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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

the legend

the legend

Let me tell you about a place that I love with all of my heart – a place that makes my eyes water from nostalgic emotions and the spiciest mustard on the planet.  I love this place because it serves delicious food – I love it because it is historic and has a story and an identity – I love it because it is located in my sunny home state of California.  These are all things that speak the love language of my heart, but I love it mostly because it reminds me of my family.  This place is part of our story – part of our history and tradition.

So, this humble post is dedicated to Philippe’s, home of the Original French Dip, and to my Mom for Mother’s Day (and also to my Aunt Valerie who is a mother and to Cecil who is their mother and really to Wayne too, who isn’t a mother but definitely deserves a special nod)…

Philippe’s was founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu.  After accidentally dropping a baguette into some beef pan drippings, the “Original French Dip” was born.  Praise the Lord for that.  There’s some controversy on the actual circumstances surrounding the fateful dropping of the bread and who actually subsequently requested the accidental sandwich, but who cares?  The most important thing is that we ended up with juicy, flavorful, meaty, sandwichy goodness. 

While Philippe’s was sold in 1927, it has been owned and operated by the same family since.  Not a lot else has changed

these prices are history

these prices are history

since then, either.  For instance, the floor is still covered in sawdust.  The coffee is still ten cents, the lemonade seventy cents.  The mustard is still so spicy that it will literally make you cry.  Ladies, called “carvers,” still take your order behind the counter and serve you almost immediately.  They wear the same uniforms.  Pickled beets, eggs and pigs feet are still offered, purple and ostentatious.  Potato salad, macaroni salad, tapioca pudding, fruit pies, pecan pies, cream pies – all of these remain on the menu.  Beef, lamb or pork sandwiches can be dipped or double dipped.  The lines continue to extend to the back of the room.  The only thing that seems to change are the articles and reviews of Philippe’s that are posted on the walls.  In accordance with the spirit of the place, history and stories surround you. 

You will make new friends in the line at Philippe’s.  Everyone is exited to tell their neighbor about how Philippe’s is their place.  They’re excited to share their personal story and offer a recommendation of what to order.  I used to think that our Philippe’s story was unique; that we’re the only ones that consider it sacred, sawdust-covered ground.  But I’ve discovered that almost everyone in the line has been there many times before.  Most likely,

hungry people

hungry people

they started coming with their parents or grandparents, just like me.  It’s a good thing that you will make friends in line, as you may be sitting next to these same folks at the communal tables that all diners eat at.  Sharing stories, tables and tasty, tasty food is a beautiful thing. 

In turbulent times, it’s nice to go to a place that seems significant and unchanged.  Philippe’s is a beacon – a reminder that good things can last through World War II and the Depression and whatever economic crisis we find ourselves in.  I know I’m giving a lot of existential meaning to a French Dip sandwich shop here, but the place has significance!  My grandpa, Wayne went there for years and years, then he took my grandma, Cecil, and they took my mom, Paula and her sister, Valerie.  Then they all took me, and later my cousin Gabriel.  Going to Philippe’s was a family outing; birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days.  When my Grandpa Wayne passed away, we went to Philippe’s in his honor.  When my Grandma Cecil passed away, off to Philippe’s to eat her favorite, a lamb sandwich.  Since then, I’ve insisted on sharing spicy mustard and pickled beets with Jon, my husband and Jason, one of my dearest friends.  Now they’re part of the story.  When I go, I get more than my regular double

the spread

the spread

dipped beef – I get to feel a connection to people that I love – people that I can’t necessarily hug or kiss or speak to anymore.  Instead, I do what I do best; EAT (with a lot of reminiscence on the side).  I can picture my young and dapper Grandpa ordering his favorite sandwich from his favorite Carver.  He would know her by name.  He would know her story and she would remember his regular order.  Again, I can blame the tears on the mustard.

Normally I love to get really passionate and intense about food and flavor, and there is definitely some delicious noshing to be had at Philippe’s, but here I would encourage you to head to there for other reasons.  I’m convinced that once you step through the door you will feel the connection with everyone else who has been going there for years.  You will definitely come back for the sandwiches, but you will also return to this historic place because it will be part of your story.  You can make it a tradition.  Let’s share a table. 

Philippe’s – The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Let it be known that Philippe’s is actually pronounced like “Fil-eeeps” – we, however incorrectly, call it “Fil-ip-eees.”  Way better.   

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I love going to markets.  No matter which city I am visiting, I always want to see at least one of the local markets.  I can’t place exactly why I have this fascination with markets, because it existed even before I became very avid about cooking and ingredients.  Maybe my love of food is what drew me, or maybe it is because a busy market is typically a loud and lovely mass of humanity – people from all walks of life brushing against each other and examining produce, speaking different languages, unified in the purpose to do what we all must – EAT. 

Bustling markets are varied these days, some with produce and wares from across the globe, some with plump fruits and veggies proudly carted and displayed by their local, hard-working farmers.  The Grand Central Market in Los Angeles is a fascinating mixture of the two and has been serving Angelenos since 1917.  Many of the neon signs scattered throughout the vast expanse of the market are historic, and the building itself once housed the office of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The inside of the building has adapted to various demands in its eighty year history, but the beautiful exterior facade of the building remains the same.  Food – history – architecture – I love this place. 

los angeles grand central market

los angeles grand central market

 

Grand Central is a traditional farmer’s market in the sense that stalls are rented and contain produce offerings from local area Farmers, but you will also find stalls offering meat, seafood, dried chiles, beans, spices, herbs, candies and ice cream.  Scattered amidst these stalls are miniature restaurants churning out authentic cuisine from various parts of the globe.  I am in danger of sensory overload as I wander through the maze of sights, sounds and delicious fragrances approaching from all directions, but my feet will always take me to Sarita’s Pupuseria. 

 

HOLY PUPUSA – this place is unbelievable.  Forget about all of the other fine Salvadoran delicacies that are on display for your selection and devourment – let’s just focus on the gorgeous little pupusa – pupusas so amazing that there is a constant, jostling crowd, pushing and shoving and waving money around, yelling at the poor soul taking orders and trying to keep up.  The line at Sarita’s is very interesting and diverse; many locals of all shapes, sizes, colors, as well out of town visitors like me.  My broken Spanish not only gives me a bit of street cred as I stand my ground in line but also allows me to understand that there are visitors on vacation from El Salvador and other Latin American countries in line with me.  Their hosts explain how they will experience a true taste of home, right here in the center of Los Angeles.  Muchas Gracias, Saritas.

 

Anyway, after ordering you round the corner to the other crowd of people watching and waiting as pupusas are expertly prepared by the pretty ladies at the grill.  I’m nose to the glass as I think how do they DO that?  Little balls of corn masa dough are scooped up, folded into a mysterious little pocket, and stuffed with cheese (several to choose from – I go with queso loroco – Salvadoran specialty prepared with indigenous “flowers”), beans (creamy, earthy), chicharron (pork), or a mixture of all three (pupusas mixtas).  The dough mixture is then magically patted into a little ball and flattened into a thick “pancake” a little smaller than a tortilla.  The pupusa goes on to the grill, and you continue to wait – fascinated – impatient – stomach growling.  The very talented women at the grill prepare these pupusas so quickly, so expertly, and then somehow remember the type of each pupusa on the grill.   

 

Finally, FINALLY, your number is called (in Spanish – be prepared and study before you go), everyone around you sighs in disappointment, and you leap joyfully to the counter to take your ridiculously fresh pupusas.  Each little pancake is topped with a pickled cabbage mixture that provides a fresh and crisp acidity to the dense pupusa, and the entire thing is best topped with the mild, bright orange salsa that is offered as traditional accompaniment.  Forget that it is very unlikely that you will grab a coveted seat at the counter of Sarita’s – no matter.  Simply find a seat in the surrounding area of the market, which will allow you to watch the interesting crowd around you and the mayhem at the Pupuseria.  Besides, it’s hard to think about much else when you are eating something this tasty, this sabrosito.  The pupusa is pleasantly dense and chewy, the center filled with a happy marriage of melty cheese, beans and pork.  Pupusa, cabbage and salsa together in one bite makes me very, very happy.

a rare moment of quiet at Sarita's

a rare moment of quiet at Sarita's

 After my over-indulgence of Salvadoran goodness, I like to walk through the sawdust covered “streets” of the market to purchase chili covered mangos and my favorite Mexican candies, made of sweet and spicy tamarind paste.  Maybe I will get an ice cream or purchase some dried New Mexico chiles for that recipe that I have been saving, but either way, I will be savoring the experience of this wonderful market and gleefully looking forward to my next chance to come back. 

 Grand Central Market

317 South Broadway

Los Angeles, CA  90013

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