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Christmas is next week, and if you’re sane, you’ll stay away from the mayhem of the malls and big box stores. Trust me, there’s nothing there that anyone wants anyway. The stuff people will really use can found in your local neighborhood markets, bakeries and gourmet shops—gifts of the food and drink variety are great last minute options, and you can be sure that they won’t sit around in someone’s closet or junk drawer. Plus, price doesn’t determine deliciousness as some of the best food gifts will run you less than $5.
Here are some great food gifts to buy on this side of town:
Sugar Cookies from Elsa’s Bakery
Elsa’s Bakery in Highland Park makes stellar sugar cookies, and they only cost 30 cents. I’m not lying! These cute little galetas are one of the bakery’s best-selling items, and owner Edmundo Rodriguez says they ship them all over the country to former neighborhood residents. The long-distance craving for these soft, buttery cookies with a hint of cinnamon makes perfect sense. Buy a dozen each for all your friends—you can afford it! 5102 York Boulevard
Morning Glory Artisan Brittle
Peanut brittle is one thing, but Thai curry peanut brittle is quite another. Morning Glory Confections makes a slew of wonderful artisan brittles with an experimental bent. The New Mexican Chili & Pumpkin Seed is spicy-sweet in the best way while the Chocolate Bourbon & Pecan brings on that warm southern charm. Boxes range from $5-$10. Buy online or at Auntie Em’s, Cheese Store of Silverlake, or Atwater Farmers’ Market this Sunday.
Growlers from Golden Road Brewing
Your beer-loving friend is easy to please. Just head over to Golden Road Brewing in Atwater Village and buy him or her a Growler. The jugs of beer come in two sizes: 64 oz or 32 oz at $12 and $7, respectively, for Golden Road’s regular varieties, including their very versatile Hefeweizen and the surprisingly accessible Point the Way IPA. Specialty beers will run you slightly more at $14 and $10. The best part is that the bottles are reusable, so the lucky person you gift this to can get a refill at a discounted price. Suddenly, you’re a hero. 5410 W San Fernando Road (Photo courtesy of Golden Road Brewery)
Chocolates and Petits Fours from Valerie Confections
Maybe your See’s Candy routine needs a shakeup. Enter: Valerie Confections. The unassuming storefront on First Street is easy to miss, but once you’re inside, you’ll be blown away by the bounty of beautiful sweets. The petits fours are made the traditional way with four layers of cake and three layers of filling—try the Rose Petal, vanilla bean cake and rose petal granache surrounded in white chocolate (I know, right?). A box of 4 is $18, and so worth it. If you want to go bigger, they have grander boxes, and if you want to go smaller, just give some chocolate bars. 3360 W First Street or at the new Echo Park location: 1665 Echo Park Avenue or buy online
Sugar Pretzels from La Mascota Bakery
La Mascota Bakery has been a Boyle Heights tradition for over 50 years. They sell really tasty pan dulce and tamales, but I’m all about the Sugar Pretzel. With its crispy texture covered in big flecks of sugar, it’s so simple, but so delicious. Each one costs 50 cents. You could get a stack of them, wrap them in some fancy cellophane, and make someone really happy. They also have these cute miniature versions of the essential panaderia pink and yellow cookies that wouldn’t make a bad gift either. 2715 Whittier Boulevard
Cathy Chaplin’s Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles
While not technically food, Cathy Chaplin’s Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles will afford you and your friends a 2014 full of great culinary experiences. The popular food blogger and writer for Los Angeles Times has compiled the ultimate reference book for LA foodies, including a full list of food festivals, specialty shops, farmer’s markets and restaurants. Organized by neighborhood, it covers old and new establishments plus recipes from local chefs. Available on Amazon, in bookstores, and at Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park.
Cheese from Say Cheese in Silver Lake
Cheese is not a bad gift. Just throw it into a basket with a box of crackers and a bottle of wine. Or don’t. A true cheese lover will be happy with a nice, fancy wedge without any fixings. Say Cheese in Silver Lake is a small space, stacked high with a wide variety of mostly Euro, and some domestic, cheeses. When it’s crowded, the service can be a tad unfriendly, so try to go earlier in the day and avoid after-work hours if you know what’s good for you. However, even if there’s a line of people tapping their feet behind you, don’t be afraid to ask questions and request samples. They’re pretty good about that at Say Cheese, and they’ll work with your budget. 2800 Hyperion Avenue
DIY Soda from Galco’s
If DIY gifts are your thing, make your way to Galco’s. The Highland Park pop purveyor now has a Soda Creation Station, which means you can make your own handmade sodas with over 80 traditional-to-exotic flavors that are begging to be mixed and matched. Plus—and this is big—you set your preferred carbonation strength! Each bottle is only $2.99, and the label lets you personalize every soda you make. Grab some old timey candy while your there and give your friends the sugar shock of their lives. 5702 York Boulevard (Photos by Martha Benedict)
Pickled Veggies, Jams and Granola from JamIam
One of my favorite food finds of the year is JamIam. From chutneys to granola, this Silver Lake-based company makes small batches of all my favorite things. Owner Carolyn Cooper has been canning since the ’70s, and she kills it with her Dilly Beans, pickled green beans that are so addictive you could eat the whole jar in a day, or maybe an hour. A jar of those, along with her Blueberry-Lime Jam and Cranberry Orange Sauce would make a good additions to any gourmet gift basket, though they can all stand alone provided you pop a festive bow on the lid. They’ll run you anywhere from $7-$10. Buy online or at the Atwater Farmers’ Market every Sunday.
Heirloom LA’s Lasagna Cupcakes
Give the gift of lasagna, in the cutest form possible. Heirloom LA‘s Lasagna Cupcakes are famous for a reason, and that reason is two fold: they’re delicious and you can eat the whole thing yourself. They come in a variety of flavors, including Confit Baby Artichoke, Heirloom Tomato & Basil, and Smoked Mac n’ Cheese, plus they freeze like champs. At $9 a pop, they’re a little pricey, but even just one is a nice, thoughtful gift. Buy them online or at Silver Lake Wine (Photo courtesty of Guzzle & Nosh)
Cookies from Proof Bakery Cookies from Proof Bakery
Proof Bakery might make the best chocolate chip cookie in the universe. No exaggeration. It’s sweet, rich, a little bit salty, and completely heaven sent. The Ginger Molasses isn’t bad either. Get a few of them for the most special people on your list, remembering that jerks do not deserve them. Each costs $1.75, and Proof is open on Christmas Eve, so go early for the best variety because those things sell out. 3156 Glendale Boulevard
Anything/Everything from Auntie Em’s Kitchen
Auntie Em’s Kitchen has an unbelievable marketplace. Every shelf of the small space is filled with jellies, jams, mustards, chocolates…you name it. There’s also a nice cheese selection, and of course, their famous cupcakes and cookies. You could do all your shopping here and call it a day. Highlights include flavored (think peppermint and chocolate) marshmallows from Little Flower Company, brittle from Morning Glory (see above), beans and spices from Rancho Gordo and a well-curated selection of cookbooks. 4616 Eagle Rock Boulevard
Nachos are one of life’s little luxuries and maybe the guiltiest of food pleasures since some people won’t even admit to liking them. But these people are liars because tortilla chips and melted cheese are an undeniably delicious union—though not a perfect one. Bad nachos do exist (just go to the movies if you don’t believe me), yet the beauty of nacho nirvana is that there’s no exact formula to reach it. Some work with guacamole, some don’t; sour cream is essential for some but terrible on others. This food truth is proven by two recent nacho experiences, different as night and day, but both so so so good.
Hugo’s Tacos in Atwater Village (pictured left)
Hugo’s Nachos Grandes don’t go overboard with any one ingredient, allowing the warm, crispy chips to stand out. Mild white beans are used instead of pinto or black, and the salsa (pico de gallo here, but there are many choices) is fresh and plentiful. We chose smokey-sweet al pastor for our meat, but you can get anything from mixed veggies and soyrizo to grilled fish and carnitas. The cheese, melted to bubbling perfection, is a mixture of Oaxacan and Cotija, resulting in rather refined nachos. 3300 Glendale Boulevard
Tacos Savannah (pictured right)
A group of mothers at my Catholic grammar school used to make and sell nachos every Friday at morning recess. They took great care, mixing two types of cheese sauce to create the holy mother of all cheese sauces–I would push other kids out of the way to get in line for them. Since then, though, I’ve rarely enjoyed saucy nachos, which are generally flavorless and soggy. However, Tacos Savannah, a truck that parks at York Boulevard and Avenue 64 most nights, has won me over because somehow their cheese sauce-laden nachos work. It’s probably because the meat, carne asada in this case, is so flavorful. It also helps that they throw in pico de gallo, onions, and cilantro. These might get soggy, too, but you’ll probably eat them too fast for that to ever be an issue. 6305 York Boulevard (in front of Rite Aid).
An Italian sub can be a glorious thing, but cold cuts aren’t for everyone. If you’re a vegetarian, or if you just prefer a meatless lunch now and again, finding a good veggie sandwich can be a task. Sometimes all you get is lettuce, tomato and cheese. Talk about blah. Still, there are some satisfying veggie sandwiches out there that demonstrate real deliberation and craftsmanship. Here are three good ones:
The Trails Cafe: The Avocado Sandwich and The Trails in Griffith Park is one of the best citywide. Thick chunks of ripe avocado, tomato, red onions, alfalfa sprouts and cheddar cheese are stacked high between two slices of sweet squaw bread. Mayo and soy bacon bits complement each bite. It’s the kind of sandwich that you miss when it’s gone, but the lavender shortbread cookies they sell are will console you. 2333 Fern Dell Dr Los Angeles, 90068
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: I love the Atwater Farmers’ Market. Lately, I find myself buying more and more of my family’s weekly staples there—fruits, veggies, chicken, eggs, bread, olives, and granola. I’m even considering picking up some soap next time.
One of my favorite splurges is cheese and butter from Milk Man. Every week, this booth showcases three or so varieties of local artisan cheeses. The selection is always changing and always sourced from small California creameries. Most recently, I brought home a lovely Monterey Jack made by Schoch Farms, a family-run dairy in Salinas that makes about two batches of cheese a week. Incidentally, they’re the only ones still making Monterey Jack in its namesake county, and they start the cheese-making process while the milk is still warm from the cow.
That’s the kind of specialness you can expect from Milk Man.
Old timey Eastside Food Bites readers might remember my report from the 2nd Annual LA Beer Float Showdown at Verdugo bar a couple of years back. Well, it’s on again! The 4th annual event will take place at Golden Road Brewery on September 29. This year, LA chefs will team up with local breweries to be crowned the master supreme beer float champions…or something like that.
We even have a dog in the fight—hometown favorites and reigning champs, Andre Guerrero and Jan Purdy (The Oinkster and Maximiliano) join Eagle Rock Brewery again. Their winning entry last year involved pig candy and bourbon ice cream.
Here’s the flyer. Get more info and tickets over at Food GPS.
This bread. It’s the reason I never miss Atwater Village Farmers’ Market on Sundays. To me, it’s the main draw. And that’s saying a lot because that little market, though compact, is full of all the stuff I love to eat—top notch fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, fruit pies, artisanal cheeses, and this bread from Mission Viejo’s Old Village Bakery.
There must be fifty Kalamata olives in every loaf. The outer texture is golden and crusty, the inside soft and chewy. It’s a fantastic (extravagantly fanciful; marvelous) addition/focal point to a Sunday morning breakfast:
Though not exactly necessary, adding a thick schmear of unsalted butter or some goat cheese from Soledad Farm’s (also available at the market) is pure bliss. But whether you doctor it up or not, this bread is ideal for sopping up yolky eggs. I imagine it would also be pretty spectacular as part of a chicken salad sandwich or dipped into some soup.
If I could ever make it past breakfast before tearing into it, I’d find out.
I was invited to attend Taste of the Eastside, which I sadly had to miss last year. The whole shebang took place last Sunday at Barnsdall Park in Los Feliz. I got there right on time, so I was able to try everything relatively unmolested. Here are some of the things I tried. Those up there? Pavlovas with blackberry and lemon meyer preserves from Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery.
Here’s the rest:
Conchinita pibil taco from Yuca’s in Los Feliz. Very tender.
Buffalo-style cauliflower with vegan blue cheese from Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. I hardly missed the chicken.
Cinnamon rolls and red velvet cupcakes from Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock.They were nice enough to turn over two rolls for me.
A friend of mine became enchanted by Tacos Villa Corona’s breakfast burrito after seeing it on The Layover, the Anthony Bourdain television show. She said Bourdain really fawned over it, and since we wouldn’t have to travel far—it was just in Atwater Village—we figured we ought to try it.
I had the papas and chorizo version, which was substantial but not ridiculous. I finished the whole thing without much trouble and with no regrets. Did it live up to the hype? Well, I didn’t see any fireworks, but it certainly met my criteria for a good breakfast burrito.
Most importantly, all the components were nicely balanced. The chorizo-potato ratio was spot on, so, thankfully, it didn’t fall into the all too common over-potatoed breakfast burrito trap. The egg was nicely cooked and also knew its place, which is good because if there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s a showboat egg that overshadows the rest of the fixings. Not a problem here. The lack of grease was also a big plus.
I hear the line can be pretty lengthy at Tacos Villa Corona during peak hours, and I’m not sure it’s worth a long wait. However, if it’s, say, three deep, I’d go for it.
Cash only. Burritos with meat are $5-6, vegetarian are $3-4.
Tacos Villa Corona
3185 Glendale Blvd,
Los Angeles CA 90039
I’ve heard great things about Proof Bakery but never the pleasure, so when a friend suggested lunch there, I said “Oooh! Sure.” I don’t get to see Atwater Village on weekdays or by sunlight too often, but since I started working from home (no more east-to-west commute!), I’ve been trying to squeeze in local lunch spots.
Proof Bakery doesn’t bowl you over on sight. The small, unassuming space is all clean lines, modern airiness and marble tables. The dessert case/counter doesn’t have Marie Antoinette-esque decadence of many bakeries these days, so there aren’t the stacks and piles of cakes and cobblers of, say, Huckleberry in Santa Monica. That said, the restrained set of offerings does hit the right sweet and savory notes—think chocolate chip cookies, cheese and chive biscuits, croissants, tarts and morning buns.
There are piles of sandwiches, however, because that’s the way Proof showcases their daily options. When I was there, there were three plates of as many varieties: prosciutto, bacon and beet. If I had it my way, I would have had the prosciutto, but pregnancy rules make it a no-no, especially since it had been sitting around at room temperature. I played it safe with the beet sandwich, but don’t feel sad for me.
A big downside to being pregnant is that you can’t down beers. This fact can be torture if, say, you get invited to a brewery, where the beer is free flowing. This very thing happened to me a few weeks back when I was asked to attend Golden Road Brewing’s grand opening. Good thing I had my brother, who agreed to be my beer-guzzling proxy, in tow.
Golden Road, a massive three-building affair located in an industrial section of North Atwater Village, is the latest addition to Tony Yanow’s growing northeast LA beer/food empire, which includes Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank and the recently opened Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. It’s also his attempt to fill a gaping hole in LA’s craft beer production, specifically of the “world class” variety. Currently, only the actual brewery is operating, but a brewpub with 40 taps and a full, vegan-friendly menu will open soon.