Archives for posts with tag: james beard

daisy, bo and luke duke had the boar’s nest. norm, cliff and fraiser had cheers. jack, janet and chrissy had the regal beagle…and now with the recent opening of the escondite, i too have a local.

the escondite

when i first moved downtown almost 5 years ago, i went to see the derby dolls when they were at 3rd and alameda, and on the way back my friends and i stopped into the 410 boyd for some food afterward. as i remember it, the food was pretty decent, but the lighting was fluorescent and horrible, and the art on the wall was god awful. i never went back. being that it was only a block away, i have always wanted it to become some place that i would like to hang out and have a drink, or get some late night food. i have been asked many times ‘is there some place nearby that we can just get a drink?’ and i think of the usuals: bar 107, mignon, pete’s cafe, wurstküche, and cole’s, but all of those are easily a 10 minute walk, and for non-new yorkers, you might as well ask them to run a marathon. 410 boyd never even crossed my mind.

a few weeks ago, while walking back from lunch with my friend shirley, i noticed the 410 boyd sign had changed. it was now planks of wood with an eye peering through them. intriguing…

we decided to stop and check things out. erin, one of the owners, was on the patio and asked if she could help us. she was as sweet as my sweet potato pecan pie, told us that they would be opening in a few weeks, and that we would be pleasantly surprised. my neighbor katherine had met brian, the other owner, while doing some guerrilla gardening in their parking lot, and he was nice enough to donate water to them. we decided we would go get a drink on opening night, and as it turned out quite a few other people in our building also wanted to see the new digs. there was easily a dozen of us there.

the escondite, or the hiding place, is dark enough to hide from anyone, but so much so, that i had a hard time even reading the menu that night. i was told that they would be adding candles to the bar area, and reprinting the menus with a darker font. i have been back a few times now, tasted the food, had a chance to chat with erin and brian some more, candles have appeared and fonts are darker.

the menu is pretty simple: mostly burgers, some sandwiches, a few salads and appetizers, and hand cut french fries.

chili cheese fries

cheese stix

most of the burgers have names right out of my generation: boss hogg, rip taylor, ricardo montalban, herve villachez[sic], capt kangaroo, don ho and my favorite gavin macleod.

boss hogg + gavin macleod

dr joyce brothers

they all have some not so usual ingredients on them including fritos, refried beans, pineapple, hashbrowns, mashed potatoes, and cream cheese. they are vegetarian friendly, and can all be made with a veggie burger, or if you prefer chicken breast, that’s an option too. their buffalo mushrooms have a really good kick, and one of the best sauces i have tasted, but it made me want them to be chicken wings.

buffalo mushrooms

brian wants to respect the vegetarians and wont use the deep fryers for both fries and wings, and until they can expand, mushrooms it is. the teriyaki steak tips were tangy and had some good heat and spice as well. i need to try out their sandwiches next, but since i am a bit of a sandwich snob, who knows that outcome? ultimately, the food is good, and for a neighborhood local i don’t need it to win any james beard awards. what i do need is that on a sunday night after a long day at work, without a meal break, to show up after 10pm and erin to happily say ‘we serve food til 1am every night.’ thank you sweet baby jesus! …and this was the view on the patio that night:

and as we left last night:

i have been in enough over the past couple of weeks to know that once the word gets out about this place, my local will soon be popular, but even brian implied he has no qualms about turning people away that don’t give him the vibe that he wants. he and erin set out to make it a neighborhood place, and i believe it.

brian is also an owner at bar 107, which on the weekends especially, can get crazy and over run with usc kids, and what i like to call ‘bridge and tunnel’ peeps. the feeling at the escondite is much mellower and matured. it’s a place where people of any age will want to hang out and have a drink and some food, but has character and isn’t stuffy.

the music has been fantastic. a great mix ranging from obscure 70’s one hit wonders to punk rock, with a little old school willie nelson, and a bit of early 90’s grunge rock thrown in. again, all up in my wheelhouse. although, i have seen both erin and brian on 2 separate occasions run and jump the bar when a certain enigma song came up in the rotation.

i asked brian, why not just take the song off the ipod? he said, ‘cuz it’s fun to run.’

i’m pretty sure chrissy, janet and jack would be jealous.

the escondite is at 410 boyd street, la, ca 90013 • skid row adjacent • parking is free after 6 + all day sunday • happy hour 5-8p m-f.

*a special thanks to shirley shivhon for providing some of her photos.

it was the fall of 1989, i was a freshman at the university of minnesota, and i needed a part-time job. i had a couple friends who worked at a small diner near campus in dinkytown called al’s breakfast. little did i know how this place would help affect, influence, teach, and form me into who i am today. sometimes i think the experiences i had, knowledge i gained, and friendships i made at al’s taught me more than anything i learned in college, and not the least of which was how to cook.

i worked on and off there for the next 7 years. even when i moved away and came home for holiday visits, i would go in for breakfast and they would need someone to pick up a shift. i’d take it, not for the money, but just to be apart of the al’s experience again. needless to say, every trip i make back to minnesota, i make sure i get into al’s at least once. this past weekend was no different.

al’s has one long counter with 14 stools. that’s it.

customers queue up behind those sitting at the counter and wait until a place opens up, with the first person in line to be sat first. the exception being if a ‘single’ opens up and more seats aren’t opening up soon, you are allowed to sit prior to those in front of you, but always refer to the employees behind the counter for direction. they will have no qualms telling you how things work, especially if they haven’t had their coffee yet.

there is one grill in front, and one 4-burner stove in back, with a cook at each. there is one dishwasher, and depending on the day, one or two people working the counter. there is no oven, microwave, or freezer. to say this place is small is an understatement, and storage is non-existant, so food is prepped as it used. the vegetables are fresh, which means not only are your mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc cut up in small amounts to be stored and used as needed, it also means hash browns are made from boiling potatoes and hand grating them, and the corned beef hash is made from those very same potatoes. the menu has changed very little over the years (even the prices rarely go up), and consists of the usual eggs, pancakes, waffles, hash browns, bacon and sausage. there is toast, but no bagels, muffins, or other pastry items. they keep it to the basics and do it well.

i order my usual 1/2 bacon benny with a side of corned beef hash, and coffee.

to this day, i have not found anywhere that does hollandaise as good as it is done at al’s. they make it in such big batches, so scaling down the recipe would be difficult, but i did find a recipe from tyler florence on foodnetwork.com that comes close (minus the cayenne and add more lemon juice).

if i am not completely full, i will order a short short whole wheat wally blue, which in translation is one whole wheat pancake with walnuts and blueberries. your order is written on a small pad in front of you, in an al’s shorthand of sorts, and is yelled out to the front cook. the shorthand can vary from person to person, but if the cook needs a reminder of the order, they can just take a mere glance at the pad and know what they need to make.

in 2004, al’s was given a james beard award, and it hangs proudly behind the counter, to the left of the cash register, near the plastic dinosaurs, above the condiments, and among the many pictures, foreign currency, and knick knacks accumulated throughout the years.

a few years ago they were on an episode of diners, drive-ins and dives which will give you a better feel for what it’s like inside al’s.

when i went in this past weekend, i was happy to see my old boss, one of the owners, doug grina at the front grill.

he gave me a big, wet, sloppy, salty kiss over the counter and we caught up between him barking out orders to the back room and cooking hash browns, pancakes and of course my delicious 1/2 bacon benny, and side of cbh.

i often still recognize regulars. on this day it was the cranky guy who always ordered the 3 egg israeli, and john (an old friend of the owners) who comes in the back door, pours himself some coffee, chats with customers and employees, helps out a bit delivering plates, and most likely gets a free breakfast in exchange for a nice addition to the communal tip bowl.

doug and his business partner jim have been the owners since before i started working there, well over 20 years ago. both of their sons, who i remember as just wee lads and are young adults now, happened to be working there that day too. doug’s daughter has also done some time behind the counter. as i was just about to leave, doug’s wife susan, who also worked at al’s in the era that i did, showed up with a friend. i did a double take it had been so long, but it was so nice to see her. as my friend and i slipped out the front door, i can only hope they were able to take our seats, because i didn’t notice if there was anyone in line ahead of her, and relatives and friends don’t get special privileges. they would have to wait just like everyone else.

my visits to al’s will always remind me of the many memories and friends i have there, but that day it showed me that al’s not only runs in the family, it is family. a very big family.

EDIT: due to the covid19 virus, al’s has been struggling and trying to stay afloat, and if it isn’t apparent, this place means a lot to me, but also to a lot of other people, and it is a dinkytown and american institution. please donate to the gofundme page set up for them here: https://gf.me/u/ybbvfi

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