A sea of faux-pumpkins leered overhead when first brought here by our friend Francesca, but I imagine the interior is seasonal. Otherwise there's comfortably faded brick walls, vintage French or Italian prints of foods and wines, and what looks like shredded newspaper on the floor. It's a decor that's been attempted countless times by eateries desiring that "internationally local" feel.
Star Cafe causes a little head-scratching, especially since they're right next door to the Black Cow Cafe, and both are part of the What's Cookn Inc. family, that has kids all over Glendale (Clancy's Crab Broiler, Hamburger Central and even Jax). I suspect there's an alien mind-control cult going on here. If there is, it's fairly successful; Star Cafe has been around for almost a decade and a half, from the beginning of the whole foodie movement. You're initially hooked in by the seasoned puff of bread before you, drizzled with herbs, with a buttery stickiness to the fingertips. There is high-quality chocolate going on in the iced Caffe Mocha, all sweet and swirling strata.
Now, I hate squash and all its unevenly-shaped vegetal kin. I hate it. But the Butternut Squash soup is a tureen of deliciously spicy silk that really illustrates the "Autumnal seasonal foods" concept, and thus my alien mind-control cult theory gains evidential momentum. Bianca continued this newfound fetish with the Curry Butternut Squash Ravioli, a sunny yellow paradise contrasted with bright red chopped tomatoes, that perfectly mixes the "butter" and "nut" and "curry" flavors, and makes me--snarling, sniveling and with much hand-wringing before shrinking back into dark alleyways--admit that butternut squash can be pretty awesome, I guess.
I was a little less experimental; having heard people rave about the focaccia, I had a Chicken Dijonnaise sandwich on this pizza-style, herb-smothered bread. The chicken is breaded and moist and begs to be torn apart and eaten as is. The pasta salad had a few too many hidden green beans and peas attempting to contribute to the mind-control effect, but they didn't hurt at all and I said nay to them.
There's also a red-pepper fettuccine, with roasted garlic and shallots, in a parmesan cream sauce that I shall be returning to try, but of my own free will, not because my mind is in any way influenced. We shall also be sampling the Black Cow Cafe next door with Francesca, who is not sponsoring our entry into any cult in any manner.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Healthy/Organic, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American )
Chili, chili, chili. Varying degrees of heat. Salads. Beverages. Bottles of trendy assploding hot sauces for sale. Bouncy avant-garde jazz playing inside. Yellow and red chili pepper decor smithereened over every square yard. You know the drill.
Everyone else does, too; this little cantina is a Valley tradition. They boast over thirty different chili recipes, offering about a dozen daily, the heat level ranging from 1 through 10; you choose three toppings to go on it.
Let's get the 10+ mean ol' bastard out of the way: "Demon". It's mahogany-colored, cough-inducing, vengeful like Heathcliff. It's not quite the red-around-the-rim Korean or Thai heat that has SURRENDER DOROTHY written all over it, but there's some napkin-dabbing and sniffing due. The "Gunslinger" is a 9, much more flavorful with bacon and baby pinto beans, and one of my favorites here.
On my latest venture I had a split bowl: the "Rio Grande" (5) and "Hickory Beef" (4). The former is a rustic on-the-trail affair with pinto and black beans, the latter has burn but no bean (and when it comes to chili, I'm with the "I like it with beans" crowd). With sour cream, diced onions and cheddar, I thought it very good, but the intricacies were hard to discern since my tongue was still pulling the bellcord for the nurse after sampling Demon.
Is it good? Yeah! Is it better than my own should-be-patented chili recipe? Of course not. Ask my friends.
There's orange cornbread, too. And did you know they have burgers and fries and stuff? Garlic bread? Tortilla chips? A kosher knockwurst plate? Me neither. I'm sure it's all worth trying, but if I happen to come in, it's because I'm on a chili kick.
Several restaurants (Griddle Cafe in West Hollywood, Jinky's Cafe) include offerings from Chili My Soul, so you can spread out a bit.
Sadly, Chili My Soul is closed indefinitely. The owner, Randy Hoffman, has passed away. I'll leave the review here since it's linked to and I don't want to forget the icon that sat in a little corner strip mall on Balboa.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, The Valley )
Something about meat being shaved off of a vertical revolving cooking apparatus triggers a Pavlovian lust. It must have something to do with the whole "meat being shaved off a vertical revolving cooking apparatus" aspect of it.
Completely unassociated with dog breeds or Olympic swimmers, Spitz is the home of the döner kebab*, normally enveloped here in focaccia or lavash. The meat is a choice of beef/lamb or chicken; the chicken actually seems to edge out the former in a taste test, but I daresay that's because there are truly marvelous, shiny shawarmas being sliced off of thigh-sized pillars of seasoned Mammalian bliss all over the Los Angeles area with which to compare.
I've had the mixed Döner plate, which has everything all together in one basket, fighting for supremacy: the beef/lamb, the chicken, tzatziki, atop thin-cut seasoned fries, salad on the side with pepperoncini, strips of seasoned & fried pita, and hummus. The hidden gem here is the hummus, which is homemade. I'm always on the hunt for good falafel, and the falafel balls are good and not utterly dry, especially with the hummus. But then everything's good with the hummus.
And guess what! Spitz offers LA MILL coffee, iced if you like (which I do). There's also passionberry iced tea. And, huh. Gelato, eh? Reputed to be quite good, but all gelato places make this claim. The double espresso bean flavor beckons me for next time.
So is it authentic? Well, it's based on a Turkish cuisine, made popular in Germany, discovered by the owners in Madrid, and adapted to please the American palate. So, no. But for a local place I deem it Lord High Beylerbey of Lunchtime.
* Döner is slow-cooked meat from Turkey, something like shawarma, something like gyros, although thinly shaved meat from vertical roasters is not solely Turkish in origin; doner merely means "turning" in Turkish. There's your poorly presented language lesson for today.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American )
Another strip mall prize, thanks to Heather P.
JP is tiny, a square space with well-considered color: walls of clay, mustard and aluminum, woven chairs, perpetual surfing on TV and a myriad of colors on the chalkboard menu. A blues guitar repents overhead, or southern rock. A casual island spot in the midst of sunblasted midwestern Valley.
The lanky saint behind the counter is John, who is a really nice guy. He's so pleasant that if I were someone's busybody old aunt I'd be introducing my nieces to him. People who come in seem to know him, and I expect that Johnny Pacific's going to be a hotly defended neighborhood treasure.
But what was I supposed to be talking about... empanadas! I scan the fingernail-chewing array of fried meat pie choices: ham and cheese, all melty and familiar. Kailua pig (which doesn't taste fried at all, and it reminds me of Hawai'i). Spinach and cheese. A pulled pork? Does anyone else do that? Damn.
The "JP Frittes" are Belgian style, in that they're seasoned and come with dipping sauces: I can recommend the Basil Aioli, the Sweet & Sour Thai, and the Chimmi-Churri that has a back-of-the-throat garlic kick.
Everything is served in boxes & paper, simply, sans frills. The drinks are various choices of freshly squeezed and homemade, such as the just-sweet-enough lemonade, but you can get a can of Inka Cola if you have a mind to.
There's even dessert empanadas... how about a "Flanada" with homemade caramel sauce? A chocolate & coconut? I'm going to have to run over to one of the Empanada's Place locations and do some comparative eating...
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, American, The Valley, Argentine, Hawaiian/Oceania )
Chicago is included in the vast array of cities I've never visited, and when it comes to, say, pizza, I really lean far over toward the New York side of the discussion. Hot dogs, though? Hot dogs, now? Hot dogs? I like what Chicago's brought to the table.
Chicagoans apparently like what owner Ali Esmail's brought to the table, too. The QT's at Reseda and Parthenia (the original location, I believe) is a clean, homely strip-mall joint with newspaper clippings, photos and Bears/Cubs/White Sox/Fire pennants lining the walls. The one-page menus have jokes and trivia on the back. They've got a lot here: Jumbo dogs, dogs with the natural casing, Fire dogs, Polish dogs, "Foot Loooong" dogs, Italian Sausage, and even veggie and turkey. QT's also has burgers (generally panned by the food-reviewing community) and Phillie sandwiches. Gyros, too. Is that legal?
As fiercely defensible as the Philadelphia sandwich, a "true" Chicago dog varies slightly depending on the area, but the list of toppings usually includes yellow mustard, an eerily neon green relish, a pickle slice, chopped onions, celery salt (sometimes), and tomatoes. A Chicago dog should be steamed, not boiled. There is no cheese (although I order some anyway, because Chicago is 1700 miles away and I'm not afraid). And for goodness' sake, there is no ketchup on a Chicago dog*.
I have not tried this real Chicago Dog with the works (not yet). I did, however, greatly appreciate the scandalously juicy, give-and-snap texture of my natural casing dog, with mustard, red onions and cheese in a billowy poppy seed bun. I also tried the Philadelphia sandwich, and was mightily impressed: a long lightly toasted sesame bun, lavalike white cheese, and fine slivers of beef. Both came no-frills in a paper basket, delivered by the guy behind the counter with a smile and a thumbs-up. I enjoyed the hell out of both dog and sammich; "food buzz" was detected in this sector.
QT's also has locations on Victory in Reseda, on Woodman in Sherman Oaks, and on Topanga in Woodland Hills.
* Apologies to my friend Dennis, our representative Heinz hound.
Update: The Reseda & Parthenia location has closed, although their own website doesn't seem to be aware of it. The others might still be there, though; search them out.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, The Valley, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Maybe you could stumble out of Santa Cruz circa '74 into a place like this, with its playhouse-color interior, violently floral tablecloths and introspective folk music overhead. You'd argue a bit about being hassled by the Man, chow down a few mouthfuls of alfalfa sprouts and fennel, breathe in the smoldering sage, and slink back outside in your sandals.
It's not* like that, though. Terri Wahl and friends offer a seasonal menu using produce from the local farmer's markets, a little attached marketplace room to get cheeses and milk, and a lot of educated inspiration.
Who knew that a ham & cheese sandwich could be dreamy? But when it's a sandwich expertly, carefully, dare I say lovingly made, it is; black forest ham with mustard-seed gouda cheese, lettuce, mayo and more mustard (plus some thickly rendered applewood smoked bacon upon my request), in pretzel bread. What is pretzel bread? Not salty and crunchy as you'd think. It's robust, and rustic.
The sandwich is accompanied by a tiny plastic ramekin of homemade sliced pickles, enough to keep your tongue curious. I need to try out Donna's Mom's Meatloaf Sandwich on country white bread next time, or the roasted asparagus, caramelized onion & brie on rosemary focaccia if no one's looking.
The homemade mint iced tea is very minty indeed, and there are old-fashioned bottles of cola under the counter. Auntie Em's also serves Intelligentsia coffee, which is definitely a draw if you're seriously into coffee.
Sweets! Red velvet cupcakes, bleeding scarlet with satiny cream cheese frosting, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Doughboys days. What else: chocolate almond tart? Lime chiffon cake? Matcha green tea cake? Everything's from scratch.
There's a driveway by Auntie Em's that looks like it leads to parking but it doesn't. There's some parking along Eagle Rock Blvd., though.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )