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Monte 52 has been around for ten whole months, but I’m embarrassed to say that I barely found out about it in July—despite the fact that I drive by it almost daily. In my defense, it is tucked away inside La Tropicana Market, itself a Highland Park gem, where I’ve bought the occasional agua fresca but never ventured to the deli counter…until one fateful day. And that’s when I found it, the best sandwich shop in the neighborhood. Since then, I’ve been making up for lost time by making my way through their delicious, thoughtfully-conceived and well-crafted menu.
Brought to you by the folks behind Echo Park’s The Park, including chef Mitchell Jones who runs the counter, this deli is everything you want it to be. They serve salads, sandwiches, burgers, and soup, plus, rotisserie chicken and french fries. The meat and produce used are quality, portions are sizeable, and a lot of care is put into every order. Amazingly, the prices are still low, with almost everything on the menu costing about $6.
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.
The overhaul of Echo Park Lake was a seemingly endless one, but now that it’s finally up and running, I find myself strolling its picturesque path often. The long walk brings a combination of sights, including neighborhood joggers (of varying fitness levels), dogs galore, picnickers, and lots of bench-sitting old men just enjoying the day—the scene is downright European.
Of course, for me, one of the best perks of these new digs is the Echo Park Lake Cafe, situated in the lake’s boathouse. Operated by Square One Dining, which serves up a killer brunch at their Fountain Avenue location, the little eatery offers a succinct menu of breakfast and lunch options. The seating is all outdoors and comfortable enough to make you want to linger.
The prices are fair ($3-7), especially considering the much of the produce and some of the meat is organic. A well-assembled veggie sandwich with sprouts, radish, cheddar and avocado is served on hearty 5-grain bread with smatterings of grainy mustard and aioli. While it doesn’t quit live up to its perfect counterpart at The Trails, it’s still a keeper. The burger comes on an English muffin, so it’s small, but it’s also grass-fed, and tasty when you add on Gruyere cheese and a pile of sweet potato fries. Also promising are the Kale Salad, Potato Taquitos, and Chorizo Chili Dog.
If you’re not familiar with my hard-hitting journalism, then you should know, I’m always on the veggie burger beat. No fan of processed patties, it’s my mission to find vegetable-and-grain-centric burgers that aren’t packed with soy and other filler. By my estimation, the best veggie burgers are treated like their beef counterparts with tasty buns, pickles, cheese and all the usual All-American fixings. I’m not diametrically opposed to sprouts and other “health” toppings, but yogurt in place of mayo and cucumbers in place of pickles (heaven, help us) is just plain condescension. An insult.
Thankfully, none of that nonsense is at play at Echo Park’s The Park. The neighborhood restaurant makes their patty in house, and it holds together nicely with a combination that includes quinoa, carrots and zucchini. The patty isn’t thick, but it’s tremendously well seasoned, so the flavor doesn’t get swamped by the charred bun. I added Gruyere to mine, which played well with the red onions and the from-scratch tomato soup I opted for instead of fries.
I’m still calling Four Cafe’s veggie burger as the best in Los Angeles, but The Park is formidable competition.
The Park, 400 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
Taking over the former Larkin’s space and making the absolute most out of it with ample outdoor seating, Little Beast is Eagle Rock’s newest restaurant. Behind the venture is Sean Lowenthal, most recently a sous chef at Chateau Marmont, and his wife Deborah Schwartz. The concept, first test driven as a pop-up at Le Petit Beaujolais, is “progressive American comfort food,” which I’d say is a pretty fair description. The menu is full of recognizable standards taken up a notch or two, a pretty common find Mid-City and on the Westside, but harder to get in our neck of the woods.
Starters at Little Beast pack the most “wow,” but I’m a girl who likes an appetizer, so maybe I’m biased. Do not bypass the Wild Salmon Tartare, a three-tiered snack with a lot of soul that doesn’t skimp on fish or guacamole. Gyoza crisps act as tostadas, salsa verde gives it zest, and kumquats punch up every bite. We also had the duck liver mousse, nestled under sweet carmelized onions. It was good, but I’d probably forgo it for the Watermelon and Feta or Charred Melon Salad next time.
Well, since we’re on the subject of delicious veggie burgers, I thought I’d share my latest find. You have to drive a bit for it (or take the Gold Line), but you won’t be sorry. The veggie burger at Heirloom Bakery in South Pasadena has been a reliable daily special all summer long, and I’m hoping it’s here to stay.
Eschewing the loathed processed veggie patty that so many restauranteurs try to pass off on innocent veggie burger lovers, this one is made with grains and, you know, actual vegetables. Much like Four Cafe’s beauty, this one is treated like a beef burger, draped in cheddar cheese and dressed with mayo, dill pickles, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. The bun is also lovingly grilled for a little bit of crispness.
This thing is hearty as heck.
Summer barbecues are traditionally meaty affairs, but there’s always room for a veggie burger. And I don’t mean a Boca Burger. I’m talking a homemade one that’s hearty, delicious and made with, you know, actual vegetables. I asked Eagle Rock’s Four Cafe owner Michelle Wilton how to make such a veggie burger, and she was nice enough to show us. On video. Check it out and then see the recipe and step by step instructions below.
The list of ingredients is lengthy but not too exotic, and the recipe makes about 12-15 burgers. Plus, you can freeze left over patties for 6 months.
1 red onion, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup of mixed kale and spinach
3 portobello mushrooms, chopped and grilled
3 c of cooked kidney beans
1 c of cooked black lentils
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded beets
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground flax meal
1 1/2 tsp agave
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp soy sauce
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Sautée diced red onion and minced garlic in a large pan over medium heat until softened. About 5 minutes. Add kale and spinach mixture and cook until softened for about 5 minutes more.
Step 2: Pulse grilled mushrooms, half of beans, onion mixture and half of lentils in a food processor. You can always mash and blend by hand if you don’t have a food processor. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Step 3: Add the rest of the beans, carrots, beets, quinoa and breadcrumbs.
Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the sauce. Add it to the bean mixture. Mix very well.
Step 5: Form patties and lay them on a cookie sheet. For best results, chill them for 30 minutes. This will help maintain their shape once you begin cooking.
Step 6: If you’re using a frying pan, make sure the surface is very hot and well oiled. If you’re using a grill, make sure it’s very hot. Cook each side for 3 minutes. Melt cheese on top.
Step 7: Dress it up. Michelle uses a brioche bun, pickles, a thousand island style dressing, butter lettuce, red onions and cheddar cheese.
Is there a dish at an Eastside restaurant that you’d like to learn how to make? Let me know, and we’ll try to get the recipe for a future post.
As I type, I am basking in the afterglow of burgers and brats from McCall’s Meat and Seafood Company in Los Feliz. The small, “chef-driven” butcher shop has ruined me for all grocery store meat. All I added to their Fresh Ground Burger Blend was a little salt and pepper before forming the patties and throwing them on our new-to-us Weber grill (thanks, Craigslist). Some beautiful little burgers was the result. As for their house-made sausages—they were some of the best I’ve ever had, with a snappy casing and a loose (as opposed to creepily fused) filling that dripped with smokey, balanced flavor.
Ruined, I tell you! Ruined! But, on the bright side, I now have a favorite butcher, and that makes me feel cool.
McCall’s Meat and Fish Company
2117 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, 90027
When I was a little kid, I perceived Carl’s Jr. to be fancy. It’s because my mom used to say Carl’s Jr. was too expensive, opting for cheaper fast food chains, like say, Naugles or, more likely, hamburgers cooked at home. So when I finally got to try it, as a guest of one of my more spoiled friends, I was pretty amazed at what I’d been missing.
At my friend’s urging, I ordered the Western Bacon Cheeseburger (her mom made us order juniors) and couldn’t believe there were actually onion rings inside a burger. That blew my mind while barbecue sauce danced on and dazzled my 8-year-old palate.
Now, I can eat a Western Bacon Cheeseburger any time I want, but I never ever do. For one, it probably wouldn’t be as good as I remember, and two, I generally shy away from fast food meat. That’s why I squealed when I heard The Oinkster was doing a tribute to this burger for Burger Week—if anyone could do this concept justice it’s The Oinkster.
I was not disappointed. Their rendition, the Northeast Bacon Cheeseburger, was outrageously good. The best part was the panko-encrusted onion rings, which were crispy and flavorful. The applewood bacon and tangy house-made barbecue sauce added a smokiness that the original could only dream of. All this was anchored by that thick Oinkster patty and the American cheese that clung to it.
P.S. There’s still more Burger Week to enjoy—check out the schedule on my previous post. I’ll definitely be lining up for the Big Max on Sunday.
UPDATE: Check out Burgergasm’s review of the Red Castle.
It’s finally here! Burger Week, “A Tribute to Classic American Burgers,” is on at The Oinkster. This year they’re parodying White Castle sliders, Big Mac, Sourdough Jack, the Double Double and more. I can’t wait!
Last year, I only got to try the Umami Burger, but this year, I won’t be held back. I think I’ll start Wednesday with the Western Bacon Cheeseburger.
Pictures to come. Here’s the schedule–oh, and if you eat them all you get a Joy Division-esque Burger Week t-shirt. If you can’t make that commitment, you can at least get a super cute button.