Mostly Underwhelmed at Billy's
- Will Owen Jan 7, 2010 11:31 AM
Old friends called up to invite us to join them for their ritual NY Day lunch at Billy's Deli in Glendale. We had never been there but had read some encouraging words on this Board, and the guy insisted it was the best deli in LA County. He especially recommended the potato salad. Okeydoke, then...
I've had good meals in places that looked grubbier and more hard-used than this, though not by much, and the waitress was friendly enough, so we got comfortable in a large booth - we had two four-tops all to ourselves, which was nice - facing the deli case, and while waiting for the friends to arrive checked out the menu, your standard gigantic deli thing. By the time the others joined us we'd gotten our drinks, root beer for Mrs. O and water for me, and the waitress had established herself as a rough-cut comedienne. I am not going to go into my usual detail here, partly because I wasn't taking notes about who had what - I think our buddy M had the pastrami (which he also insisted was the best on the West Coast, dismissing Langer's as merely adequate), and I know that Mrs. O got two plates, a chopped liver and herring in cream. I decided to continue my hunt for patty-melt perfection, on grilled sourdough, please - sneer if you will, purist, but the waitress just said, "Oh, we call that the Frisco."
I did not ask for a taste of the pastrami, but the highly-praised potato salad was sweet enough to make my teeth ache, as was the herring. The patty melt was huge, and had just barely enough flavor to let me know it was beef; its only truly outstanding feature was how tender the grilled onions were and how many they'd given me. As for the offered condiments, there were two pots of mustard, one bland and boring and one vinegary and boring, and the mayonnaise, in little plastic containers of maybe a tablespoon each, was probably Kraft. The fun part came at the end, when our friends were getting deli-to-go items added to their tab, and the one lone counter guy was trying to fill their order, another order, and check out all of them and us and someone else simultaneously. It took us all a good bit longer to pay and leave than it had to get the food in the first place - good thing the joint was almost empty, or we'd still be there. But at least the older of the two waitresses kept our morale up by telling the same jokes the other one had told us...
Tab for the two of us, split willingly by the waitress, was a bit over $26 with tax but before tip. Mrs. O made a very good lunch a couple of days later from her leftovers, as I would have had I not been such a pig. This is a funny, grubby old joint, IMO somewhere downhill from Canter's, and despite the dusty fake sausages hanging over the sparsely-stocked deli counter - I'm sorry, it's just pathetic - I'll be more than happy to give it another visit. It surely can't be as bad as it looks... and maybe I'll hear another Tiger Woods joke.
We enjoy Billy's, but honestly never have anything but a pastrami sandwich, maybe with a side of cole slaw. I prefer Langer's but can't always get downtown, and Billy's has the virtue of being close to us deli-deprived folks in the SGV. Oh, and they do a pretty good matzoh brei at breakfast time.
Billy's was one of my favorite spots growing up in Glendale. The food is alright, let's face it, it's Glendale not NYC, but the servers are hilarious. The pastrami is fantastic and if you go back, I suggest you get that, and while I too love sourdough, go with the rye.
I live in Silverlake and find myself in Glendale frequently and I have tried Billy's on numerous occasions in the hope of finding something there I like - and I haven't. Oh, well, I like the pickles on the table okay. And the waitresses are good fun. But really, the food there is at best dull and in many cases just plain awful. I've given up trying it, my hopes dashed.
Don't know if you've been to Canters lately, but it's far grubbier than Billy's. They re-modeled about 10 years ago when the new owners took over. The previous owner for 14 years was a Chinese lady.
True the most authentic deli thing about Billy's is that waitress from Brooklyn who swore to me she was going to quit when the computerized check system was instituted. Other than that Billy's is a serviceable deli in the area and they have good pastrami, mushroom barley soup, good knishes, brisket and matzo ball soup is good enough. As far as the potato salad, I never heard that it was highly-praised...maybe that was the problem.
It's been a couple of years since our last Canter's stop. What I noticed about Billy's was the shabbiness of the upholstery, the dust on the fake sausages, the sparse, unlit offerings in the grubby display cases and the general atmosphere of neglect, none of which I recall from Canter's. Especially the state of the deli cases, which I remember as being both well-stocked and well-lit.
re: Will Owen
If the last time you've been to Canter's was 30 years ago, nothing has changed there and it's worn around the edges too, maybe they hide it better. Maybe the reason Canter's doesn't remodel is because they'd have to make the 2nd floor restroom conform to ADA regulations.
Most memorable Canter's celeb sighting was seeing Henny Youngman (he even had his violin in hand) and Mel Brooks heaving one-liners at each other across the room.
Billy's is surprisingly decent for very a few specific things, cheeseburgers not among them. Matzoh ball soup; brisket or pastrami sandwiches; pickles. It is not a place to experiment.