From time to time, a man has to reconnect with what's really important. In these latter days, it is easy to get caught up in the nonessentials-- finishing collards with balsamic vinegar, truffled grits, watching Rach on Youtube, and so forth. But too much of that sort of thing is not good for the soul, and a time comes where a man must turn aside from such vanities and get back to basics. A man needs to find a place where they still make hamburgers out of food, where the local food section will teach you how to make classics like brown veal stock, where a handshake is a man's word, and where the people live simpler, more connected lives.
I was lucky enough to find this place. It is called Los Angeles. Both on and off the blog, Angelophiles as diverse as Addison and J-Grizzle had commended the Los Angeles burger culture to me. The cinetrix and I managed to hit two ends of the spectrum, Pie N Burger in Pasadena, and an In N Out that was a Leinart scramble away from the rental car return. In their own ways, both were impressive. Pie and Burger is an institution, but comes a little pricey at around seven bucks for a fastfood sized burger.* But I'm still thinking of it with fondness. In what I gather is the normal presentation, the burger comes with a variant of Thousand Island dressing, and in a little paper corset holding the whole contraption together, which is useful if you can manage not to eat the paper. Pie and Burger was also the site of one of the more remarkable server encounters I've had in 07: Pie and Burger rocks a vaguely nostalgic vibe with the decor, but it seems to be the retro born of not ever redecorating. One exception is a giant plasma screen near the back. When we visited, accompanied by gracious hosts the Turtles, said plasma screen was displayng -- wait for it -- the Yearling.** (Click through for spoilers, which will explain our party's consternation.) We were in a booth, and watched with some trepidation as a dad and young son took stools directly in front of the screen. (We'd arrived about the time that Flag started getting into the 'baccy.) As we settled up, we observed to the waitress that it seemed like kind of a harsh vid for the Pasadena lunch crowd. She begged to differ and then proceeded to articulate a fairly involved argument that the title "The Yearling" was a metaphor, referring equally to the boy Jody and the fawn. Our waitress did not appear to be waiting tables between auditions, but rather seemed to be a diner lifer who probably turned at her birth to face the OB who delivered her, took a pencil from behind her year, and said "what can I get you, hon?" So the film analysis was a bonus.
In N Out is a better-known institution, with multiple locations, all in Cali, I believe. (Long may the regional cult chain wave). I'd been told in no uncertain terms that this was the one can't-miss LA food item. That may be pushing it, but even at 10:30 in the morning, it was in many ways a more interesting meal than our Sunday Supper (deets to follow):
1) We were not the only people there. Even allowing for third shifters having a second breakfast, how many people eat burgers at 10:30 AM?
2) The burgers were tasty, and set the cinetrix and I up for another long day on the wrong side of airport security. The presentation was much the same as Pie N Burger, though the patties were smaller and not as succulent. (For testing purposes, I had a Double Double, and did not try any of the fancy ordering tricks I'd heard about. [Next time, Animal Style.]) The secret to the burger seemed to be that In N Out makes them out of food. You could watch burgers and fries being assembled to order, out of buns, patties, lettuce, tomatoes and condiments. It tasted like a combination of recognizable elements, rather than a congealed lump that eats like a tallow-flavored fruit (see Big
Mac). Alice Waters and In N Out have more than a stretch of I-5 separating them, but I could not help wondering if
the general betterness of produce in Cali as opposed to the East Coast explained some of the joy of this burger. The fries were good, and there were not an obscene amount of them. The meal I had at In N Out was a foray of a
epicure trying to squeeze one last experience into a trip, but Angelenos can eat like this all over the place, and it is no big thing. Conversely, New York experiments with selling real hamburgers at a reasonable price have resulted in hysteria, lines, bribes, and webcams. If Los Angeles is a hyperbolic exaggeration of the rest of America, but a popular New York burger spot is a hyperpbolic exaggeration of an LA staple, somewhere, Baudrillard is asking for fries with that.
*A little bigger than a slider, but much smaller than a thickburger, perv.
**Rated G! (With "some intense scenes," they do mention.) What could be better family fun than watching some kid snuff Bambi?