MAKE SURE that as you are ordering, you request hand slicing. While No. 19 is the most popular (it was featured on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate"), some don't like the cole slaw, so just get it plain.
And make sure you go during the day - Langer's closes at 4 p.m.
Grace and aloha,
P. S. The disappointment of finding machine sliced meat at Langer's makes me think about how we often go through life striving for "just good enough to get by," and not on what is the best possible effort we can give. The delusion of "no one will notice," is a strong one, and one that will eventually rob us of meaning and fulfillment in life.
I think this is particularly true about our relationship with God. It is too often left neglected or not nurtured as much as it might be. We (including myself) might often think, "God is all loving and all forgiving, so it's okay that I don't pay attention as much; in the end, God will accept me."
And while that is true, the question isn't about whether or not God will still love us or forgive us. It is whether or not we are missing out on an incredible relationship with our God, one that is not only individual, but also communal, in places like the church.
I think about my girls and I am mindful of the time I spend with them. In the enormous demands of a pastor, I am tempted to spend less time with them, knowing that they love me and will forgive me. But I watch them grow so quickly, and the joy and blessing of each stage of their lives is gone forever in seemingly a blink of an eye, and I have to make sure I set aside enough time to appreciate truly what I have in these moments with them. It's similar with God.
In the end, it isn't whether or not God loves you and forgives you...that's a given. It's whether or not you and I benefit from that love, and experience the joy and blessing that comes from knowing - as fully as we can - our God in each of the stages of our lives.