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I’m not really a ham and cheese kind of girl. I like a good turkey or veggie sandwich for everyday and maybe an Italian sub when I feel like going for it, but I barely give a passing glance to ham and cheese on a menu. The fact is they rarely impress, and ham usually has one flavor profile–salty.
There’s one variation that refuses to be ignored: Auntie Em’s Black Forest Ham And Mustard Seed Gouda. This sandwich is something special and (caution) crave inducing. Perhaps the most important thing is that it comes on delicious pretzel bread, which is thick but pleasingly pillowy. None of that hard stuff they try to pawn off at you at, say, Whole Foods. Secondly, the smokey ham is folded and stacked high above a couple of slices of creamy Gouda, which is flecked with mustard seeds, giving it a fantastic intensity that wakes up the whole combo. It’s definitely as crucial as the pretzel bread and should never be substituted for a simple cheddar or jack. Dijon mustard is spread on the top piece of bread, complementing that robustness of the cheese while a healthy schmear of mayo on the bottom slice keeps the flavors under control. Lettuce and tomato finish it off.
I’m not usually one to crown anything “the best,” but for my money, it really is the best ham and cheese sandwich I’ve ever had (not counting trips to France). Plus, it’s so hearty that you only need to get half, which opens you up to the full array of Auntie Em’s lovely seasonal side salads.
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, 90041
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
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.