Cousins Zack, left, and Robert Olsen enjoy a meal at Mort’s Delicatessen in Tarzana.
Cousins Zack, left, and Robert Olsen enjoy a meal at Mort's Delicatessen in Tarzana. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
Mort Medway looked around, then saw something amiss inside the Tarzana deli he had founded and run for nearly half a century.

The new designer paint inside his namesake Mort's Delicatessen? That wasn't it. Nor was it the new ceiling, mirrors and big screen TV. Finally, his eyes settled on a series of crooked daily specials cards.

"That bothers me," said Medway, 86, seated with his wife, Rebecca, as he ate a mini chef salad. "I can't do anything about it. But it bothers me."

Otherwise, he said, "Nothing's changed: I think it's fantastic."

Forty-five years after he founded the New York-style deli off Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, Medway has passed the corned-beef-on-rye on to new owners.

The new owners, longtime Mort's manager Lana Pavlick and her companion Gary Drexler, don't mean to change a thing.

Not the no-frills deli at 18452 Clark St. they bought Oct. 1; they've just they've splashed it with new paint and spruced up the bathrooms.

Not the Lower East Side menu offerings, from kreplach to chicken soup, potato knishes to pastrami, with matzo balls rated the fluffiest in Los Angeles.

Not the cook and wait staff with more than 150 years of collective experience standing over pots and plates - and serving up hearty noshes.

And not the fast deli banter that harkens back to old New York.

"It's in good hands, everything's great," said Paul Kaplan, 51, of Encino, a native of the Bronx. "It's one of the only Jewish New York-style delis left.

"It isn't a real New York deli unless you get an attitude adjustment."

"Why change a good thing?" said Pavlick, who 27 years ago signed on to the curbside deli linked to the popular, separately owned Bea's Bakery. "All the employees here, we're like family; we're pretty much born here. We'll pretty much die here, too.

"We've cleaned the place up. Otherwise nothing changed."

Medway, who once rose at 4 a.m. to deliver Adohr milk across the San Fernando Valley, founded Mort's in 1968.

He was the one who hired Pavlick and wanted her to run -- and eventually own -- his deli. He had also hired such kitchen and dining room stalwarts as Mario Garcia, Lalo Alvarado, Lulu Milgram, Fernando Huerta, Alfonso Gallo and Pavlick's daughter Sherry Vaughn, who each have been there for decades.

On a recent day, Uriel Lira, with 33 years, cooked next to his son Uriel, with 19 years, stirring a massive pot of chicken soup.

"The secret?" said the elder cook, steam rising from the pot. "A lot of chicken, and onions and tomatoes."

Drexler, who also runs a contract painting business, met Pavlick in the deli more than two decades ago when coming in for his morning joe.

The garrulous Brooklyn native now makes the rounds greeting customers. And when he schmoozes just a tad too long, Pavlick rings a counter bell.

Having painted the homes of such L.A. notables as Michael Eisner, Steven Spielberg and Sheena Easton, he regales visitors about the time he painted George Burns' manse.

"You'd knock on the door, and the butler would show up," Drexler recalled. "He said, `Mr. Burns, your breakfast is ready.' And then he brought out a beautiful silver platter ... It was incredible."

But while Medway held court at a table at the back, where he once installed a personal phone, Drexler likes to kibitz out front.

This is where dozens of kosher salamis hang, aging above a counter of lox and whitefish.

Red and Helen Weiner have breakfast at Mort’s Delicatessen.
Red and Helen Weiner have breakfast at Mort's Delicatessen. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
And where the roughly $900 a month worth of brined pickles are displayed, not to mention some of the nearly $20,000 a month in meats.

"I want a real New York deli, with the old pickles, hot dogs, knishes, the real good matzo ball soup - it's all penicillin for the Jews," said Drexler, who drove out to L.A. from NYC at 18 in a black leather jacket and a 1967 Corvette. "And the goyim love it.

"I love it. I love it. I love it."

For customers, Mort's serves the same comfort food, and provides the same booths for neighborhood comfort.

"If Mort's ever closed, I'd stop eating deli," declared Alex Ulrich, 88, who has homes in Encino and Indio.

"They make the juiciest tasting steak and eggs, ever," said Leo Babic, 33, of Studio City, who orders them nearly every day. "Without it, I'd go crazy. The eggs are perfect."

And Mort, who gets free meals for life, has become one of Mort's best customers.

"I get the best eggs cooked in the world right here, still are," he said. "You can look in the egg and see yourself."

dana.bartholomew@dailynews.com

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