On the next occasion where it happens to be a perfect Southern California day, and you're moseying along the unpolished lower stretch of Venice, past vendors of jewelry, art, love, and hemp artifacts, past examples of the ripped and the haggard, dodging rollerskates and peeking into freak shows, and you come across the red-and-white awning, take a break and get in line at the door.
There is a bar inside, noisy and neoned and pool-tabled, but your focus is to smell the ocean air a little longer, so you wait for a table on the patio, under arches and columns with bas-relief faces looking bemusedly downward.
It isn't that the Sidewalk Café is a swirling tidepool of culinary brilliance and innovation. It's that it's an icon, sprouting from the fabulously literate and independent Small World Books next door. The building dates back to the Abbot Kinney days, replete with bootlegger tunnels and beatnik artist studios. Kerouac crashed here, I believe.
They are, however, well-versed in their alcohol. They serve greyhounds here! Grapefruit juice and gin, in a lowball glass. Also try the Mississippi Mimosa, which adds a touch of Triple Sec to the champagne and OJ. For our late-afternoon purposes, however, Bianca and I like the Sidewalk Summer Tea: sweet tea and lemonade. And vodka. You'll need two pairs of these to get properly on the road* to toasted.
Bianca: I feel like I should be fanning myself on the veranda.
There's lots of habitual bar food, normally a beery afterthought in other joints. The Grilled Cajun Shrimp Skewers, despite their trendy name, are good, firm and snappy and fingertip-staining, riotous with herb butter and a paper tub of vinegary, Tabascoan red pepper sauce. They aren't large or many, so consider two.
Also in the realm of the familiar is the Calamari Basket, brittle puffs of amber, with a chunky tartar sauce that Bianca lets me have because she dislikes tartar sauce, and also... kids, let me tell you about a concoction called cocktail sauce, and how we adults love it so, while laughing over our martinis. It's a classic, horseradishy enough to bring memories of Mom and Dad's parties.
The Café keeps its literary roots, and names its Bookshelf Sandwiches for books and authors, a theme of which I always approve: you can get the Hemingway, the Odyssey, the Thesaurus, the Larry McMurtry, et al.
Since I recently reread Slaughterhouse-Five** I zero in on the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It's a fine mess, a California-style burger with a superb bite, not nearly enough bean chili (So it goes), a schmear of thousand-island, onions and cheese. You get the sense that this taste, this intellectually escapist vibe, would have been the same fifty years ago. The fries next to everything you get can be big-plank style or a thin, seasoned heap.
It's still late afternoon and we're still working a quartet of Summer Teas through our systems, so I get a slice of Key Lime Pie. It's not pretty. It's messy and unkempt, just like an ideal Venice lifestyle; thankfully it's banana-yellow instead of green, and sour as a spinster aunt, causing our tongues to bang around dingdingding like a pinball machine.
Try the Sidewalk Café as the sun dips behind the ugly cement bunkers into the Pacific. You'll remember why you're here.
* No, that wasn't a Kerouac reference. Or was it?
** I would totally try a sandwich called the Kilgore Trout.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Pizza, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Seafood )
This is the first review where my notes were taken at home, and the first review where we're busting out the larger photos. Because you need to see this pizza.
Because of its casual, kewl-dude-in-a-woodie logo, you do not suspect Cruzer of offering the first all-vegan pizza. Learning about it, and finally trying this "why hasn't anyone done this before?" fare, made us shriek and dance like we'd received a basket of puppies.
We start with having the Quarrygirl.com Pizza delivered. Olive oil, garlic and softly dense strips of portobello and button mushrooms make us forget that there's no red sauce on this pie. The sausage is that rare vegan entity that tastes closer to the real thing than it looks, instead of the other way around; it's zippy and spicy as real sausage, and I could totally go through a bag of it like a road trip jerky snack.
A thick paste of Daiya cheese is melted over everything, white and grainy with little yellowed oven marks. It feels more like ricotta or goat cheese in texture and tang, and once you make that mental transition, it's all good. Daiya will save us all. Beneath all of it is a just-plain-good dough, bready and bubbled and just this side of sweet.
The Vegan BBQ Chicken Pizza also has no red stuff, but the ruddy bbq sauce is like a sweet & sour glaze, rich with molasses and I daresay hickory; it complements the already-sweet tinge of the dough. You could serve this to friends and tell them it's BBQ Pork, even, and they'd nod with approval. The texture, the grain, the flavor, is all there, firm and cooked. It's not meat, I'm told, and I laugh it off. The daiya cheese is more settled and cooperative on this pizza.
Bianca, upon her first bite: Are you kidding me.
Cruzer has a Vegan Meat Pizza, which I am nervous about trying. I am of course a slave to meat pizzas when given the option, but I can't yet imagine how sausage, pepperoni, meatball, Canadian bacon, ham and salami could all be rendered convincingly and separately as vegan. I will just need to keep placing orders.
And: a vegan Chicken Cheese Steak? A vegan Chicken Parmigiana? I must know.
The pizzas are available in a whole wheat crust as well.
The Los Feliz location uses only 100% animal-free vegan ingredients, the first ever pizza joint in Los Angeles to do so, so much applause for them. They are also incredibly nice on the phone.
They're open until ten most days, eleven on Fridays and Saturdays.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
I admit to prejudgment upon walking into Masa. My thoughts: "Oh, no. This decor. Saffron walls and flowers and oak chairs and peeling-paint rustic furniture and wine list and loud tablecloths. This means it's another gentrified bistro wishing it was French, 'rated' by 'Zagat' and 'blithely' 'ignoring' its own 'neighborhood' until nicer people move in."
I am wholly, utterly, shamefully wrong.
The people are wonderful. Masa is aware of its history and its locale, even the businesses that existed in this spot back to the '20s. It knows and loves Echo Park without a sense of exclusion.
The seating is casual, as if a restaurant quietly grew around a bakery counter and coffee bar. They make their own dough here, use organic local produce, and import what they need to make the Chicago-centric part of their menu. You may be seated near Echo Park local personage Miss Judy.
The Parmesana Panini is bigger than expected, layered under neutral but harmonious butter-slicked bread. If this was by itself with some pasta, it would already be a paragon of Chicken Parmesania. The chicken is superbly done, thoughtfully seasoned, lush and just crunchy enough. The marinara is a deep Sicilian red, and shouts of tomato freshness.
The salad is tangy, and of greater interest than I can think to write about it. The dressing is low-key, suggestive of shallots, lemon and a trace of balsamic vinegar.
There are Spinach & Mushroom Crêpes, to which you can add rosemary chicken or grilled veggie chicken. The thin, elastic sheets of crêpe taste of peppercorns, hiding the spinach, sliced mushrooms and swiss cheese; the effect is almost stroganoffian in robustness.
They make thin crust "bistro" pizzas here, without making claims to being authentically New York, which is fine with me. It is a successful rendition.
If I'm still on a chicken parmesan kick, I get the Lucretia (baked chicken parmesan, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and bay leaves). Otherwise I like the Douglas: homemade sweet Italian sausage, studded with fennel and falling apart, shreds of green pepper, purple rings of onion, mozzarella melted just so, and more of that impressive marinara, sweet and tomato-strong. I normally do not write sentences that long, by the way, but that's how fast I go through their pizzas: with barely a pause. They are Masa's own interpretation, and fabulous. The crust is thin as a pair of half dollars.
Masa's Chicago Pizzas, however, do make this claim of familiarity; Co-owner Ron was born and raised in Chicago. With a lot of love and the eighty-year-old revolving oven, it takes forty minutes to bake each pie.
Although fully aware that a Chicago pizza out here in California means needlessly puffy, tasteless dough and extra poundage to work off, I normally do not care for Chicago deep dish pizza. If Masa's pies are any indication of what a good pizza might be like in Chicago, I now understand the controversy.
I like the Traditional, with mushrooms and sausage. The homemade sweet Italian sausage appears again, but in sheets instead of crumbled spheres, hence why it looks a little alarming in the photo, but please trust me when I say it's delicious. Garlic is present, and the cheese melts like an underground glacier under the red, red sauce. It is complex, and amazing. The crust is like nothing I've ever tasted, prominent with cornmeal, with a trace of biscuity sweetness. I forget to shake parmesan cheese over my pizza, and I always shake parmesan over things.
Perhaps there is a way to pick this up, but I understand why they call it a pizza pie. I prefer a fork.
Parking for Masa is going to be metered, whether along the street (with fairly forgiving signage if they're not filming something) or in one of the blue-signed public lots.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, French, Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
It might be Sante Cuisine now instead of Sante La Brea, and it might have had a rocky beginning, and it might have had its menu revamped by Gordon Ramsay, but I'm afraid I got here after all this happened. Let others argue about it; to me it seems to have hit its eclectic stride on this busy/quiet stretch of La Brea.
The interior is a darkened counter area that's dark, modern and leafy, but there is a comforting rustic wooden patio, decorated as if a yoga studio or a Thai massage parlor suddenly sprouted inside an Idea. A stone waterfall mixes with background grooves and the drone of passing cars.
This is actually refreshing, and you must trust us even while we tell you it's made with chlorophyll and alkaline water. The Green-Aid Slushy looks like an overdose of Nyquil, but is nowhere near as terrifyingly vegetal as it appears; with lime juice and agave (which is rapidly becoming the coolest sweetener this side of Elysium), it's cooling and healthy.
The soups are satisfyingly expressed. The Tortilla Soup is a thick puree with a southwestern roasted red pepper vibe, and is just plain bowl-scrapingly good. A few freshly made tortilla strips add a scratchy wholesomeness to the texture.
The Vegan Chili (or turkey if you like; Sante provides for its non-vegetarian diners) has a real "ground meat" feel, with beans and spices and density. It is, for want of a better word, hearty. Fresh scallions and carrot strips give crunch. Both bowls come with a pair of crispy pita chips.
As a fine introduction to the well-thought menu of Sante, the Chicken Sandwich can be chicken proper or vegan Chick-un (despite its pointless name, I don't mind the latter texturewise). The chick-un is marinated and grilled firm, thickly cut and dense; like a breast of chicken, you must find the "grain" to bite across, on peril of pulling it out from underneath the rustic, pitted whole wheat roll. There is leafy green lettuce, a subtle vegan dijonaise, and some red onions are sautéed into submission on top.
With this is Rosemary Red Potatoes, cut into half-inch rounds and grilled to a fork-tender, pleasant orange. There is a slaw as well, freshly chopped but with too much of a sour dressing for my liking.
Bianca is on a beet salad kick, and the Beet Beet Salad [sic] is a deeply purpled favorite of hers, sans the toasted pine nuts usually scattered atop. It's not complicated: mixed greens with a handful of feta cheese and a dressing-coated bit of slaw, and there is no need to hunt through the salad to find the beets, for there is a goodly amount, leaving the plate a red-stained joy. The lemon vinaigrette is greenish and balanced.
Sante is open until ten most days. There seems to be an abbreviated parking lot in the alley, but otherwise there should be some open meters on La Brea.
Many thanks to Jeff and a greeting of namaste to Ashaa for the recommendation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Pizza )
Some Silver Lake locals say that this was what Hard Times Pizza used to be, but there's been a Tomato Pie on Melrose near Fairfax longer than there's been one tucked away along Hyperion, so a comparison isn't exactly fair. However, I am still absurdly pleased with it. They're doing something right, in attitude, in vibe, in taste.
Brown-shirted, youthfully professional people behind the counter will wait patiently while you ogle the red and yellow delights glowing under the glass. They do delivery and entire pies, naturally, but part of the joy of the local pizza house is choosing a slice or two, to carry steaming over to a table, to blow on and pull apart and consume whilst lessening the total of dispensed napkins in the world.
The back lot of the Hyperion location has bright retro patio furniture and a vintage stove sitting and waiting like an arranged playroom, and you will eat here. Before you get to the pizza, dissect and devour one of the Garlic Knots. They're just dough scattered with bits of cheese and butter, but they're puffs of fingertip-moistening bliss, better than any breadstick-with-marinara afterthought available at other pizza places.
On to pizza. These are slices to which you devote attention and careful balancing, the crust very slightly, almost infinitesimally, sweet. The Tomato Pie itself is a crisp rectangle of tomato sauce and fresh parsley, sans mozzarella, with a crusty snap like you remember Shakey's having while growing up out here in Southern California.
Bianca: "Look what Bunny's doing--Bunny's eating the crust*."
The other pizzas are conventional wedges; the Meat Lover is usually my first target when trying out a pizza joint, and is now my new favorite. Limp with weight, its rigidity is compromised by the crumbled sausage in a chaotic marriage with the cheese. The pepperoni is forceful but not crisped, and the ham and bacon are quietly arranged beneath everything, giving their opinion but not dominating the conversation.
The BBQ Chicken & Onion has more structural integrity, the red onions adding clout to the sparse cubes of chicken. The barbecue sauce is constrained to a light drawl, bolstering the sides of the mouth rather than drenching the tongue with cloying sweetness.
Compared with other Silver Lake haunts, I'd say Nicky D's on Rowena is more old-Brooklyn Italy in its approach, while Tomato Pie has captured a little more stylish New York... at least how L.A. thinks New York might be.
* Bianca normally never eats the crust.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Hollywood, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
Local pizza, Boston style
1504 W. Glenoaks Blvd. (southwest of Western, in Glendale)
Phone: 818-242-1744 | map
A local hole in the wall if you ever saw one: faux brick, Bud on tap, Little League sponsor plaques, rickety steel napkin dispensers which you will use often.
It's Greek/Boston style, which I venture to guess means that the crust is thin, rises high on the sides, is crunchy-soft almost like a pastry, and baked in a pan. I like it almost as much as a New York Neapolitan pie.
I always like to try a pepperoni and sausage, to see how a pizzeria does both. The pizza is even-handed on the sauce, with a solid tundra of melted cheese. The sausages are spicy spheres of joy, the pepperoni typically curled. Despite being bolstered by olive oil, the grease level is high, so can be perilous to tender tummies; to soak up some of the orange stuff, some paper towel dabbing may be in order.
I am elated that the garlic bread is not those sad, soggy little foil-wrapped afterthoughts of which so many pizza joints are guilty. Rather, for a mere buck-seventy-five you get a big honking half-loaf, slightly singed around the edges, of a rusty nuclear orange.
Other things: the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich is hearty and pillowy, the breading very light. The chicken is almost lost inside the red sauce, blanket of cheese, and the thick and crunchy Italian roll. It's fair enough but doesn't generate a desire for dopamine-gland-triggering like the pizza will.
Parking is a small lot, so can be quiet or impossible. Mondays are light around lunchtime, while Fridays are horrid around two.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Pizza, Greek )