Category: Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs
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 pretty much a deli counter tacked on to the Pavlovian-response treasure that is the Surfas Restaurant Supply. After wandering the aisles and telling yourself you do not need a four-bottle dispenser system nor a single blade mezzaluna, you dry your eyes and step into the brightly lit interior of the Cafe Surfas deli. Nice people work here. It's rather like Porta Via in demeanor, though smaller and without the impulse-buy jars of artisan mustard and wedges of cheese.
Not photographically imposing but a good start, the Black Bean soup is not the thick, moody affair you might be used to from Cuban restaurants but is more like a tortilla soup that has black beans in it. It's rather thin but fresh and vegetal; crispy finger-staining little cheese bread accompanies it.
Their flagship sandwich is Jorge's Chicken Sandwich. Jidori chicken and Nueske bacon are the most prominent champions here; the chicken is super tasty and tender, the bacon fairly limber and cooperative rather than crispy. White cheddar, baby arugula, red onion, tomato are soft-voiced, slowly turning green with the cilantro avocado spread. Lots of napkin work is required.
Besides meeting my coworker Adam for lunch, one of my current triggers for driving clear across town is the Kurobuta Ham Panini. The bread is toasted hard with a snappy crust, which I normally avoid but is brilliantly sour and tasty. Its interior is softened by a thin spread of quietly confident homemade chutney, and it's a good platform for the black pork. The ham, true to its name, is robust and pink and dark and marbled and ever-so-slightly briny. White cheddar pulls and drapes and makes everything even nicer.
They do salads, of course, and put everything into crisp, recycled-looking to-go boxes.
To drink I like their Blueberry Lemonade, but they also make a dandy, strongly chocolatey iced mocha.
Outside the warehouse and the deli counter is a pleasant outdoor patio with strains of classic rock. Surfas has a good-sized parking lot, the easier to stagger to your car with your Hamilton Beach Triple Spindle Malt Mixer.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Bakery/Patisserie, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
The oldest public house in L.A. (since 1908), Cole's resides along the foot of the Pacific Electric Building (which is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #104), and therefore the "P.E." (in "Cole's P.E. Buffet") stands for Pacific Electric, justsoyouknow. It had a brief span of remodeling and reopening in 2008, but would otherwise be the oldest continuously-operating eatery in this town.
This is the place most often brought up in context with Philippe the Original, since both claim to have originated the French-dipped sandwich. Cole's seems to want to make a point of this, while Phillipe ignores everything south of it.
Cole's has a different vibe. As opposed to the paper plates and aged trays of Philippe's workaday lunch counter, Cole's is more restaurant/saloon oriented; you can get a can of Schlitz or a dram of Auchentoshan 10-year single malt. It's draped in deep colors: scarlet ceiling tiles, velvet bordelloesque wallpaper, mahogany panels and burgundy booths.
Here's why you're here. The Big Dipper is not a large sandwich. The French loaf is nicely textural but nondescript. The Swiss cheese is low-key. This beast is practiced in subtlety, not power.
The meat--beef in this photo, but you can get lamb, turkey, pork or pastrami--is exactly what it needs to be, lean, puffy and thick, soothed into a mild temperament when dipped into the small dish of au jus (another difference from Philippe, where expert assemblers dip or double-dip it before serving). It is a plain darned good roast meat sandwich, a crisply attired noble of sandwichdom.
Cheddar, goat or blue cheese is available, and I'm told I need to get the lamb with goat cheese. I shan't say no to an expert.
That's pretty much your lot for the main course, except for a couple of alternates. The Grilled Cheese is on big, shiny sourdough, toasted enough to make your fingertips moist. Small stiffened spikes of yellow and white cheese protrude like armor. This also benefits from stolen dips into the au jus.
Bianca: It's like dipping magic, isn't it?
Dave: Yes, it is. Stay away from my juice.
Potato salad, I see. Whatever. But look. It's Bacon Potato Salad. And it's probably the finest potato salad on the planet. In Near-Earth Orbit, even. The obligatory potato salad at all those family gatherings would be a lot less miserable if bacon was added.
There is seasoning in every bite, it's not overdone with celery, and there is just enough mayonnaise to glue it together and give it a sheen. It tastes like they add a touch of pickle juice for that old-school zing. It is my favorite potato salad, ever.
There are other sides too, such as Spicy Garlic Fries, crunchy gold with a seasoned salt bite. They seem innocuous, but wait for the quick kick of spice before you cough.
A bottle of house mustard is near the wall, so grab it and use it sparingly. Like the devilish condiment at Philippe, it has that electric rampage-up-your-face jolt if you apply too much.
We're not done. Cole's has a real bar, and they're not afraid to use it. They make a good Cosmopolitan (their Cosmo is made with gin, rather like martinis are supposed to be*), and a fantastic Cable Car (spiced rum, Cointreau, and lemon juice).
I never would have thought gin with ginger together could be mild, but the Ginger Rogers is that. Ginger syrup and ginger ale combine with gin and lime and a sprig of mint atop, and somehow they all cancel each other out and put a velvet glove over the facepunch.
Desserts, too. I've been searching a long time for the chocolate cream pie of my childhood, only to encounter too many light tan, tasteless foam wedges from eateries that claim to specialize in pies. Cole's makes a good one. It's dark chocolate, and it's on an Oreo crust, and it's a dense whipped cream instead of something meringuish, and it's intoxicating, and no, you can't have any.
So who wins?
Historically, I don't really care who came first. In this duel of the dipped sandwich, for atmosphere and appeal and for a slight edge in sandwich caliber, I give it to Cole's.
This fine public house is open until 10 Sunday through Wednesday, ramps up to 11 on Thursday, and one in the morning Friday and Saturday. Attractive saloon specials appear in the afternoon.
* So sayeth I, the proprietor of DeadLounge.com.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
I wish they were closer. I wish I had some chili in front of me. I wish a lot of things, not least a status of independent wealth so that I may eat chili tri-weekly.
The place is small, square, sparsely tabled, and shouts at you in electric Lego red. The floor is a sea of penny round tiles. A man behind the counter awaits you in a relaxed and friendly manner, knowing you must take a moment with the menu and the array of bowl sizes and options. They will have eight recipes to taste, out of--what is Johnny up to at this point? Seventy? More? These are no runny ground-beef-and-tomato-and-kidney-beans concoctions from our youth*, but a dizzying list of state-fair-dominating ideas.
A sampler? Why, yes. It's not large, and I could probably tackle two orders of this, but here goes.
The leftmost lovely ladleful is the Prime Rib Chili, the current all-meat flagship, ground into bulky chunks, dark like molasses with a sweet brown sugar tang. This is a chili over which I could shake chopped onions and dashes of hot sauce and do serious damage, yet is not my favorite, at least not today.
I am hooked on the middle, Exotic Chicken Verde Chili. I expect I shall have dreams of pouring this onto a tortilla, wrapping it up and eating it like a burrito. Tender ground chicken is mixed with green chilies and rich tomatillo. It has a little laid-back bite, and I sadly scrape the bottom. It's gooone, oh, I, I'd better learn how to face it.
The amber one on the right is a meaty rich... wait, it's vegan? It's chili for damn sure. It's called Hom-inous Chorizo. Fermented soy and hominy doesn't sound like it would cause the ranch hands to come a-running, but this is spoons-down the finest vegan chili I've ever had** after a long day of driving forty head of cattle. The hominy is thick like chickpeas and hearty without being overly corn-flavored.
We've also tried the Texas Gold Vegan Chili, a tan, smoky concoction with pinto beans and a soft cornmeal feel. It is a perfect hot-dog chili. Chili Addiction uses Match Foods products from St. Louis, which is all good with me.
Bianca: "I would have serious lunch troubles if I worked at Trashy Lingerie next door."
The Chorizo Madness is a chicken chili, dark, spicy, thick, a grandly meaty affair with traces of cumin and great half-spheres of chicken chorizo. It tastes incredibly rich, as if it should leave orange streaks of grease everywhere, but it won't.
It's bad form to lick the bowl in this state, isn't it?
As if you didn't already didn't owe them for the most pleasurable experience of your day, they make their own hot dogs and sausages here. The Chicken Hot Dog has a grainier, more robustly woven texture than the typical pale pink squeezed-baloney one gets. The casing is nicely snappy and the flavor is absolutely stunning. There are no store-bought dogs that can match this. None. With a sine wave of spicy homemade ketchup and homemade mustard, it ranks up there with the best hot dog I've tasted in years.
On Bianca's Vegan Hot Dog, itself snappy and delicious, they've done something with sauerkraut, making it not as bitter, not as stringy and defeated. It has solid mouth-feel and great taste.
They have other things to accompany your spoon-and-bowl mission.
Potato chips bore me. When I'm getting a sandwich somewhere and they offer some combo special that consists of choosing your own bag of chips, I go without.
These are an order of magnitude better. Homemade German Fried Potato Chips is already a good name with which to attract my attention; I'm not sure what makes them German, but they are nearly as robust as pork rinds, warm and salt-dusted with a slight give to the tooth. Homemade ketchup tones them down, zesty and not too sweet.
What else do they make there: Cornbread, Chili Mac, a Prime Rib Burger, Chili Cheese Fries, homemade hot dogs... I may be a while trucking back and forth from Silver Lake to La Cienega. And, oh: a chocolate chip chipotle ice cream? Red velvet cake ice cream? Sheesh.
You can snag one of the precious spots in the back of the building, or find metered spaces on La Cienega. Do not attempt parking on the surrounding streets, for you are on West Side, and you may park here at this time, or at this time, but at NO OTHER TIMES may you park, unless you have a permit and have made the proper sacrifices to the gods of expensive purses.
Chili Addiction is closed Mondays, since they have to sleep sometime.
* Well, my youth anyway. It was watery, slightly purple, and after a while my mom started adding corn to it, much to my chagrin. It led me to create my own personal recipe for chili, for which my friends can vouch.
** Sorry, Chili John's, I find the vegetarian barley chili to be a little alien and uncomfortable.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
You have to hunt for it, nestled among hilly avenues where the 101 and the 110 meet. Dip under the awning; a darkened counter, slowly turning ceiling fans, and the hum of refrigeration units greet you.
It's not like my family, but it is familial, and these men are serious about what they do. Sandwiches are rapidly assembled and rung up; your drinks are (pointing to the left) over there, dispensed or bottled. There may be a brief sense of "am I doing this right? Where am I supposed to stand? Is it supposed to be this dark?" before you get into the rhythm of it.
So. You know how some places quaintly offer "meat lovers" items? This Eastside specialty chases them down, takes their lunch money, and leaves them with a painful wedgie.
Vegetarians look away! Carnage ahead!
... Okay. Proceeding.
This predatorial paradise is the D.A. Special. Layers of roast beef. Pastrami. And one Italian sausage. And a meatball. Each of these is high quality content and makes a superb sandwich on its own, but combined they become certifiable and knuckle-crackingly dangerous.
All that "is he gonna live, Doctor?" red stuff you see is a sauce of cooked peppers and flattened tomatoes that binds everything together and adds sweetness. Strong, soulful sheets of melted mozzarella lie underneath, maxing out my alliteration allowance for the day. The roast beef is dark and supple, the pastrami pink and fatty, both moist and covering the pale, snappy link of Italian sausage like a winter blanket.
Can it actually be picked up and eaten? Not yet. Eventually. Go at it with a fork for a while. In any case, the soft, toasty Italian bread will become worn and sodden and unable to perform its duties as a meat delivery device. Once you get through half, the strata of meat looks like an intense cross-section of something out of a textbook, and you will probably give up and wrap it to go.
A little more recognizable is the Combination Cold Cuts sandwich. A nice three-quarter-inch layer of ham, turkey, salami and mortadella is stacked with mozzarella, tomato and shredded lettuce. The soft Italian roll is not so overpowered here. A very light basting of mayo and mustard can be savored.
Their potato salad is very slightly sour, and I'm not wild about it, but the macaroni salad is well-mixed, and properly cool and creamy.
Eastside is open until four during the week and two on Saturday. On Sundays they take a break. Street parking can be found easily.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, East Side/Downtown, Deli, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
There's a strip of Hollywood Boulevard, before it dies at Hillhurst east of Vermont, that is slowly gathering personality. A few trendy stores, an American Apparel, Vacation Records, the smaller location of Maya, and Yuca's crowd nearby.
In this space, the eastern branch of Cobras & Matadors came and went, not quite belonging. The decor isn't too different--dark and wood and rust--but it's a little more approachable, attended by willowy people in white shirts with varying degrees of confidence.
Umami. You've heard of this fifth taste by now, the savory flavor that the traditional Western sweet/sour/salty/bitter compass doesn't quite grok. The burgers here are very concerned with exploring, or exploiting, or exploding, this fifth sense.
The Umami x6 is their primary beast, a fist-sized, calculated mess, seared hard to be slightly crunchy outside and alarmingly tomato-pink on the inside (a waiter politely confirmed that medium rare is preferred for maximum flavor, with which I agree... but I had misgivings about whether this was actually medium rare). A small pile of onions are done to a cool blanket atop, while a crispy doily of shredded cheese provides crunch. The experience is toothsome, serious, and thought-provoking, and makes me a little sad that it isn't larger, or that there aren't two of them.
The original La Brea location is smaller, cramped actually, its tables surrounded by wooden slats and fireplace bricks. Only at this location can you get the Triple Pork Burger.
Under the butter-wet bun and a single humorless leaf of lettuce is a thick, sordid entity of porcine grandeur. Ground pork, chorizo, applewood smoked bacon (which disappears somehow--I mean, how can you have bacon in a burger and it doesn't stand out?), all lie together like lions with the lamb of melting manchego cheese* swelling from the edges. A pimento aioli sauce drips redly over the side.
Remind me, many long years from now, to have my casket lined with chorizo.
Lots of restaurants throw a green chile or some salsa on something and call it Latin, but their Latin Turkey Burger, available only at the Hollywood location, is inspired and very carefully considered.
A spicy guava glaze like a hot chutney has the most influence here, leaving little room for the chile-lime cucumber sauce and a cool, chunky avocado relish. The effect is warm, lush, tropical, comforting, and more than merely umami, hitting all the corners of the mouth like a rampant jai-alai ball.
The fries aren't too numerous, but they're heavy. Hand cut and triple-cooked, they are salt-encrusted, heat-retaining beams that would get a sunburn if left out on a hot day.
The dipping sauces really make their living here, especially the house spread, which is like thousand island dressing but more well-read. I like the roasted garlic aioli, mayo-thick and creamy white, but then I always like a roasted garlic aioli.
The Sweet Potato Fries are thinly sliced and dusted with what I would swear is raw sugar, and which I'm told also has cinnamon in it, and somehow the effect works. The sweetness of the fries' namesake is drawn out, and the best dipping sauce with this is Umami's ketchup, which is practically a sweet marinara sauce.
I am not a fan of onion rings. I cannot refuse, though, a name like Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings. Presented with the sweet ketchup, each pale golden torus is airy, light and paints the fingers with a sheen of salt and light oil. A hint of malt liquor remains.
The original La Brea joint is open until ten, while Hollywood shrugs and stays open until midnight. A new "Urban" location on Cahuenge is now open.
* Spanish Manchego is, as you may know depending on how long you've been reading this blog, my very favorite cheese. So you know what my bribery price is.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )