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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
Finding a good michelada is no easy task. Many restaurants just get it wrong—I find Clamato to be the main culprit. I have witnessed too many restaurants filling a glass half way with the tomato-clam juice concoction and topping it off with a Mexican beer. It takes more than those two steps to master the perfect michelada. The beer, spices, lime juice and sometimes Clamato (if invited to the party) need to come together and do the salsa. My hunt for restaurants that share a similar belief led me to travel out a little outside of the eastside, but not too far, and into three very different neighborhoods.
Here’s a list of restaurants doing it right:
YXTA: The location is off the beaten path (near Skid Row), but the restaurant is in a neat industrial space with really cool Dia de los Muertos style artwork, and more importantly, has a great happy hour. Yxta’s micheladas (pictured above) are on the milder side, served with lots of ice and a chili-salted rim that yields the right amount of salty spiciness. The food is okay, but isn’t anything to write home about. The guacamole is a standout and is uniquely topped with pumpkin seeds. 601 S Central Ave., Los Angeles, 90021
La Loteria Grill: This has been a long-time favorite of mine for brunch. They have a fresh-and-simple-is-better mentality that really appeals to me. The Studio City location is my favorite of the three, mainly because they have the best parking situation (lots of free spaces). They do five different takes on the michelada, but being a creature of habit, I always get the Michelada Clasica. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had with a mixture of worcestershire, maggi, Tapatio, and lime juice that comes in a glass of ice and beer on side. The worcestershire and maggi combo adds a rich piquancy while the Tapatio and lime provides a nice kick. It’s a perfect complement to their Huevos Divorciados,which are topped with red and green sauce and served with black beans and papas con rajas. 12050 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, 91604
When I informed my social circle that my Thursday afternoon plans would involve alcohol, I was met with skepticism. “What’s the occasion?” they all asked, as though one needs an excuse to go midweek drinking. But if anyone had expected me to scrounge up a reason beyond, “… Thursday?”, I would’ve had one in hand. The plan was to try out Barbara’s at the Brewery, one of the drinking establishments nestled in the Brewery Arts Complex in Lincoln Heights–just a quick hop from Downtown LA.
Barbara’s is the kind of bar that you have to quest for. Once you wend your way into the heart of the art colony, good luck picking one unassuming warehouse out from another. Had I not been led to the doorstep of Barbara’s by someone in the know, I would’ve lost at least ten minutes to aimless wandering. Rest assured, though: your efforts will be rewarded.
As a member of the Very Introverted set, I liked the low-key, early Thursday afternoon atmosphere of Barbara’s just fine, not to say that those of a more extroverted slant should shy away. The interior is split into two spaces. One of them is a windowed cafe-like space, the other is the bar, which is lit only by a motley collection of neon sculptures and signs and lined with beer tap handles, most of which appear to have been out of commission for ages.
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.
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.
Long anticipated or dreaded, depending on your point of view, Mohawk Bend is finally opening in Echo Park later this month. The “drinking and eating outpost” has taken over the former Ramona Theater space next door to Elf restaurant and will be serving a mostly vegan menu along with some vegetarian and meaty dishes.
Last night I attended Mohawk Bend’s media preview party, and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the transformation. Designed by Spacecraft, the once-forlorn theater is now an impressive modern space, boasting high ceilings, patio seating, skylights, exposed brick, vintage beer signs, and an atrium-like room with long communal tables and a fireplace.
Food-wise, it wasn’t bad. While I wasn’t blown away by anything, I did enjoy most of what I ate. High marks go to the Petite Sirah dipping sauce that came with the Fire Roasted Artichoke and The Flash Gordon Salad with flash-grilled Little Gem lettuce (similar to hearts of romaine), grapefruit, avocado, pickled onions and dill dressing. Owner Tony Yanow says the locavore/organic menu will change weekly to reflect the seasonal comings and goings of produce.
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First, the good news: you have something really fun to do on May 15. The sad part is that I won’t be there because I’ll be on vacation. I know, I know, but you must soldier on, my friends. Food awaits!
Taste of the Eastside is a community food event, featuring some of your favorite local spots, including Eagle Rock Brewery, Silverlake Wine, Intelligentsia Coffee, Malo’s of Silverlake, Auntie Em’s, Forage, Cookbook, Elf, and Hugo’s Tacos. KCRW’s Garth Trinidad will be spinning and local authors will be on hand signing books.
Proceeds go to SEE-LA, which aims to increase community access to nutrition, support sustainable food choices and create jobs, Children’s Hospital of LA, Barnsdall Art Park, and Rose Scharlin Co-op Nursery.
Sounds like a great time! I’m sad to miss it.
Taste of the Eastside 2011
Food | Wine | Beer | Music
Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 1 – 5 pm
Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027
$25 General Admission | $65 VIP
$5 kids ages 2-12 | 2 & under FREE
The 2nd Annual Beer Float Showdown, hosted by Food GPS, went off at Verdugo Bar this past Sunday. Admittedly, the whole beer-plus-ice-cream concept was a little baffling at first, but I can now say I love beer floats!
Simmzy’s Cherry Pie (pictured above), the prettiest of the bunch, was my first float of the evening. It was sort of a revelation since when I first heard about the contest, all I could imagine was stout with vanilla ice cream. Simmzy’s opened my mind by using a cherry Lambic called Brouwerij Verhaeghe Kriek, which was on the lighter side, giving it a soda feel. The ice cream was black cherry brown sugar with lots of tart cherry chunks. I took their advice and let the snickerdoodle garnish soak up the beer—surprisingly awesome.
Just last weekend, we hit up The Lazy Ox Canteen before going to see the weirdly fantastic play 1951-2006 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. This was the first time I’ve ever eaten by sunlight at The Lazy Ox because usually I’m taking advantage of their much-welcomed late night service (they beat The York by an hour and a half, serving their full menu until midnight thurs-sat), so it felt like a whole new experience.
The time-of-day aspect was only part of it, though. Since opening late last year, their food has gotten progressively better. Not to say that it hasn’t always been good, but while I’ve been blown away by the vibe and beer list, foodwise I’ve rarely been blown away by anything but the burger. I’ve often felt that the concepts were a little ahead of the actual execution in some of the dishes.
That was not the case this last time. All the flavors were so right on, and I was very impressed—I tried all new things, minus the burger, which is a must every time. I know it’s been described on every food blog in LA, but good grief, it’s so damn good. I love that the short rib/sirloin patty is served nearly raw in the center, so that it gets all mushed up with the smooth, butter Carmody cheese and aioli. And then the butter lettuce adds a contrasting crisp coldness. I’ve heard some smack about the bun being too thick, but I’ve got no problem with it because it keeps that marvelous mess under control.
But wait, what was I talking about? Oh, that’s right, the new stuff I tried…
First up were these Ricotta Fritters. My goodness. I mean, of course, it’s fried cheese, and fried cheese is always good, but these were so fluffy and the fact that they were sitting so delicately in honey gave them oomph I didn’t expect. You could hear the slight crunch when you bit into one.
The York in Highland Park has one of the best burgers in LA, hands down. It’s lavished in spicy mayo, pickled onions and cheddar, all of which equal gastro-masterpiece. Especially if you have the guts to get it medium-rare.
The bun does its part too–it’s brioche, so it collapses when you pick it up. This allows it to accent the burger with the a flaky texture and a subtle sweetness, minus any overwhelming breadiness. The rocket adds a nice spicy touch.
But, sometimes, I don’t want a burger, and that’s when I’m glad they have lots of good alternatives on their chalkboard.