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Polka has been on my culinary to-do list for a while, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get there. Maybe it the location—the Glassell Park restaurant is hidden in one of those only-in-LA strip malls where parking kerfuffles run rampant, and every other space is a five-minute only job. But, if that’s what’s been holding you back, then park on the street. Polka is worth it.
Polish restaurants are a rare find in Los Angeles. There are only two within the city limits, and this one has been around for a whopping 19 years. The original owners, reportedly the salt of the earth, have gone back to Poland, but a relative took over and has kept up the tradition of simple, hearty dishes with more flavor than fluff.
When you walk into Polka, you’re immediately transported to your great aunt’s house. It’s homey and sweetly decorated with a touch of frill. Plus, everyone gets a big cup of soup to start. It was spinach, cabbage and potato on our visit, with flecks of shredded carrots and a creamy base. Cozy even on a hot summer day, this soup is delectable and heavy on the comfort. Salad came next, but it’s not much to speak of, just some iceberg lettuce with shreds of jicama and carrots. Strangely enough, the dressing was a sweet sesame, which gave it a tinge of Chinese flavor.
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.
With gourmet burgers having reached the point of utter ubiquity in LA, the humble hot dog is now set to be exploited. Thank goodness. Meea’s in Eagle Rock is one of the first wiener meccas to hit Northeast LA, and it’s a nice start. You’ll miss the tiny hot dog storefront if you blink, but it’s worth a few u-turns to find it.
The menu at Meea’s is small, but thorough. The list includes iconic regional American favorites, like the “Southland,” their version of LA’s own “Danger Dog,” bacon wrapped and heaped with grilled onion, jalapenos, mayo, mustard and ketchup; and the “Chi-Town”, which stays faithful to the original with a poppy seed bun, pickle spears, tomatoes, onions, and sport peppers. The only thing missing is that florescent green relish—a non-neon sweet relish is used in its place.
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.
Order one grubby thing and one (relatively) sensible thing, then split both. That’s the way my husband and I usually navigate menus. This best-of-both world’s tactic works well at a place like Dave’s Chillin-N-Grillin, where there are plenty of options of either persuasion. The Eagle Rock sandwich shop has a big, but not overwhelming menu of melts and subs made with locally-sourced produce and unprocessed meats and cheeses. Not to mention malts, smoothies and sherbert coolers. It’s a real Northeast LA gem.
In addition to favorites like their famous Tuna Melt and Italian Sub (made with a delicious housemade red pepper spread), Dave–the likeable Bostonian behind the counter–also serves up daily specials. The week starts with a Grilled Reuben on Rye, giving way to the Pulled Pork with Bourbon BBQ Sauce midweek. On Fridays, it’s the Meatball and Sausage Combo, stuffed with Italian meat and made sloppy with spicy tomato sauce. This sandwich is of the classic hoagie variety, made with high-quality ingredients. If you miss it, you can get it sans sausage every day of the week.
While vegetarians get the shaft at most sandwich shops, Dave’s puts real effort into their veggie options. A good one is the Hott Hippie, an avocado sandwich with hummus, tomato, and cheese. Pepperoncini give it the oomph it needs while grilled rosemary bread makes it extra special. It’s not one of those contemptuously thrown together lettuce and tomato sandwiches that leave you wanting more.
But if you do want more, seriously, get a shake.
2152 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, 90041
If there’s one restaurant I’ve been urged to write about lately, it’s Masacasa. This gem of a Japanese cafe in Eagle Rock is hidden in a little strip mall, but its low profile hasn’t kept it from fast becoming a neighborhood favorite. That’s because the menu at Masacasa is simple and well-edited, the prices are affordable and the flavors are spot on.
There are plenty of little bites to be had at Masacasa. They offer a selection of onigiri (filled rice balls), sushi rolls and sozai (side dishes). We opted to begin with kabocha, sizable chunks simmered pumpkin served cold and dotted with sesame seeds. The Japanese lunch staple made for a sweet, savory and refreshing start. Although, I did regret not adding plum onigiri to the mix.
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.
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.
Uh, what just happened?
All I know is that my friend Mari came over with a pink box from Ruby Bakery in Eagle Rock. Inside, were two plump and precious cream puffs.
When I laid eyes on them, I told myself I’d just take a bite and save the rest for after dinner. No big deal.