NORTHRIDGE—Brent’s Deli owner Ron Peskin greeted each customer with the golden hands of a lifelong delimeister.
For the patriarch of Brent’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, a warm rugalah embrace is as heartening as a colossal corned beef on rye. “It’s a very haimish, a very haimish place,” said Peskin, dropping a Yiddish ingredient to describe the folksy, down-to-earth magnet for deli mavens across Los Angeles. “Family-friendly.”
In 41 years, Brent’s Deli has grown from a mini-mall sandwich outpost to one of the top delis in the nation, with restaurants in Northridge and Westlake Village.
In October, it was rated best L.A. deli by Los Angeles magazine. For 15 years, the Zagat Survey has ranked Brent’s as the No. 1 deli in L.A. “Fans feel like they `died and went to pastrami heaven,” according to last year’s Zagat guide.
Outside the famous green awning at Parthenia Street and Corbin Avenue in Northridge, motorists hunt for parking as delivery trucks inscribed with “Hungry people eat (at) Brents” roll out sandwich platters from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Inside, diners pack plain green booths with a palpable air of pure food lust.
On a wall hangs a ceremonial fireman’s axe, a tribute from emergency workers fed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Nearby hang mementos from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Foo Fighters rock band. “It is the place to go in Northridge,…the best deli in L.A.,” said Councilman Greig Smith, a 25-year regular seated over a tub-size Cobb salad with blue cheese. “The cabbage soup — it’s phenomenal. And the sandwiches; you could eat off of them for a week.”
“Just like my grandmother used to make,” added Marv Smith of Chatsworth, eagerly awaiting soup centered with a light-but-firm matzoh ball “the size of a softball.”
A native of Cleveland, Peskin moved with his family after World War II to Los Angeles, where he graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1959.
While in high school, he earned his chops working at his uncle’s Linker’s Deli in Sherman Oaks, and later Art’s and Mort’s delis.
In 1969, he scraped together $1,800 to put down on a tiny deli-by chance named after his 3-year-old son, Brent-in a remote strip mall backed by orange groves.
“I didn’t let anybody make a sandwich the first year and a half…because I didn’t trust anybody,” said Peskin, 66, a gregarious man with a gray stubble goatee. “Now, I got good people working for me. It’s gotta be the best, gotta be. Otherwise, I get a bit meshugeneh” – or nuts.
Over the years, his Northridge Brent’s went from nine workers to 150, while a breakfast special went from 59 cents to $10.25 for bacon and eggs.
Each day, cooks listening to Mexican cumbias cook up 10 roasting chickens, 24 turkeys, 16 briskets, 250 pounds of corned beef, 250 pounds of pastrami and 500 pounds of spuds for the deli’s renowned potato salad and amber fries. An additional 75 pounds of chicken a day goes into its restorative chicken soup. And that doesn’t include the homemade blintzes, cheesecake, lemon bars and top-selling brownies.
“You want something fantastic?” said Peskin, walking by a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie the size of a saucer. “Taste that.”
“The reason the food’s so good is we use the same recipes all the time-Ron’s recipes,” said Rudy Miranda, the Northridge deli’s head chef. “My good boss-why I’m here 25 years.”
Brent Peskin now manages the Northridge deli, while his sister, Carie, and her husband, Marc Hernandez, manage the Westlake Village deli that went gangbusters after opening in 2006. Ron Peskin’s wife, Patricia, handles the books.
“I think I’m most proud of the family, how they actually work together, their chemistry, their work ethic,” said Peskin, kvelling over his creation.