Kids wait for Christmas with baited breath, and I’m counting the days until Eagle Rock Brewery opens (it has just been pushed back to sometime in the Spring). Until then, I thought I’d share on of the hidden gems that makes Highland Park such a great place to live: There are over 42,000 7-Elevens around the world and Highland Park’s has to be the best. Skip the usual frozen crap you can drown in Nacho Cheese and head straight to the back where they boast the best beer selection in the area (yes, it is at least as impressive in quality as Galco’s). In a refrigerator that would normally boast Lunchables and ham sandwiches sits an amazing array of (mostly) 22 oz. microbrews. Lost Coast’s Tangerine Dream was excellent with a strong citrus flavor combining more subtle wheat taste. The Lagunitas Red was also excellent, and strong at 7.6% ABV, but my favorite beer comes from San Diego County’s Port Brewing Company’s 2nd Anniversary Ale. Granted my recent purchases haven’t branched out of California breweries but 7-eleven also carries European imports as well as the usual macrobrews. So, swing by and don’t forget to grab some corn, tacos, and tamales from the vendors in front of the Food 4 Less. Not only do they go great with beer, it helps offset the alcohol. You’ll thank me in the morning.
View Larger Map
Yes, yes, I wish Chorizo started with a hard C for the perfect amount of consonance. Still, I had quite the day in Los Angeles and feel the need to spread the word.
Item 1: I attended the LA Auto Show in search of a truck. Now I know that gas prices won’t be at $1.99 forever (see the Shell on Figueroa and Ave 52 or the Chevron on York and Figueroa) but I’m ready for something at least slightly less responsible than the late ’90s Japanese midsize I drive currently. Impressively, the GMC Sierra will come in a Hybrid in 2009 that gets 21 MPG Highway, compared to 15-16 mpg for comparable full size pickups.
The surprise of the show for me was Dodge. Remember the early ’90′s when Married With Children equated Dodge with the Yugo? Well, the Detroit company has reclaimed it’s musclecar roots with a relaunch of the Challenger that stopped me in my tracks. Again, it’s far from the most responsible car one could buy in 2009, but it’s a lot more fun than a Smartcar.
One thing I always enjoy at the autoshow are the women selling the cars as they tell you so much about the brand you’re visiting. For example,
Volvo: More mature women with a touch of grey. Attractive and respectable, they look like a Brentwood mom picking up her kid at soccer practice.
Honda & Mazda: Attractive but conservative. Nothing to write home about but nothing to be ashamed of either.
Lamborghini: Italian centerfolds with Beverly Hills (or Milan) augmented breasts and suitably detached smiles sucked you in, but made it clear they were waaaaaaay out of your reach.
Ford: This one is “Mustang Team” specific, but the one girl and four guys were clad in black and brown leather jackets, tight jeans, black leather shoes, slicked-back hair, and black sunglasses. Absolute Americana.
Porsche: Cold, hard, and blond, these beautiful women had the gaze of the queen’s guard and wouldn’t smile for anyone or anything.
Item 2: Lately, I’ve caved to my inner-nerd and succumbed to the world of graphic novels. I may teach Persepolis this spring, and I’m still looking for other works for both academic and intellectual pleasure. On a recommendation, Secret Headquarters in Silverlake proved to be the perfect place to set me up with a miniature library of graphic novels. My favorites plus what I’m reading so far.
Watchmen: Alan Moore deconstructs the superhero motif in what has become the Bible of graphic novels. If you’re not much for reading, the film is due out in March.
Ex Machina: Brian K. Vaughan mixes The West Wing with a superhero who is able to speak to machines. Mitchell Hundred finds his trials as NYC mayor will be much more difficult than anything he faced as a the bumbling hero “The Great Machine”.
Pride of Baghdad: Based on the true story of four escaped lions from the Baghdad zoo during the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003, Brian K Vaughan (see Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man) explores the idea of freedom in this allegory.
Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi recounts her adolescence in Iran during the fall of the Shah and the subsequent bildungsroman follows her to Austria and back to Tehran.
Maus: Art Speigleman won a Pulitzer in this exploration of his father’s survival of the Holocaust as a Polish Jew.
Thanks to Secret Hideout, I’ll also be perusing DMZ, Y: The Last Man, Good Bye Chunky Rice, and Laika.
Item 3: Some of us will be cooking Thanksgiving meals tomorrow morning and I can suggest the perfect Highland Park dish to take home to the family. My father’s Chorizo stuffing was a classic mix of Hispanic, Anglo, and delicious. Enjoy:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 pound fresh chorizo sausage, crumbled
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
12 slices white sandwich bread
1 cup chicken stock
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the pork and chorizo and cook until completely browned. Add the onions, celery and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Put the bread in a large rectangular glass baking dish and pour in the chicken stock. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove and squeeze each slice, reserving the stock. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread and stock with the pork and vegetable mixture. Mix well. Season with salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper. Stir in the parsley. Let cool completely and season again with salt and black pepper. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Transfer dressing to a 3 quart baking dish and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until browned on top.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
(Thanks to razzledazzlerecipes.com)
3817 W. Sunset Blvd.
Hailed by critics and friends alike, for years people have been telling me to check out the restaurant Polka. Despite its proximity, for one reason or another, it just never happened. Then came last Sunday. Recovering from a party the night before, we all had a desperate need for some serious comfort food, and our friend had the solution: Polka.
On the corner of York and Verdugo (that’s the other side of the 2, if you’re confused) Polka sits unassumingly in a little strip mall opposite two different gas stations. We parked on the street (the lot is small and cramped) and headed in.
As you walk in, certainly you’ll notice delicious smell and a certain warmth that only a kitchen full of great food can produce. But first, by God, you’ll notice the décor. I can’t say it reminds me of my grandmother’s house, but it certainly feels like somebody’s grandmother’s house. There are pictures and posters and bumper stickers around the walls, red curtains, and tacky lamps everywhere. Not the Applebee’s kind of tacky signs and table lamps, but the kind that an old couple has been cherishing for 40 or 50 years and their kids can’t wait to get rid of. Meanwhile, the tables are covered nicely by tablecloths, but then, of course, covered by thick, clear plastic that ensures they won’t need to be changed—ever. The décor is odd to say the least, but charming in that grandmotherly way.
On a Sunday night the wait for a table was a good 30 minutes, although on a more recent trip we were seated immediately. Regardless, the service is not fast. The owner, an older man, is very friendly and welcoming and will treat you like family the whole night, but he will never be in a rush.
Before you even order, homemade soup is brought to everybody at the table. It is excellent, and different every time. Next comes a small salad. Also nice, especially when you are starving and still waiting to order. For the entrees you have a lot of options. I’ve heard everything is good, but our favorites are the Pierogis and Kotlets.
Pierogis are Polish dumplings, filled either with potatoes and cheese, sauerkraut and mushrooms (ok, we haven’t tried these yet…) or pork and chicken. Full of flavor, both the meat and the potato pierogis are fantastic. As one friend said, the potato dumplings are “like biting into little clouds.” Light and fluffy, it’s an easy comparison to make. As one who often requires some sort of meat, I prefer the pork and chicken variety, finding the seasoning wonderful and the surrounding dough just the right accompaniment. The kotlet is either pork loin or chicken breaded and fried, covered with sautéed mushrooms. Tasty and perfectly crispy, I was elated to discover that it stays this way hours later when pulled from the fridge, cold, for a midnight snack.
Be warned, the entrées aren’t terribly cheap (about $15-20), but they are very large and filling, almost guaranteeing leftovers. If you’re worried you won’t get enough, for $25 a person, everybody at the table can order something different and will be given all-you-can-eat. Evidently they won’t let you leave until they are sure you are satisfied. Regardless, when you’re done with dinner, they will bring out desert. Homemade custard, sometimes cake, or many other things, out it comes, and always a great finish to the meal.
Polka is awesome. Everybody in there can’t seem to help but love the old man serving them, or his kind (and most definitely younger and beautiful) wife. Their adorable little daughter plays in the back when not roaming the restaurant and smiling. They all say hello when you come in and goodbye as you leave, always in a genuine and heartfelt way.
It’s friendly, it’s family, it’s comfort all wrapped up like one of their little dumplings. I think my friend Joel put it best when he said “if I were Polish-American, it’s the kind of food that would make me nostalgic for my childhood.”
4112 Verdugo Road
Los Angeles, CA 90065