Johnny Carson often began his nightly NBC monologue with a joke: "Downtown Burbank is so-o dead that..." and then he would go on to a line about graveyards and the like... always good for a laugh or two. Johnny would be astonished to see downtown Burbank today, and so was I this week. It is now an exciting, vibrant center of activity in the Valley and, indeed in our fair City of the Angels. And you may well ask what I, a confirmed resident of Beverly Hills and the West Side, was doing in downtown Burbank? Eating, of course, what else?
About two years ago, my dear buddy Ginny Mancini told me that her nephew and his wife had opened a shop called The Little Flower Candy Company, a café and candy kitchen in Pasadena... and perhaps we should pay it a visit. Mrs. Mancini's wish is my command, so we did. Her late husband, the brilliant musician and composer Hank Mancini, had done the wonderful score for my never-seen Universal film, W.C. Fields & Me (Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine), and we had become fast and lasting friends. We trekked over the hill to Pasadena and discovered this vibrant shop making the most delicious candies... salted caramels, marshmallows and the like, which were being purchased and sent all over the country. Christine Moore, wife and partner to Ginny's nephew, Robert, had been making candies in her kitchen for the past ten years, selling them to some of the city's finest restaurants (Campanile, etc.) 'til the shop location opened up and they moved there. But, in addition to the candies, I found a sandwich shop which really knew how to build a proper, delicious sandwich, with extraordinary bread, artisanal ingredients, homemade cole slaw, special mustards and the like. Manna from heaven. I wrote about them in my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter and sent all of my Valley friends and readers there to become part of the Moore dining family. In addition, Christine was catering some of the best parties in the city... and Ginny told me that she did all of her legendary Malibu extravaganzas (including a Moroccan one which people still talk about). Christine and Robert had met at the Western Culinary Institute in Napa and been a team (with three children) ever since. For six years, Robert was executive chef at Dodger Stadium and later Staples Center, supervising all of the food for the Sky Boxes and concession stands until 'burning out' of the sports scene and striking out with Christine.
Now they had taken on a bigger and even more exciting venture. "My grandparents had Moore's Deli in San Francisco's Union Street, which opened in 1927," Robert told me, "and we have been thinking about something similar for a long time when this amazing location opened up at 271 East Orange Grove Avenue in downtown Burbank, at the corner of N. 3rd Street and E. Orange Grove, directly and safely across the street from the Police & Fire Departments and City Hall!" (And a big Farmer's Market every Saturday.) Christine chimed in: "It had been a run-down run deli by an older man, we grabbed it up when it became available, renovated in the amazing time of three months, and opened this week... already to a big volume of neighborhood business seeking good decent food."
After spending several hours there yesterday, I can report that the food is far more than good and decent, it is sensational. You can imagine that I was weaned on Jewish deli food, and all my life I have been a devotee of this ethnic cuisine. Moore's Deli (1-818-478-1251, open daily from 7 am to 9 pm, with delivery service) is not of that particular ilk. It is a more traditional American delicatessen, but Chris and Bob have brought to it their skills in serving up the most delicious and carefully-crafted hot and cold sandwiches, salads, rice bowls, subs, dips and 'specials' imaginable... entrees like ribeye steak, meatloaf, and either halibut or salmon. "Wait until you taste my potato pancakes," Christine smilingly said.
An amazing array of hot and cold sandwiches, each made with loving care and superb fresh, usually organic ingedients... oven-roasted turkey, oven-roasted sirloin of beef, house roasted albacore tuna, curried chicken, brisket, pulled pork, brie and mushrooms, and a deli burger for $8.50 made from prime chuck and ribeye, which matches any in town. The quartet of City Hall Sandwiches ($10.50) are made on fresh baked rye with cole slaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese... Ginny and I took home a roast beef, turkey and pastrami each.
They have a big, shiny rice cooker filled all day with succulent brown rice for a menu of rice bowls, and I sampled the Fresh Fish one ($12.50) with brown rice, shredded carrots, cucumber relish, micro greens and ponzu ginger dressing topped with strips of market-fresh seafood. A Yellow Lentil Dal brown rice bowl ($8.50) will satisfy the veggies among us, delicious to all.
But here's an added plus: Christine comes originally from New Jersey, not far from the city of Newark where my mother grew up. So when I casually asked if they served hot dogs, her eyes lit up and she said, "We have Thumann's All-Beef Dogs from New Jersey," and my heart skipped a beat. You see, the best hot dogs don't come from Sabrett's in New York or Vienna in Chicago, no... they come from a little place in New Jersey called Thumann's... made the old-fashioned way, with a natural casing which snaps and pops when you bite into the spicy-but-not-garlicky weiner made lovingly from lean beef and a bit of beef fat for flavor.
I set aside my wonderful liverwurst and onion sandwich ($8.50, with mayo on wheat bread) and waited while the chef prepared a hot dog. It came out with a toasted bun, mustard and relish ($6.50, with optional brisket chili and cheddar for $2, but not for me this day)... and the moment I bit into it and the juices squirted into my mouth, I knew I would be returning often to downtown Burbank.
With a wine-and-beef license, Moore's has six kinds of tap beer available. "Our daughter's name is Avery, so of course we have that on tap, Robert told me. "And my son loves Speed Racer, so we had to get Beer Republic Racer 5 on tap. We have six red and six wines by the glass, mostly boutique vineyards you won't find everywhere." Yes, this is a very special place, and Burbank isn't really that far from Beverly Hills. Hopefully, I can produce my next film at Warner Bros. in Burbank. Now, wouldn't that be a treat!
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