I met three members of the Canter family last Thursday when they unveiled their new menu. Marc Canter and his sister Jacqueline greeted me near the Kibitz Room. Soon their cousin, Terri Bloomgarden, joined us.
They were eager for me to try a few of their new grilled deli-style paninis. The new menu also features new breakfast items and specialty cocktails. “People were asking for different items on a sandwich and less meat. We discovered that less meat, doesn’t mean less flavor,” Terri said. They created about 14 different panini melt sandwiches to appeal to their customer’s requests.
“One can still get our thick corned beef or pastrami Canter’s sandwich, but now they have an option to order it panini-style,” Terri said.
The three of them grew nostalgic when Bloomgarden shared with me that at the age of three, while sitting in her grandmother’s lap (founder Jennie Canter), she passed out matchbooks to the customers with the Canter’s logo on it.
“We used to have a cigarette machine and everyone who bought cigarettes needed matches,” she said.
She also remembers when Hubert Humphrey ran for President and came into Canter’s for a meal. While working in the bakery, Bloomgarden tried to give Mr. Humphrey a free Danish. He looked at her and said, “No thanks, I pay for everything I get.”
Now Terri’s grandson, Milo, comes into Canter’s with his mother Deena to visit and eat some chopped liver, lox, or enjoy a bowl of hot matzo ball soup. The two year old is the fifth generation of Canter’s setting foot into this iconic restaurant.
Instead of passing out matches, Terri’s daughter stamped parking tickets for customers when she was a little girl. Later, she worked as a hostess, then in the bakery and as a waitress.
Terri has another daughter, Bonnie, who runs Canter’s catering division. Jacqueline Canter shared with me that she remembers sleeping under the cash register as a little girl. Her brother Marc, rode his motorbike to work.
The restaurant started 82 years ago when Jennie and Ben Canter partnered with Ben’s brothers to open a deli. After the first restaurant opened in Boyle Heights, the brothers set their sights on the Fairfax District and opened Canter’s on Fairfax Ave. in 1931. Later they took over the old Esquire Theatre and expanded to the spot where the restaurant sits today. “Our customers are seeking new dietary and healthier items, so we are offering gluten-free Matzo, hamburger buns and bagels to accommodate their requests,” Jackie said.
The Canter family also created some new specialty cocktails to be paired with various dishes on their new menu. Terri said that customers enjoy a Sapphire Collins with a fresh salad or a Kibitz Raspberry Fusion with a turkey dish.
“The Chocolate Martini is a cute drink with a Florentine cookie,” she said
Marc Canter arrived with four panini sandwiches for me to taste.
“We wanted to make fun grilled cheese sandwiches and realized panini melts were the best way. So we bought panini machines and got creative,” Marc said. “With 14 new panini sandwiches, 80 percent are unique and only found at Canter’s.”
I tried The Spicy panini first, served on a jalapeño cheese bagel with fresh pastrami, melted pepper jack cheese and spicy mustard. It was terrific.
Next, I tasted the Mac-Attack with Canter’s mac n’ cheese, crispy bacon bits and sharp cheddar cheese. It’s pure comfort food between two slices of warm sourdough bread.
Marc loves The Hawaiian with grilled pineapple and ham covered in Swiss cheese. He also said the Mediterranean is a winner with vegetarians. The hummus, eggplant salad, tomato, and feta cheese grilled on a pita is served with kettle chips. It’s thinner than the other panini melts, yet full of robust flavors.
“Some people order two paninis, eat half of each and take the rest home for dinner,” Terri said. “They reheat nicely.”
The new breakfast items include five Benedicts that can be served on English muffins or potato pancakes.
“People are healthier now and requesting fresh fruit, instead of hash browns,” added Jackie.
I asked Marc what he attributes for the longevity of the deli, celebrating its 82nd anniversary.
“We care,” he said. They care about the customer, care about the quality of food, care about their employees and care about each other. “We put in extra effort to ensure that are customers are satisfied,” Marc added.
Canter’s Deli Manager, George, has been working at the restaurant for over 50 years. Phyllis St. James worked at Canter’s as a hostess until her mid 80s. When she passed away at 97 years old, Jacqueline Canter attended her funeral services. “She was like family to us,” she said.
Come see why many residents in Los Angeles call Canter’s Deli their second home.
Parking is free for 90 minutes with a Canter’s validation. Open 24 hours, seven days a week. $-$$ 419 N. Fairfax Ave. (323)651-2030.