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Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli

“I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”
~George Costanza

January 14th has been designated “National Hot Pastrami Sandwich day.” The fact that a day has been designated to honor the greatness of the “most sensual of all the salted and cured meats” is wholly unnecessary for many of us.  True pastrami paramours in the mold of Dagwood Bumstead, Shaggy Rogers, Joey Tribbiani and my friend Bill Resnik, don’t need a special reason or designated day to partake of pulchritudinous pastrami.  To us, every day is pastrami sandwich day! 

Now, if your experiences with pastrami have been limited to the packaged Boar’s Head offering or worse, an occasional Subway pastrami sandwich, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is about pastrami.   Offer Boar’s Head or Subway’s version of pastrami to a foodie from the East Coast or the West Coast, however, and you may as well be offering them snake tartare.  If you’ve ever had pastrami from either Coast, you’ll understand why.

Corned Beef on Rye

Pastrami is deli food.  It’s not meant to be extricated from a hermetically sealed package or consumed at a chain sandwich shop.   Nor is it intended to be lean and trim. Pastrami is a rich indulgence of fatty, spicy, smoky deliciousness.  Its addictive properties impact all your brain’s pleasure centers much the way the capsaicin in chile does.

East Coast transplants will argue vociferously that pastrami is not a bi-hemispheric proposition, while residents of the West Coast talk up their own pastrami traditions.  Until the 2006 launch of California Pastrami & More, Duke City diners were pretty much shortchanged when it came to outstanding pastrami.  California Pastrami acquires its pastrami from The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain, even East Coast transplants agree is absolutely delicious.

Pastrami on Rye

Pittsburgh-born political commentator and Saturday Night alum Dennis Miller spent enough time in New York City to understand the pastrami mystique, yet it was the pastrami from a Santa Barbara deli he recommended to Guy Fieri, the high élan host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Miller, a Santa Clara resident, describes Norton’s Pastrami and Deli as “very Long Island.”   Norton’s sells about 320 pounds of pastrami per week, serving it up six different ways: pastrami dipped sandwich; pastrami, lettuce and tomato (PLT) with chipotle mayo; pastrami Reuben; the NYC (with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye); pastrami cheese (Jack, Cheddar, tomato on grilled sourdough); and of course, The Classic (pastrami on rye). 

As with Dennis Miller, this pastrami partisan doesn’t need all that “augmentation.”  Pastrami on rye with deli mustard is my ticket.  Interestingly Norton’s doesn’t steam its pastrami as California Pastrami does.  Instead, the pastrami is grilled on the flat top to give it a slightly crisp texture.  Norton’s isn’t chintzy with its portions, engorging each sandwich with a full eight to ten ounces of wonderfully marbled pastrami.  The pastrami is sliced thin and piled high, a perfect combination.  Texturally, the pastrami has an occasional ribbon of fattiness, but for true devotees, that’s just more flavor.  Norton’s pastrami is a bit on the salty side, but its crispiness (courtesy of the flat top grilling) makes up for it.  The light rye is perfectly grilled and has an assertive, but not overly so, personality.

Norton’s Deli is no one-trick pony, offering an extensive sandwich menu that includes corned beef, melts, grilled chicken, Philly steak, Hebrew National hot dogs and even salads (since the salads aren’t constructed with pastrami, I’ll never order one). It’s an ambitious menu considering the deli’s tiny digs with no more than five tables in the dining area and about that many bar seats. The “open kitchen” lets you take in all the action–and all the aromas. You may be drooling by the time your sandwich is ready. 

As with the light beer commercials from the 1960s, I’m the “great taste” guy and my Kim is the “less filling” gal in the way we order at restaurants.  We then tend to split our orders so we can have a bit of both.  Her sandwich of choice at Norton’s is the corned beef on rye.  There’s no doubt it’s a great sandwich, but there’s no way I’d share a pastrami sandwich.  A couple of bites of the corned beef confirmed it’s lean, moist and delicious, but no one I know is lobbying for a “Corned Beef Sandwich” day.

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli
18 West Figueroa Street
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 965-3210
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2014
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami on Rye, Corned Beef on Rye

Norton's Pastrami and Deli on Urbanspoon

California Pastrami & More – Albuquerque, New Mexico

California Pastrami for some of the very best sandwiches in New Mexico

During a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, the “show about nothing,” George Costanza and his girlfriend du jour discussed the possibility of incorporating food into their lovemaking–not as a post-coital meal, but in flagrante delicto. George listed as potential food candidates: strawberries, chocolate sauce, honey and…pastrami on rye with mustard.  Yes, that’s pastrami on rye.  His girlfriend, unfortunately, failed to appreciate the erotic qualities of pastrami and thus, their relationship terminated.

Ultimately George met up with a woman who echoed his sentiments when she declared pastrami to be “the most sensual of all the salted cured meats.”  With that proclamation, their lustful appetites took over and they succumbed to the pastrami inspired throes of passion, albeit also incorporating television watching.  It’s no wonder George Costanza’s face grew flush when he ate with friends at their favorite neighborhood diner; the association of food with pleasure became a sensual one.

The interior of California Pastrami

I don’t know about pastrami being the most sensual of all salted cured meats (sounds like a bit of double entendre here), but do know there are few sandwiches quite as wonderful as a pastrami sandwich.  Alas, not all pastrami is created equal.  The perfect pastrami finds its genesis as brisket given a salt, sugar and spice rub, dry cured, smoked, and cooked.  Having grown up in bucolic Northern New Mexico, I had no idea pastrami existed until the Air Force sent me to Massachusetts and I discovered pastrami at Steve’s House of Pizza in Bedford. It was love at first bite. For two years I visited delis throughout New England and New York City in search of the best pastrami.

If you’ve ever wondered what the differences are between pastrami and corned beef aside from taste and texture.  Pastrami comes from the naval area while corned beef emanates from the brisket area.  Where pastrami is given a salt and spice rub, dry cured, smoked then cooked, corned beef is cured in brine.  To me, the main difference is that pastrami is much better, but then, like George Costanza, I consider pastrami the most sensual of all salted, cured meats.

California Style Pastrami Sandwich

Since returning to New Mexico in 1995, I’ve lamented being short-changed insofar as Duke City restaurants or delis not offering a world-class pastrami product, not even close.  Fortunately semi-frequent (every few years) trips to Chicago have proven to be fulfilling pastrami pilgrimages.  Most meat distributors serving New Mexico sell a processed pretender, pastrami “loaf.” I wanted the real thing–whole beef brisket with lots of marbling and heavy, briny seasoning.

Real pastrami is also what Joseph Rodriguez wanted to bring to New Mexico.  A California native now living in New Mexico, Rodriguez was raised on hot pastrami sandwiches and like dozens of us pastrami paramours, he couldn’t find good pastrami in New Mexico.  Rodriguez buys his pastrami from a supplier who furnishes it to The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain.  It’s the real stuff–well marbled, briny, highly seasoned and absolutely delicious.  It’s comparable to pastrami I remember fondly in New York City, but not quite as good as my favorite pastrami in Chicago.

A pastrami Ruben

The rest of us are thrilled that he took it a step further and begin selling it at the New Mexico state fair during the fall of 2006. His success there convinced him there was a legitimate market of passionate pastrami fanatics like me. Rodriguez didn’t start off by selling his pastrami at some fancy storefront.  He built a concession trailer and parked it on the corner of St. Francis Drive just as you turn into Alameda.  The trailer was furnished with all he needed to prepare his product and was so portable, he took it to the state fair and balloon fiesta. 

In November, 2009, Duke City pastrami aficionados no longer had to drive to Santa Fe to assuage their chile fix when Rodriguez launched California Pastrami on Alameda Boulevard.  California Pastrami was in that location until January, 2011, its closure coinciding with the opening of a location at 6125 Montgomery, N.E.  By year’s end, he had sold the concession trailer and closed the Santa Fe operation.  Ever the entrepreneur, he remains optimistic about opening another storefront location both in Albuquerque’s west side and perhaps in Santa Fe.

Corned Beef Reuben sandwich

9 December 2012: Having lived on the East Coast and traveled extensively in the Golden State, the term “California pastrami” gave me nightmarish visions of pesto packed pastrami desecrated with sushi grade sashimi, artichoke and the designer vegetable de jour. Fortunately, as it turns out California (or West Coast) pastrami is served on a hoagie bun with yellow mustard and dill pickles (just as some grinder shops in Massachusetts sold it). Even better, this is an outstanding sandwich. It’s got the requisite marbling (for flavor) pastrami lovers crave and the addictive flavor profile that keeps us returning for more.

Years ago, television and radio commercials for Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups introduced America to a catchy jingle which touted “two great tastes that taste great together” in describing the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. Until my friend Larry McGoldrick suggested it, I had not tried a pastrami sandwich with green chile–a marriage of California and New Mexico. Indeed these are two great tastes that taste great together. Green chile can improve almost everything, including desserts. California Pastrami doesn’t shy away from piquant chile; it’s got a tongue-tingling bite and a nice roasted flavor that complements the pastrami surprisingly well.

Pastrami Burger

9 December 2010:  You can also get your pastrami sandwich New York style–on light rye sandwich bread with grainy mustard. Having tried both California and New York style pastrami, I’m not ready to declare a preference. Both are terrific! The advantage the hoagie roll has over the rye bread is that it holds up better against the onslaught of juiciness from the fresh, delicious and utterly unctuous pastrami. The advantage of the New York style pastrami sandwich at California Pastrami is that it’s served with a side of coleslaw and a dill pickle spear, both made on the premises and both being excellent.

My friend and frequent dining companion Bill Resnik thought he had partaken of good pastrami during his years of travel and was skeptical when I first brought him to California Pastrami in January, 2010. He had no idea what a difference truly great pastrami can make, his previous experiences with pastrami being less than memorable. By mid-February, he had visited the restaurant at least once a week and as often as three times in one week. He’s hooked and has been every since.  So are many other Duke City diners.

Corned Beef Sandwich

20 May 2014: As for the “More” portion of the restaurant’s name, “more” includes burgers, sandwiches and burritos, some of which I may never try courtesy of pastrami George Costanza would have loved in the Biblical sense. It also includes corned beef and a number of burgers, including a pastrami burger. The pastrami burger is humongous, a generous amount of pastrami, a one-third pound ground beef patty with a slice of cheese, lettuce, pickle and mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun which struggles to contain all that flavor, all those ingredients. It’s a great burger!

9 December 2010: Pastrami and corned beef are often paired together in menus and in the hearts of sandwich aficionados. California Pastrami offers a very good corned beef sandwich stacked high on light rye bread with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. As previously stated, it’s a very good corned beef sandwich, but it’s not a special sandwich as both pastrami sandwiches are. Still, I would stack it up against any corned beef sandwich in town. It’s far superior to the one served about a block away at Jason’s Deli, a chain with a large menu. The difference is that California Pastrami’s largeness is in the flavor of its product, not its price.

Philly Cheese Steak

Philly Cheesesteak

Astute members of the Duke City Fix’s Chow Down in Burque Town” forum found it intriguing (to say the least) that mayonnaise and pastrami would share space in the same sentence, much less the same sandwich (the aforementioned pastrami burger).  Though a purist myself, I’ve long ceased being surprised by flavor combinations that work surprisingly well.  My first experience with pastrami and mayonnaise was at the aforementioned Deli Mart’s elder sibling on Albuquerque’s east side where the much-missed New York transplanted to Albuquerque Cerami family served their pastrami sandwiches in that fashion.  My first inclination was to declare that blasphemy, but the mayonnaise-pastrami combination is actually quite good, albeit not as good as pastrami with real deli mustard.

17 January 2010: Call it blasphemy if you will, but I’ve long had a preference for pastrami Rubens instead of the more conventional corned beef Ruben sandwich. A pastrami Ruben at California Pastrami is a thing of beauty. Unlike other Rubens I’ve had in the Duke City, the Russian dressing doesn’t taste like a cloying Thousand Island clone and the sauerkraut won’t purse your lips with its tartness. It’s served on a lightly toasted light rye bread and includes a heaping mound of pastrami, the starring attraction of any sandwich.

Fish Tacos

3 February 2010: Joe Rodriguez, like me, recognizes the potential in pastrami to improve everything it touches.  He didn’t blink an eye during a visit in which I asked for a patty melt sandwich with pastrami.  By itself, the patty melt has all the essential elements of a very good patty melt sandwich–a light rye bread grilled until toasty brown, finely chopped onions fried nearly to the point of caramelization, a hand-formed all-beef patty and rich melted cheese.  The pastrami elevated it from very good to excellent.  Next time I may just ask Joe to add pastrami to one of the burritos served at his restaurant. 

3 February 2010: Lest you think California Pastrami is a one-trick pony whose expertise is limited to pastrami, the menu includes several burritos as well as fish tacos (on hard shells, no less) I’ve heard draw utterances of “wow” from other patrons.  The restaurant also prepares a very good Philly cheesesteak.  It’s served on a hoagie roll and is engorged to overfull with chopped beef steak, finely chopped green peppers and onions and melted white cheese.  It’s steaming hot when you bite into it and is as juicy and delicious as almost any Philly cheesesteak you’ll find in Albuquerque (my favorite being the one at Itsa Italian Ice).  You won’t find a speck of excess fat or sinew on the beef which is very tender.

Housemade potato chips

10 APRIL 2013:  Several years ago, television commercials for a pseudo Mexican fast food chain encouraged diners to “make a run for the border.”  Duke City diners should run, not walk, to California Pastrami to partake of a new menu item called The Border Dog.  The Border Dog is perhaps as close to a Sonoran Hot Dog as you’ll find in Albuquerque. The hot dog is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried.  Nestled in the bun are caramelized onions and chopped jalapeños.  The hot dog bun is made on the premises and is quite good.

Another addition, perhaps in response to complaints of bread which withered neath the moistness of the steamed pastrami, is a much improved bread baked on the premises.  The bread is chewy and formidable enough for the moistness of the steamed pastrami.  It doesn’t wither and doesn’t get soggy.  Best of all, it’s a delicious bread which disproves the notion that good bread can’t be baked in the alkaline-rich Albuquerque area.  Joe not only bakes his own hoagie and rye breads, but the buns for his burgers and hot dogs.

The Border Dog

The Border Dog

Joe Rodriguez knows that the best way to grow his business is to invest in his business. To that end, he continues to expand his restaurant’s offerings.  A pastry case displays several dessert options, but on balmy summer days only Breyer’s ice cream will do.  Currently available only on a cone or bowl, Joe is planning on making milkshakes and malts available in the near future.  Smoothies are also available as are some of the best housemade potato chips in Albuquerque. 

California Pastrami is one of the best sandwich purveyors in New Mexico, introducing new diners to “real” pastrami while continuing to appease those of us who consider pastrami the most sensual of all cured meats.

California Pastrami & More
6125 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 10 April 2013
COST: $$
BEST BET: California Style Pastrami Sandwich, New York Style Pastrami Sandwich, Corned Beef Sandwich, Pastrami Burger, Philly Cheese Steak, Pastrami Ruben Sandwich, Fish Tacos, The Border Dog

California Pastrami on Urbanspoon

Adieux Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico


Adieux Cafe on Central Avenue in Albuquerque

For restaurants located in downtown Albuquerque’s Arts and Entertainment district, centered along Central Avenue and Gold Avenue west of First Street, downtown revitalization, a ten million dollar infusion of energy and creativity, has been both a dichotomy and a dilemma.  Daylight hours bring a diverse swathe of white- and blue-collar diners to those restaurants, but after dusk, the downtown demographic is more of a “20-something” crowd, many of whom are more interested in the area’s bustling nightlife and youth-oriented clubs than they are in dining.

While many downtown restaurants shutter their doors at dusk, others have embraced the youthful energy of the nocturnal crowd and their pursuit of bar-hopping, live music and social discourse.  Among them is Adieux Cafe, a gastropub which opened its doors in June, 2013.  Adjacent to the Effex nightclub, Adieux’s hours of operation–11AM to 2AM Monday through Friday and 5PM to 3AM on Saturdays–are convenient to the most energetic of party-goers and day workers as well.  A shared door between Effex and Adieux allows revelers to access the gastropub when the munchies strike at unholy hours (at my age, that’s anything past 10:30).


The interior of Adieux Cafe

From street level, Adieux isn’t much to look at.  In fact, you might not (speaking from personal experience) immediately grasp that the window signage reading “Ac” is short for Adieux Cafe.  If you don’t stumble over the sidewalk  chalkboard (more personal experience) and actually read it, you’ll be treated to such iaconic aphorisms as “don’t eat the yellow snow.”  Provided traffic isn’t blocking your view, take a gander across the street at the KiMO Theater, the Pueblo Deco picture palace operating since 1927.  There’s nothing else like it on Route 66.

Step into Adieux and you’ll find a contemporary milieu belying the plainness of the gastropub’s exterior.  There’s a lot going on within the 2,000 square-foot complex.  Televisions tuned to the requisite sports channel are strategically positioned for viewing.  Thankfully the volume is turned down so you can enjoy conversation instead.  Periodic “meet the artist” functions are held prior to displaying artwork on the walls.  Seating is more utilitarian than it is comfortable, but at least it’s not in personal space proximity.


The Anti

The menu is divided into seven sections: apps (appetizers), salads, happy hour (4PM to 7PM), wraps (whole-wheat or sun-dried tomato tortillas), sandwiches (with chips), open-faced sandwiches (with chips or salad) and paninis (with chips or salad).  More than a perfunctory effort is taken to appease vegetarians, too, and not just with salads.  It also speaks volumes that this gastropub knows how to prepare and present its unique and creative sandwiches in more than the conventional “ingredients between bread” fashion.  Even better, your server won’t balk if you want something on the wraps menu prepared between bread instead.

Perhaps shortened for the vernacular style of the Twitter culture and its economy of words, all menu items have one-word names prefacing very thorough ingredient descriptions.   There are only four items on the appetizer menu, but they cover a nice range of flavor profiles.   The “Anti” (short for antipasto) platter will appeal to most diners with its pleasing variety of meats (pepperoni and prosciutto), vegetables (artichoke hearts, olives, beets) and cheese (brie) served with garlic hummus, Balsamic olive oil and toasted baguettes.   The only shortcoming with this appetizer is that it may leave you wanting more, especially of your favorite ingredients.


The Rusty

My philosophy on ingredient substitutions at restaurants is that the chefs generally know better than I do what goes best together, but on rare occasions my mind’s eye envisions something better with a slight adjustment or addition.  Sometimes my mind’s eye is a Mensa and sometimes it’s a dunce.  Listed on the open-faced sandwich section of the menu, the Rusty is a compilation of ingredients (agave-roasted figs, prosciutto, arugula, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar and shaved Parmesan) which should go very well together.  Better even, I surmised, on the top rustic Italian bread prepared panini style.  While quite good, the overwhelmingly dominant flavor is of the figs–and it would have been the dominant flavor whether served open-faced or conventionally.  There isn’t enough cheese to serve as a complementary foil (speaking from lots of experiencing in combining figs and cheeses).

Much more successful in the “have it our way” modification effort is the Guido.  Listed on the “wraps” section of the menu, my friend Bill Resnik determined this sandwich is too manly to be a wrap and ordered it between the rustic rosemary bread.  It was a rousing success spearheaded by the pillowy soft, absolutely delicious  rosemary infused bread (one of four breads available along with baguette, sourdough, ciabatta and honey wheat).  The Guido, as good an Italian-inspired sandwich as you’ll find in Albuquerque, is constructed from pepperoni, capicola, salami, Provolone, pesto aioli, lettuce, tomato and onion, a melange of ingredients which go so very well together.  If Bill regretted splitting sandwiches as we usually do, he was too kind to say.


The Guido: pepperoni, capicola, salami, provolone, pesto aioli, lettuce, tomato, and onion, on rustic rosemary bread

Given the option, eschew chips and opt instead for a salad.  Constructed from crisp, fresh greens, chopped tomatoes, a sliced cucumber, what makes this salad special are the housemade dressings: Ranch, blue cheese, Russian, thyme red wine vinaigrette, champagne vinaigrette, Balsamic vinaigrette, raspberry vinaigrette and lemon Parmesan.  The blue cheese dressing, though applied a bit penuriously, is excellent, offering a lively sharpness that accentuates the freshness of the salad ingredients. 

The Adieux Cafe offers a number of enticing food and adult beverage specials. On weekdays, it’s eight dollars for any sandwich or wrap, including an iced tea or soft drink. Appetizers are half-priced on Mondays. Taco Tuesdays mean two dollar tacos and two dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon (this will get Bob of the Village People’s attention).

The Adieux Cafe isn’t solely for wise night owls jonesing for a great sandwich.  It’s a breath-of-fresh-air departure from the all too commonplace bastions of Boar’s Head products which lack the ingenuity to create sandwiches with imagination.

Adieux Cafe
420 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-0028
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 May 2014
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Guido, The Rusty, Anti

Adieux Cafe on Urbanspoon