Stark’s wins over this Jerry’s Deli fan with sophisticated takes on American standards
By Angela Matano
Stark’s 13181 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 437-7600 starksrestaurant.com
When one door closes, another opens, or so they say. Jerry’s Famous Deli in Marina del Rey stood like a sentry over the 90, the greatest freeway in Los Angeles, for more than four decades. A classic Jewish deli with all the bagels, lox and cold cuts one could ever wish for, Jerry’s showcased an enormous menu with a little of everything. Both comforting and intimidating, the offerings ping-ponged from herring, creamed or pickled, with rye bread and potato salad to a Reuben corn beef to a Brooklyn egg cream.
The years the deli traversed can almost be tracked through the menu updates, like strata in the soil or rings on an old-growth redwood tree. The additions of wraps and paninis can bring to mind an entire time period, like recalling Rubik’s Cubes or pet rocks. Some restaurants might have pruned their menus over the years, but Jerry’s just kept growing, folding in the entire offerings of a taco stand, plus loaded potato skins, steamed vegetables, pasta and pizza. How about an Irish cappuccino with Jameson’s or a flute of champagne, a Havana banana split or a glass of Clos du Bois Cabernet?
If Jerry’s lacked for anything, one might cite a deficit in updated California food — avocado toast, kale salad, et al. Some might even consider this a moral failing, as the modern lives we live contain more and more self-care, a carousel of aspirations and recriminations. Our expectations that restaurants cater to our mass anxiety about food, nutrition and health (especially in Los Angeles) would appear to be unreasonable; yet, the lengths our chefs are willing to go to, with organic, seasonal and local ingredients is nothing short of astonishing, if you think about it.
Into the breach comes the brand spanking new Stark’s. Having just opened in May, under the same ownership as Jerry’s, this updated version of a deli looks to provide the same service of “something for everyone,” but in a more sophisticated way. The space itself, enormous, has been cleverly divided into sections with distinct personalities. The bakery, opening early, works for a quick coffee or food to go, while the bar and lounge area encourage hanging out. A third area, the official restaurant portion, features huge booths, both stylish and cozy, that are great for catching up with a friend, an early dinner with family, or even a romantic date night.
In the spirit of being all things to all people, Stark’s pretty much manages to do just that. The entrees, while not nearly as extensive as Jerry’s — then again, do you really want to order tacos al carbon at a deli? — cover a nice range of territory. Standbys like cheeseburgers come deliciously juicy, and an Impossible version, augmented with smoked portobello mushrooms and arugula, strikes the right balance between virtuous and lusty.
Plentiful fish, chicken, steak and pork options — including a kingly prime 18-oz. strip steak and plump rotisserie chicken with roasted vegetables — stand alongside a phalanx of salads. Get your veggies chopped, mixed, grilled, roasted or straight-up. The little gem Caesar comes with a particularly delightful parmesan crisp alongside caccio e pepe croutons. Nostalgics will revel in the relatively inexpensive matzo ball cup of soup, coming in at eight bucks. It is one of the few things on the updated menu that bears any resemblance to the old delicatessen.
Also to die for are the mixed cocktails, such as the Oaxacan Bramble with mezcal, cucumber, cream sherry, crème de mûre and lime, and the My Thai Oh My, with Thai chile. These drinks feel fully up-to-the-minute, delicious and playful. Don’t forget dessert: it’s worth saving room for the Malibu Beach Pie or N’awlins Boozy Bread Pudding.