Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bike ride from hell

What's the most physcially demanding thing you've ever done? For some it's birthing a child. Others, maybe it's running a marathon. For me, it's this bike trip I've been on for the past week, riding across the Eastern United States from Atlanta to Maine. Today, we finished a 135 mile ride in the hilly farmlands of cental Pennsylvania. Tomorrow's ride is shorter at 90 miles, but includes more climbing.

We're about halfway along our 2 week trip and each day that doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Or so I tell myself as I suck wind climbing up the hills the torment us ceaselessly like the late night TV commercials for the Ab Lounge. On the other hand, I've been eating like a pig every day to take in enough nutrition to recuperate. What have I been eating? Well, we're staying in small town motels with very few quality food options. Buffet restaurants. Fast food. Nothing remotely "nutritious" nor delicious. Nor do I care. After a 100 +mile ride, I need calories, it almost doesn't matter where it comes from. I'd eat the grass in the parking lot if I thought it'd carry me through until dinner. So no exciting food photos, no tasty missives from the hinterlands of the East coast.

With any luck, I'll have more to write about after the bike ride is done and we start a foodcentric tour of New England. Lobsters. Clam shacks. The legendary pizzas of New Haven, Connecticut. Stay tuned. Food will return to this blog, I promise.

Monday, July 04, 2005

3rd of July

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend. For the past few years, I've been hired as the grill cook for a ginormous block party in Huntington Beach. Last year's party got out of hand: over 1000 people showed up and the line at the catering grill never got shorter than 10 people deep for 10 hours, nonstop. Made great money, though. This year, the party committee held a stealth party on July 3 and kept it low key, so only those actually invited showed up. Much less stress for me, and much more fun time hanging out and partying.

A great block to live on

Every single family on this block is out front, grilling and hanging out. The neighbor across the way works for a Temecula winery, and gave free tastings of their champagnes and chocolate port. A volleyball net strung across the cul de sac helps keeps cars out, as does a quarter pipe that the skater grommets hit throughout the afternoon. Neighbors know each other's names and what the kids are up to. Dogs wander from yard to yard, and are greeted by name wherever they go. It's that kind of neighborhood that makes me proud to take part in the festivities each year.

Grampas Grass has some chops

My friend Christopher hires the bands, so when I cook at his house, I have front row seats. Grampas Grass lit the fuse on their Bob Weir meets Allman Brothers jams for a solid 90 minute set. Singer Lisa Blue's voice ranges from a soothing coo to boozy rage: going from "there, now baby, it'll be ok" to "ok baby, pack up and and get out" in the course of one song. Her cover of Me and Bobby McGee suggests Lisa Blue had her own share of hard living that connects her very personally to that song and the lady who first made it famous. Check them out if they're playing near you.

Friday, July 01, 2005

French dippin' since 1908

As Philadephia has its cheesesteak rivalries, Los Angeles has its French dip wars. Philippe's the Original opened its doors near downtown Los Angeles in 1908 and looks every year of it. It's among LA's oldest restaurants and disputably claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. A mile away, the equally old Cole's P.E. Buffet also lays claim to its invention.

While Cole's has a great bar atmosphere that's been used as a set for more than 450 films and TV productions over the years, I am unapolgetically a Phillippe's partisan. Step inside and notice the ancient cash register mounted atop an old fashioned candy counter. Sawdust covers a wooden floor well worn by the shuffle of generations of Angelenos: millions over the decades have come for the simple pleasures of its famous sandwich.

Lunchtime crowds scan the menu

This sandwich survived the Depression years, so expect nothing fancy. No Wagyu beef, no panini press, no artisanal bread. What you get is plainly roasted beef, lamb, pork, turkey or ham sliced to order by your counterperson, and laid atop a French roll that's been dipped in au jus. A cheese of your choice is optional. My favorite's simple: lamb and blue cheese, single dipped. A single dip moistens just enough for takeout sandwiches. Double dipped rolls are best eaten right away, as they can sog the bread a bit too much. Smeared heavily with some sinus searing Phillippe's mustard, this is a lunch I'd happily eat until I look like the wizened old veterans who've sat in the same benches since the Roosevelt administration.

Philippe's The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, California 90012

Cole's P.E. Buffet
18 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, California, 90014

PS - For a fancified French dip sliced from roasted prime rib, try the one at the Houston's chain. Many locations across these here United S of A. Served with shoestring potatoes, it's a damn fine, if yuppified and corporatized version of the 1908 originals at about 4 times the cost. But in a good way.