I got to do something fun recently. I went to a hosted tasting at the new(ish) restaurant MessHall on Loz Feliz Blvd. here in Los Angeles.
It’s located in one of my favorite buildings in town. It’s a building with historical significance. But its been under-utilized as long as I’ve lived in LA. It started life as Willard’s Chicken Shack, but soon transformed into a third outpost of the famed Brown Derby. After that it was an over-priced and underwhelming steakhouse known as Michael’s.
When I first moved to LA it served as a (comically?) authentic nightclub where modern swing bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy got a zoot-suited crowd of hipsters jumpin to big band sounds. Needless to say that didn’t last. It eventually settled in as (another) Louise’s Trattoria. A passably bland Italian place that’s good enough for take out, but not what I’d call a destination restaurant. Thankfully the architecture, including the remnants of the Derby’s domed hat, stayed pretty much intact throughout these changes. Which is why the building still intrigues me.
It’s also what made me accept the invitation to attend the tasting.We were seated on the outdoor patio as it was a beautifully warm (at the time) late summer evening. This portion still retains the moderne roofline, iconic to the Derby’s facade but has been made modern.
The feeling of the restaurant is like grown up summer camp. Its menu has a southern vibe, with an emphasis on updated comfort food and a nod to the original Willard’s Chicken Shack. Corn Fritters, Pickled Veggies, Fried Oysters, Collard Greens and even a Banana Cream Pie all fit the theme and tug at my nostalgic heartstrings quite a bit. But the Kale Caeser Salad (though tasty, trendy and mandatory) feels out of place to me. As does the Steak Tartar Taco in a crunchy Parmesan shell. But damn if that taco wasn’t my favorite thing on the menu.
Despite its all too familiar “urban-rustic” ambiance, the space hits the right notes of casual style. Meaning it’s an unpretentious spot you’d feel perfectly comfortable popping into without reservations. It will certainly be my pre-concert choice on “Hot August Nights” once The Greek and its outdoor summer season rolls around again. But winter may prove to be just as enticing. Warm wood tones and plenty of “fireside” dining (even on the patio) make the space promising no matter the weather. (interior photos from the MessHall webite by Alen Lin www.alenlin.com)
I enjoyed everything I ate when I was there, but as you know I’m no restaurant critic. Though I do like giving my impressions of places I’ve eaten every once and again. But what I like to do even more is share some of the food I’ve had in these restaurants with you in the form of a home kitchen friendly recipe. So I asked the Chef Keith Silverton for the recipe to his “Hog Chop” with white cheddar grits, mustard greens and Tabasco butter. He was happy to oblige.
Now if you’ve never asked a restaurant chef for a recipe before you may be surprised to learn that what you get doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen in a cookbook. In fact it typically comes in the form of a spread sheet. Something only a line cook can follow. So the “recipe” I present here is actually something I cobbled together and tested in my own kitchen.
It’s the first time I ever tried my hand at sous vide, and that was fun too. GREG
- 1 c light brown sugar
- 1/2 c pink salt, or substitute kosher salt
- 1/4 c juniper berries
- 1 t paprika
- 1/2 t all spice
- 1/2 t cayenne pepper, divided
- 2 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 extra thick, center cut pork chops, 10 to 12 oz each
- 1 t vegetable oil, plus more for grill
- 2 shallots, peeled & minced
- 12 T unsalted butter, softened & divided
- 1 1/2 t red tabasco sauce
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 lb pounds mustard greens, washed and cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 pn each salt & pepper to taste
- 6 c chicken stock, divided
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 c stone ground white grits
- 8 oz white cheddar, grated
- 1/2 c half and half
Brine the chops: Place brown sugar, pink salt, juniper berries, paprika, all spice, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, cinnamon stick pieces and bay leaves into a large bowl. Add 2 cups hot water; stirring the mixture until the sugar and salt is dissolved. Add 6 cups of cool water, stir to combine. Lay the chops in the liquid, it should cover them completely. Cover and refrigerate about 24 hours.
Make the Tabasco butter: Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small saute pan. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes. Scrape them into a small bowl to cool completely. Stir in 8 tablespoons softened butter and Tabasco; mix thoroughly. Shape the butter into a log on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap it tightly and freeze. Use within 2 weeks.
Sous vide: Fill a Sous Vide machine with warm water. Set it to 138 degrees F. for medium-rare pork. Remove the chops from the brine, rinse them in cool water and dry thoroughly. Place each into a vacuum pouch, following manufacturers directions. Submerge the pouches in the water and cook for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
Once they’ve reached the proper temperature remove from water. You may now plunge them in water to cool then store in the refrigerator until ready to grill or you may remove them from the pouches, saving any accumulated juices, and grill them immediately.
Make the greens: In a large high-sided skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add diced onion, and saute until translucent and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the prepared mustard greens, and sprinkle with a pinch each salt and pepper. Once they begin to wilt add 1 cup chicken stock. Toss until greens are completely wilted. Add the vinegar, cover and set aside in a warm place.
Make the grits: Bring remaining 5 cups chicken stock to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over high heat. Gradually whisk in grits; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, whisking constantly for about 5 minutes. Continue to cook until tender whisking occasionally, about 15 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar, half-and-half, remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining cayenne, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside in a warm place.
Grill the chops: Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium-high heat. Season grill with towel dipped in vegetable oil (use tongs for safety). Place the chops on the grill until lightly charred on the outside, about 2 minutes. Turn the chops and repeat. Your goal is charred on the outside but just warmed through on the inside because they are already cooked on the interior to the perfect doneness.
To serve: Gently rewarm and loosen the grits with a bit of water if necessary. Spoon some onto 6 serving plates and top each with a chop. Top each chop with a slice of Tabasco butter and drizzle some of the set aside meat juices. Serve the warm greens on the side and serve.
Source: MessHall Los Angeles