Back To School: Tell Me Your Old Skool Shopping Stories

I was at a westside Bed Bath and Beyond* today and noticed many moms with their college aged sons or daughters. There was much buying of twin sized bedding, laundry hampers and shower caddies. Over the weekend a friend posted about where to buy school supplies in Culver City and it brought back a touch of affectionate nostalgia. (Of course back in the day, the phrase “Back To School” mostly brought on panicky feelings of “NOOOOOOOO! NOT YET!”)

I grew up in a small town and Back to School shopping meant the one drugstore for school supplies and the one local department store (no longer in business) for clothes. I didn’t get to LA until 1985 so I was trying to imagine LA in the late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, back before Super Targets and BB&B, and Office Depot and Old Navy and wondered where you Angelenos bought your school supplies back then. Was Target the original place to go? Were there special clothing stores in your neighborhood you always went back to as you grew taller?  Were there type specific stores (the valley chicks, surfer dudes, etc) that people went to? Places you wouldn’t be caught dead? Before mega mall and chain stores took over, where did your Pee-Chee and loose-leaf binders come from? What was your favorite back to school outfit? Worst?

Share please! I want to get an image of Old Skool Back To Schoool in Los Angeles!

*Also affectionately known as Bloodbath and Beyond, Bed Bath and Beyotch, etc.

Lessons Learned at the Street Food Fest

Total carnage photo courtesy Barb Dybwad

1.  It doesn’t matter why.

Chef Susan Feniger (Border Grill, Street) just returned to LA after a few weeks traveling in and around Vietnam.  I caught her just as she was sampling a few tacos at the LA Street Food Fest last Saturday night.  I asked how her trip was.  “AMAZING!” she said. “I’ve been eating for 10 days! [pause]  I don’t know why I’m still eating!”  I don’t know why I’m still eating – this was pretty much my mantra during the second LA Street Food Fest on Saturday night.  But then I realized: it doesn’t really matter, does it.

There were 60 food vendors set up last Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, cranking out eats for the roughly 5,000 people who congregated on the Bowl’s 79,156 square feet of green, clean grass.  All 105-ish pounds of me attempted to attack the 60 vendors in 4 hours.  I tried my best.

2.  Give a girl a chance. I wrote earlier that Sonja Rasula strikes me as a person who, if she were 15 minutes late one day, would be 15 minutes early the next.  And I think I was right.  Sonja and co-organizer Shawna Dawson took what they learned from their first and less-than-spectacular February Street Food Fest and transformed the event from what essentially was a parking lot tailgate party to the grandest buffet this side of the Wynn.

Unlike the first Fest, tickets here were pre-sale only: for $45 (general) to $60 (VIP), you could all you could stomach in 4-5 hours.  With attendance capped at 5,000 and vendors spread across the entirety of the Rose Bowl, the claustrophobia was minimized, the lines were manageable, and there was a rough method to the madness.  Yes, some complained about the wait in the lines, though I have to say that complaining about the lines at this Fest is sort of like complaining about the heat at Coachella: to some extent, it’s to be expected so long as it’s not out of control.  In contrast to the hours-on-end wait at the first Fest, I was stuck for, at most, 15 minutes at the longest food line (the longest lines actually were for the alcohol).  Over the course of four hours, I managed to hit some 15-18 booths (I lost count).  At about vendor 10, I was with Susan: I really didn’t know why I was still eating.  This leads directly to lesson number three.

3.  Pacing. We started off with ice cream, partly because this was the first area we stumbled into, and partly because starting your meal with dessert is quite possibly the best idea ever.  It sweetens your tooth and whets your appetite. To start the festivities, then, an amuse bouche from CoolHaus: strawberry with candied jalapeno scooped between two vanilla wafers.

On to the food. I was happy to see that Antojitos Carmen, who went from manning a cart in Boyle Height’s Breed Street to a bona fide storefront on Cesar Chavez, had a big, boisterous line.  Yah, go old skool street food!

Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen encouraged all to eat their balls.  This is why Starry Kitchen won the “Best Original Showmanship” category.  Way to take it for the team, Nguyen.

The balls in question:

The balls were just the beginning.

Clockwise: Mandoline Grill‘s banh mi sandwiches; Whisk LA‘s sweet treats; fried sweets with the cutest mini-Nutella package ever from Rosa’s Bella Cucina; and a cemita from Pal Cabron.  This was approximately one-third of the food consumed about halfway through the Fest; outside the viewfinder, I also downed delicious chicken adobo from The Manila Machine; a strawberry (yes! strawberry!) tamale from Tamales Elena; and a plum and cucumber salad from Gastrobus.

At that point, we needed to recharge.  Hello, Longboard’s Ice Cream – a traditional chocolate covered ice cream treat, but – twist! – one side is mashed with pretzels, the other size with nuts.  This makes sense if you imagine Kiefer Sutherland hungry for a treat after starting a brawl at Ye Rustic Inn.  In other words: the Bar Fight.

Had I the stomach capacity, I also would have picked up a few mini-donuts from The Fry Girl, winner of the Most Visually Appealing Donut and Most Ununsual Donut categories at our Donut Summit earlier this summer.  Mayor Tony, Susan, LA Times food editor Rene Lynch, Street Gourmet Bill Esperanza, chef Walter Manzke, and actor and self-proclaimed foodie Jessie Williams had no choice but to make room: they were the judges of the fest, prudently determining the winners in various categories.  Here, Susan tries to give Mayor Tony another bite to try.  Emphasis on tries.

The debate at the judge’s table was spirited, fierce, involved.   This is how you hope the Supreme Court justices (or, at the very least, their law clerks) debate issues of national importance.

In the end, the judges decided that the Best Nouveau street food was Sedthee Thai‘s Pork Sparerib, with The Manila Machine as the runner-up (yah!).  The Best Old School food went to Chef Robert Dahni’s Explosive Thai Bites, with Tamales Elena’s tamales as the runner-up.  Best in Show went to Marisco Jalisco‘s shrimp tacos; disappointingly, there was no Best in Show-like parading of the food but I suppose there’s always next year.  Also, the unofficial winner of the Truck That Kickstarted Our Appreciation For Street Food Because, Really, Street Food Has Been in LA Since Forever: Roy Choi and his fleet of Kogi trucks.  Another unofficial winner: Susan Feniger, in the Reliably Wearing the Best Pants in the House Every Time I See Her category.

As dusk fell over the Food Fest, the crowds thinned out slightly … but the eating was still on.

4.  The best way to deal with a full stomach is to sit down and enjoy the music. We came, we ate, we were conquered.  As the night settled, so did we; conveniently, local bands Deadly Syndrome and Warpaint – both regulars at The Echo and Spaceland – were on hand.   (Warpaint, by the by, is an awesome all-girl band from Laurel Canyon – they’re next up at FYF Fest downtown and will open for xx (xx!!) during their fall tour).  An unexpected entertainment bonus: the Twitter commentary from the peanut gallery running prominently on the background Jumbotron.  If you noticed Juxtaposition was not at home that Saturday night, it was because she was spending some time at the Rose Bowl.

5.  Alcohol and booths are great, but we still need water and a map. Overall, even with the predictable rumblings about the wait times, this was an enormous step up from almost every food vendor gathering yet.  A few tweaks for next time: water stations, a map listing the names and locations of each vendor (walking around in circles was a less an exercise in exploration and more of one in frustration), and a showring with judges wrinkling their noses, scrutinizing the food, and ordering the vendor to take his or her food for a walk.  It is a dog eat dog world, though, so let’s try to keep it friendly.


Classic Eats #12: Get Your Vote On!

It’s time to vote! Where will Classic Eats take place on August 21? That is entirely up to you!

As ever, the evening will commence at approximately 5pm so as to avoid crowds and so you can join in and still make it to a later event or date that night. Though if you’ve never joined in, you should know that sometimes we have so much danged fun we don’t leave until almost midnight! You just never know what will go on…

For Classic Eats #12 we have three choices, one is a previous contender, the other two are new to the Classic Eats panoply of dining options. Click here to get to the poll.

Get your votes in and please spread the word! Can’t wait to see you all there!

The three awesome options are:

Burbank Bonanza: The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse has been nestled in Burbank since 1946, serving the likes of  Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, Milton Berle, and Jack Parr. Located right across the street from Warner Bros. Studios, you never know who you might see there. Captain and Tenille were discovered there — need I say more?? The Smokehouse is also famous for their garlic bread – okay twist my arm, I’ll orders some. BONUS: On Saturdays from 4-6pm you get 25% off any item on their regular dinner menu. I don’t have a second location for this event, so if anyone can chime in for a follow up spot, local to Burbank and in any way Classic, I’m in!

The Smokehouse
4420 West Lakeside Drive
Burbank 91505

LAX Adjacent: Pann’s and The Buggy Whip

If you’ve raced to catch a plane, speeding along La Tijera from mid-city, you’ve seen both Pann’s and The Buggy Whip. Maybe you’ve promised yourself “One of these days I’ll leave enough time to stop in.” Now’s your chance! Pann’s has been a Googie landmark and family owned since 1958. They’ve got excellent, classic diner food, served in an excellent, classic diner. It’s so classic that movies shoot there often. You may recall Pulp Fiction’s diner scene…?? That was Pann’s. Just look at all that Googie Goodness! The Buggy Whip is a classic red velvet booth, live piano player, bar/lounge/restaurant/banquet room all in one. It’s been named one of the best steak places in LA and is a bit pricey to prove it. I thought it best to start at Pann’s then mosey over to the ‘Whip for a post dinner cocktail or dessert in the lounge. I’m hoping there is a giant brandy snifter on the piano for tips…

6710 La Tijera Blvd
LA 90045

The Buggy Whip
7420 La Tijera Blvd.
LA 90045
(310) 645-7131

Off The Hook: Bahooka

This might be a trek for some of you, but hey, it’s going to be so worth it! This place is INSANE! Born in 1967, full of fish tanks and fish of every color and type and size, wacky giant sized tikis and even crazier flaming drinks. I’d never heard about it until recently, but dang, it looks worth the trip! I can’t do it justice. Click that link!

4501 N. Rosemead Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 285-1241 -or- (626) 285-7514